FOSTER children never forget those who cared, nurtured and guided them through their formative years.

For Stuart Sheridan, now a serving police officer, this sentiment is particularly important.

Speaking to mark Foster Care Fortnight, a celebration of all those who volunteer to care for young people, he describes how foster mum Fran Barzoukas shaped his life.

Mr Sheridan, who was seven when he met her for the first time, says: “I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Fran. I very much regard Fran as my mum.

“A mother may give birth to you, but a foster mum raises you and she did that fantastically.

“I distinctly remember feeling terrified when I first turned up. Fran just seemed to get it though. She made a real effort with me even though I was probably very difficult.

“My favourite memory was being treated to a Burger King. It’s sometimes the smallest gestures which have the biggest impact.”

Now 32, Mr Sheridan is a constable in the Castle Point and Rochford Community Policing Team.

Mr Sheridan says his foster mum made a promise to his father before he died that he would always stay in education.

He adds: “True to her word I kept a 100 per cent attendance record.

“You don’t always appreciate routine when you’re young, but you understand how it has shaped your life when you reach adulthood.

“When I first arrived, I stole 20p coins from a weighing machine in Asda.

“She marched me right back into the shop to give them back. She also instilled a lot of confidence in me to challenge injustice. It’s no surprise really that I ended up being a police officer.”

Ms Barzoukas, 65, from Basildon, has been a foster carer for more than 30 years.

She says: “Being a foster parent has very much enriched my life for the better.

“It’s not always easy, but l wouldn’t change it for one minute.

“You often want to change the world but when you foster a child you often end up changing their world and your own.

“The remainder of my foster and biological children are grown up now and have moved out of the family home, but we all stay in contact.

“It’s so heart-warming to see the unique bond they have.

“There is no distinction as we’re all one family”.

She has fostered children of all ages, providing short-term and respite care to long-term care, and currently fosters two girls aged eight and 18.

Up to 500 children in Essex are expected to go into foster care this year.

Louise McKinlay, councillor responsible for children and families, says: “While our county responds to the devastating effects of coronavirus, life goes on for children and parents in crisis.

“A high proportion of the children who come into care are over the age of ten, so we desperately need foster carers like Fran to help with that age group.”