A COUPLE from Milford Haven, who have shared their home with more than 30 disabled children, have spoken of the pleasure they have had from caring.
Karen and Tony Radcliffe have spent the last 27 years volunteering for Barnardo’s Cymru as short break carers.
The couple, who have two children and three grandchildren of their own, are the longest serving family in the Pembrokeshire Family Link scheme, which celebrated 30 years this month.
The service allows disabled children to make friends outside their own home by enjoying activities in their community and having regular overnight stays with a link family.
Deirdre Connell, Children’s Services Manager, said the programme helped children socialise and develop more independence and confidence by trying new things and meeting new people.
“At the same time it gives parents a break from caring when they can focus on other children in the household or just recharge their batteries,” she added.
“Karen and Tony are our longest serving link family and they have provided fantastic support. They always see the children first and the disability second,” said Ms Connell.
More than 30 children have shared the couple’s family home over the years, with their longest link coming to them as an 11-month old baby boy, and staying every week until he was 18.
And the connections they have made mean even after moving on, the pair still get Christmas cards and phonecalls from many of those they’ve looked after.
“Even after young people reach 18 and move on, Karen and Tony stay in touch with many of them and offer long term friendship. They have offered extra help and support during times of family crisis.
Ms Connell said parents also speak highly of the couple’s approach.
“They are always willing to go the extra mile and their commitment and enthusiasm shine through,” she said.
Tony said: “We don’t do anything different than thousands of other people are doing.
“We get a lot out of enjoyment from caring. We could probably write a book on all the things the children do and say.
“They are all smiles and hugs when they come here and it is really rewarding to see them reacting with you in that way.
“Being short break carers has kept us young now that our children are grown. We even know all the children’s television programmes!”
Karen said the experience of caring for children with complicated needs had really opened her eyes to the daily struggles parents, and siblings of disabled children, faced.
She also praised the “invaluable” support and training Barnardo’s has provided.
Anyone interested in becoming a short break carer or just to volunteer with the service should contact Barnardo’s Pembrokeshire Family Link Service on 01646 687064.
The service also runs two volunteering services, which work with young disabled people in the community, and a Saturday club in Haverfordwest.