Jean had been a proud and devoted mum and as she entered her mid 50s she began to realise that she still had more to give.
“I had always been busy and active and had loved bringing up our children,” said Jean. “I had come from a large family and there had always been children around and now I didn’t see why this had to go, why things had to change.
“I just felt that I could still care for children and I wanted to do it.”
Jean talked with her husband John about fostering and at first John wasn’t sure.
She also raised the subject with her three sons Shaun, David and John. “They were unsure as well,” said Jean. “At first they couldn’t see how we could have another child in the house that had always been their family home.”
That was 2002. Eight years on and Jean and John have since welcomed a total of 18 children into their home.
The youngest just six days old, the eldest 16.
They’ve cared for children for a couple of days and a couple of years and at one time they had eight children staying with them.”
But what makes the Bannisters’ story even more remarkable is that since they got involved their youngest son Shaun and wife Julie have become foster parents as has his brother David and their niece Kim.
In total the Bannister family has helped to give almost 30 children and young people a better start in life by giving them the care they so desperately needed.
“The qualities you need are the same as those for being a good parent,” said Jean. “You need patience and understanding but you also need a sense of discipline as well because many of these children haven’t had any up until this point in their lives.
“You do not have to be strict but you have to help the child to appreciate that they are coming into your home and you have rules.”
Jean added: “When our children came to us and said they wanted to be foster parents in their own right we were really happy.
“They had seen how we had taken to it and realised that it was something they could do as well.
“They were also able to learn from our experience over the years so it was nice to be involved.”
The council provides a strong support network for both the child and the foster parents, at the level they need. “We didn’t actually need that much help once we started,” said Jean. “But we knew we could pick up the phone and talk to someone or ask them to come and see us whenever we wanted, which was really reassuring.”
Jean and John Bannister have made fostering not only part of their life, but part of their family as well. And while they’re now both in their 60s they show no signs of stopping. “It keeps us young!” said John. “You have to be full of life and ready to play. You have to give the children your best but who could ask for more?”
Birthdays and big family events are always extra special occasions in the Bannister household and everyone is included. “We are a close family and we include the children in everything we do,” said Jean. “So when it comes to party time we always have a house full and they are always at the centre of it. They really love it and we feel lucky to have been able to share our family and our lives with them.”
One thing’s for sure – that house in Platt Bridge doesn’t seem so empty anymore.
Get more information on fostering in the Wigan Borough.
You can also contact the council’s Family Placement Team on 01942 487203.