Surrey County Council leader David Hodge has revealed his experiences of growing up in care to mark this month's national Foster Care Fortnight.
Coun Hodge sought to draw attention to the two-week event and to the issue of foster care by publishing an article on his past in the online management journal for local authority business, The MJ.
In the article he wrote of the special significance foster care has for him, and how his background has led him to turn a great deal of his efforts towards helping others.
Coun Hodge wrote of his years spent in an orphanage and later a boys' home, and the lasting impressions they left on him.
He wrote: “With my background, looking after vulnerable children has personal importance for me.
“I was brought up in an orphanage in the seaside town of Dun Laoghaire. I was taken there a few months after I was born and have never known my mother or father.
“My stay at the orphanage lasted until I was nine, when I went to a boys’ home in Dublin until the age of 14, before moving into work.”
He continued: “My experiences of growing up in care made a lasting impression. I have been left with a strong sense of purpose and integrity and the need to be part of a community.
“When I was growing up, I probably didn’t realise that the foundations for my future were being laid.
“But the discipline, instilled in a good way, and the kindness of the people who played a part in bringing me up, really left a mark on me – helping to shape my life and beliefs.”
Coun Hodge stated: “I’m also convinced that my view about everyone working as one team for the common good, which I have brought with me to the county council, was formed as I grew up, although I didn’t understand it at the time.
“My upbringing has served to underline just how important it is that, in turn, I help other people and do everything possible to ensure children who can’t be with their parents have a loving home, whether that’s with foster or adoptive families.
“That’s not to say being brought up in an orphanage was bad at all, because there was a lot of kindness, fun, humour and love – as well as the occasional cheeky moment.”
He concluded: “The more we can do to encourage people to foster or adopt, the greater the benefit to children in the long term. “I would say to anyone thinking of doing either that it’s a hugely valuable role and we will do all we can to help you give children a happy family environment.
“Children are in care through no fault of their own and people with the generosity to open their hearts and homes can really help to transform their lives. “There are thousands of people across Surrey and the country already doing a truly wonderful job of making a big difference.
“In Surrey, there are more than 250 foster families providing a loving and supportive home to around 650 children, but we are always looking for more – and as every child in our care has different needs, we need people from all backgrounds to look after them.
“People sometimes think that children brought up in care are somehow different. We’re not. “Like everyone else we just want the best possible start in life so we can look forward to a bright future and playing a useful role in society.”