A Surrey couple who foster children with disabilities and complex health problems have been rewarded for their dedication with MBEs.
John and Wendy Palczynski, from Guildford, have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to children and families in Surrey.
They have cared for 29 children over 13 years including some with profound multiple disabilities and conditions such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and blindness.
The couple have gone on to become the special guardians of eight-year-old Summer, a child they began fostering when she was two.
Summer was born with the rare genetic disorder DiGeorge Syndrome which is linked to heart, lung, bone and muscle problems and learning difficulties.
She needs to be connected to her ventilator 24 hours a day to assist her breathing, which she pushes in a cart in front of her, and thanks to the couple’s care and attention is thriving at her local mainstream primary school.
The couple, who have three grown-up children of their own and four grandchildren, are also caring for a five-year-old boy with disabilities.
Wendy, 57, a former nursery nurse in hospital units for premature babies, said: ‘Fostering was something I always thought I would do, but it was always something I thought about doing one day.
‘I got talking to a foster carer at the special baby care unit where I was working and she encouraged me to just get on and do it. I started to seriously consider it and we got together as a family and discussed it and decided to go ahead the next day.’
She added: ‘I would say to others if fostering is something you have ever thought about doing just go for it because it’s so rewarding. It really it is a privilege to see children thrive and move on and become amazing young people.’
Most of the children the couple have fostered came to them as babies or toddlers and many have gone on to be adopted, with John and Wendy working closely with prospective adopters to help smooth the transition.
The couple’s experience of caring for a baby whose poor health proved fatal led them to specialise in fostering children with complex health needs.
John, 54, said: ‘We didn’t want to give up what we had learnt about caring for a child with a disability. We’ve seen children who have had a difficult start in life become very settled and it’s incredibly rewarding. The support we receive is excellent and we work with many excellent social workers.
‘After getting used to the therapies and medicines that need to be given, you simply see the child, their needs and achievements – the disability fades into the background. This helps children with complex health needs and disabilities to have as typical a life as possible.’
John was a telecoms engineer for 23 years and took voluntary redundancy to become a full-time foster carer 10 years ago – three years after the couple began fostering in 2003.
He said: ‘It was Wendy who pursued fostering and I supported her when she suggested it but I realised that actually it’s what I want to do as well.
‘We were pinching ourselves for days after finding out about our MBEs thinking this happens to other people. Seeing something on paper means you can’t just brush it aside.’
Wendy added: ‘Being awarded an MBE means a great deal. When we got the letter it was amazing to think that actually somebody somewhere had nominated us and noticed the work we are doing.’
Clare Curran, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families Wellbeing, said: ‘I’d like to congratulate John and Wendy on this fantastic achievement. Their dedication to the children in their care is inspirational and I’m delighted their work has now been recognised by the Queen.
‘John and Wendy have given security and a loving home to children who needed one and we need more people to come forward who are willing to help transform a vulnerable child’s chances.’