Helen Holgate and her family have fostered children for the past nine years; her experience of and interest in fostering led her to becoming a trustee of the charity the Fostering Network, which works with service providers and carers, and campaigns on policy.
Holgate, who is a counsellor and trainer as well as a foster carer, had not been a charity trustee before joining the FN board three years ago, but she says her previous experience as a school governor stood her in good stead. "The roles are very similar, although the charity is on a bigger scale," she says. "The core issues are related, and the structure of meetings and governance are also similar."
The board has 13 members, down from its previous 16. "A larger board was getting a bit unwieldy and perhaps not as productive as it should be," she says. Some of the trustees on the board are foster carers, some are not; Holgate believes it's critical that foster carers are represented on the board. "We are on the coalface," she says. "We have a sharper understanding of the issues."
A pressing issue for the board is to adapt to any changes that the recently elected government might bring to the fostering system. "Lots of changes would need care to implement, because the system is under a lot of pressure," she says. "We need to recruit and, crucially, retain carers, and the board wants to seek ways of dealing with this." She says she hopes the government will retain its pro-adoption agenda.
When considering whether to become a trustee, the key is to do research, she says: "Ask lots of questions of lots of people - not just trustees but service users. Be clear about what the role entails and the demands it makes on you. It's very rewarding, especially to feel that you can influence change for the better."