Bassetlaw foster carers Christine and Steve Birchnall say that the transformation they’ve seen in teenager Caren Callaghan has been nothing short of miraculous.
When the 14-year-old first came into their care four years ago, she had never put on a pair of skates.
But thanks to the Bassetlaw couple’s commitment and support and the fostered teenager’s dedication, Caren helped Team GB to victory at the Junior Olympics for inline hockey in California earlier this month bringing home gold medals in both the club and international competitions.
Christine, herself adopted, travelled to the States to support Caren. She said: “What Caren’s success proves to me is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a looked-after child or not, you can achieve great things. We are so proud of her success.
“When Caren first came to us, she was very reserved and quiet. She wasn’t into sport at all at that stage even though she played in the football team at primary school, but that didn’t really interest her.
“Then three months into her stay, she asked if she could have a go at skating after watching our son Jordan playing inline hockey with a team at Simply Skate in Rotherham. Jordan is a very talented skater and it turns out that Caren also has heaps of natural ability.”
Within a year, Caren had made Team GB and the under 10s’ Inline Dragons, which Jordan coached and Caren played with, had soared from bottom of the league to second in the national league.
“Caren has thrived ever since“, added Steve who manages the team Caren plays for. “She knows who she is when she’s on skates. It’s really brought her out of her shell – Caren now she has a strong, tight-knit friendship group.
“She works incredibly hard, is hugely disciplined and knows how to work as part of a team. Her Junior Olympic gold is richly deserved. Hockey has also turned her into a real achiever in other areas of her life, notably at school. It’s really heartening to see such huge transformation and massively rewarding as a foster carer.”
Caren, who also helped her team secure gold to become under 14 national champions in June, said: “It was an amazing experience and to win the gold medal at both the international and club levels just shows how we’ve gelled as a GB team.. The World Championships in 2017 in Barcelona are my next goal.
“I went into foster care with Christine and Steve just before going to secondary school and it’s changed my life a lot.
“As well as all the constant support I’ve received from the family with my hockey, not least taxiing me to and from training and matches several times a week, they’re always there if I need help with my homework or advice on how to deal with friend problems.
Inline hockey might be a minority sport in the UK, but in France and the US, the sport is huge and serves as a summer version of ice hockey.
Caren’s inspiration Jordan also travelled to California this month to play with the 18-year-olds for Great Britain.
After Caren’s team, Inline Dragons folded, she moved to Norton Cyclones who also play out of the same Rotherham rink and make up the mainstay of Team GB in their age group.
Collette Tattersall Caren’s social worker at the County Council, said: “I’m so thrilled for Caren and feel incredibly privileged to be her social worker. She is an inspiration to so many children and young people who have had similar early life experiences.
“It’s so rewarding to see Caren develop into a confident young lady. She should be really proud of her outstanding achievements both in and out of the sports arena. I am certain that with continued hard work, as well as the love and support she receives from her carers, Caren will achieve her goals.”
Christine and Steve, who have four of their own children, began fostering with Notts County Council 10 years ago when Steve gave up his job to look after their 19-year-old son James who had become very ill as a result of cerebral palsy and spondylitis.
“Christine has a very different world view because of the amazing upbringing she experienced with her adoptive parents. And because I come from a very big family myself, my view was to fill the house up a bit when I was caring for James and our elder children had left home,” said Steve.
To find out more about fostering, go to www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/fostering or call 01623 520260.
In order to protect the family their exact location in the district has been withheld.