Co Down couple David and Norma Tennis given lifetime achievement award for fostering work

A husband and wife from Co Down have been given a lifetime achievement award for their fostering work.

For 36 years David and Norma Tennis have been providing a family home to over 50 children.

Their fostering work has been recognised with a lifetime achievement award as they prepare to retire after decades of helping.

“I always loved children and my grandmother fostered a family of four and my mother fostered for a few weeks and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, I just have a real passion for children and wanted to give them as much love as I possibly could,” explained Norma.

The pair have carried out long and short-term fostering as well as respite care.

“It’s been a hugely rewarding experience,” said David.

“Each child that comes to us is different, there’s different challenges, there’s different rewards, the children you see them develop and progress in life.”

The children fostered become a proper part of the Tennis family – with David even giving away two girls they’d fostered at their weddings.

“When you reflect back on your memories, it was so lovely that the two girls that became part of six in our family, I had the honour and privilege to walk them down the aisle on the day they got married,” said David.

“Just to think back on that is such a lovely memory to have.”

Lauren Houston is one of the children who the family fostered and still stays in touch.

“I arrived when I was nine months old and then was officially adopted when I was four, so I was here for a good few years,” she said.

“Kind of the vital years of when I was a child. When I came in they just kind of opened their arms to me as a family and they were like the mum and dad I never had the first few years. They taught me walking, talking, the vital stages a child needs at that age.”

And the South Eastern Health Trust are eager to stress that anyone can be a foster parent, whether married, in a couple or single.

“Fostering is open to everyone, there are lots of different types of foster care, short-term, long-term, emergency, short-break, supported lodgings,” explained Nuala Hanna, Head of Fostering, Adoption and Permanence in the South Eastern Trust.

“There is a type of foster care to suit the needs of you and your family.”

David and Norma would advise anyone to follow in their footsteps.“Try it, it’s really worthwhile,” said Norma.

David added: “If you put your toe in the water, talk to a social worker, explore it, there is something for everyone.

“It doesn’t need special skills, ordinary people foster and it’s so rewarding. We’ve got so much more out of this than we’ve put into for sure.”

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