CAROLYN Carey remembers the first time she saw her foster daughter smile.
Jessica was three and was on a swing and the smile spread across her face with the sheer delight of it.
“It melted my heart,” said Carolyn. “I think that is when I fell in love with her.”
Carolyn was giving respite care to Jess, who has a range of medical conditions, including cerebral palsy.
She has to be fed via a tube directly into her stomach and has chronic lung disease, which means everywhere she goes, she has to have her oxygen cannister goes with her.
Jess could not stand alone until she was five and could not walk unaided until she was six.
Now aged eight, she can say five words – yes, no, duck and Nanna’s house.
But underestimate Jess at your peril. She is also feisty, determined, funloving and expressive and if her sister Bethany, nine, does an activity, then Jess wants to do it too.
Bethany is not disabled and can run, jump and swim with ease.
Jess is not so lucky, but as far as Carolyn is concerned, nothing is insurmountable and where there is a will, there’s always a way.
It means, with help, Jess goes on trampolines, bouncy castles and slides, she swims, rides horses and plays crazy golf, all the time attached to the oxygen cannister that is her lifeline.
Carolyn worked with elderly people at sheltered housing complexes around Colchester, taught children in a Sunday school and provided respite care for a teenager with cerebral palsy.
Her parents, John and Beverley Joy, are Salvation Army officers, so caring was always intrinsic to their lives.
But Carolyn was never able to have children herself. She considered adoption, but decided to go for fostering.
She said: “There is always the fear about what happens if they move on, how will you cope?
“But there is such strong support in fostering from social workers.”
Carolyn became a paid carer in 2008 and in September, she gave respite care to her first child – Jess. Within three months, she had fostered Jess and Bethany.
“It was hard at first,” admitted Carolyn. “We just had to get into a routine, but it was so rewarding to watch them grow and develop.
“It was easy to fall in love with Jess, she was so sweet.
“Bethany was more closed, but within a matter of weeks, we felt like a family.”
With unbridled pride, she said: “They are lovely. They have developed a really close bond.”
However, caring for two girls, one of whom is disabled, can present challenges.
Bethany loves to go to the park, to run and play and see her friends. Jess also loves to go there, but cannot play on ordinary equipment.
Carolyn, who lives in Copford, said: “We used to go to Queensberry Park, but from when Jess was five she could not fit into one of the baby swings.
“She can’t go on a standard swing. I could hold her on the seesaw with Beth on the other end but, to be fair to Beth, she doesn’t want to stay on there all the time.
“We went on holiday and there were two fantastic parks.
“They had wider swings and Jess spend more than an hour quite happily on one on her own.
“It absolutely thrilled her, she was so proud of herself.”
Jess goes to Lexden Springs special school in Colchester.
The school, supported by the Gazette, is aiming to raise £100,000 for a purpose-built play area for the children who have special needs.
If the money can be raised, it means children will have special swings and a slide, and a roundabout which can be used by children in wheelchairs.
There will also be sensory equipment, a summer house, a bubble tunnel and wobble board which would assist the children with their agility and balance.
Carolyn said: “The playground would be so important.
“There is the social aspect of playing with their friends as well as the exercise and sensory benefits.
“We are so grateful for the support the appeal has received. I know Jess would say this if she could.”
! To contribute to the fundraising appeal, send a cheque to the Lexden Springs Appeal Fund at Lexden Springs School, Halstead Road, Colchester, CO3 9AB.
If you are fundraising for them, contact them via e-mail at appeal email@example.com ! If you are interested in fostering with Essex County Council, call 0800 801530 or visit www.essex.gov.uk/fostering.