A young foster dad from Swindon is encouraging other young people to follow in his footsteps.

Dion Gale from Woodhall Park is calling on young people aged 21 or over to think about fostering as a viable career option which provides stability, flexibility and opportunities for progression.

The 32-year-old has been fostering full-time since he was 26 and hopes to complete his fitness instructor training by the end of the year.

He decided to become a foster carer after completing a placement at a learning facility for adults with special educational needs while at school and then working as a carer and childminder for seven years.

Dion currently has two boys in his full-time care - eight-year-old Jayden, who has been with him almost a year, and 10-year-old Connor, who will have been with him for three years in November.

He hopes to adopt Connor and is applying for Jayden to stay long-term, which means the boy will remain in his care until he can live independently as an adult.

Dion said: "Fostering felt like a natural progression. Looking after people is something I have been passionate about since school, and fostering was something I always wanted to do but thought maybe I was too young for it.

"After many years of being a carer for a young person with cerebral palsy, I felt I had enough experience to apply to foster. It’s worked out really well that Connor and Jayden are of similar ages as they get along amazingly. We’re able to do things together as a family of three.

“I’d consider myself a young dad and that’s definitely one of the benefits of fostering early in life. I still have so much energy to give these kids.

“I always wanted to help people, and I know that fostering is something I will continue doing for the rest of my life. It also gives me the financial security and time to pursue another interest of mine, personal training and fitness.”

The boys stay in spare rooms in Dion's four-bedroom house and are joined by 15-year-old Sam during the summer holidays to gives his permanent foster carers a break outside of term time.

Dion added: “Sam was my second foster child and was with me for a year and a half. He still comes back every holiday, and we have regular contact. He’s part of the family so there will always be a home here for him for as long as he wants to visit.

"When taking on an extra child, I have to assess the situation on a child-by-child basis and I have to consider how the boys are, if they’re going through a tough time in school or whatever it is, and I have to do what’s best for them. But equally, it’s great to know that I am able to take an extra child in if someone needed my help.”

He has looked after 12 children since being approved to foster in 2015, including babies, young adults and children with SEN. Dion fosters with Five Rivers Child Care, an independent fostering provider and social enterprise.

Fostering service manager Adrian Chappell said: “Dion’s a wonderful example of one of our younger foster carers who has managed to make a huge difference to a number of young lives, but in particular the two boys he has with him long term.

"His early experience of caring for both young and vulnerable people helped with that decision, but whatever your background, fostering can be a great career choice.

“The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped us from recruiting foster carers as the need for children and young people to have a stable and loving home has not diminished, and in some areas, we have seen the need increase.

“With more young people looking for longer career paths and progression opportunities alongside flexibility, a vocational career, like fostering, has become an option more people are starting to consider.

"If you are a loving individual or couple interested in providing a caring and a safe place to call home for those in need, we’d like to hear from you.”

People from all walks of life can be considered to become foster carers as long as they are over 21 years of age. This includes single people, co-habiting couples, same sex couples and people living in rented accommodation. Would-be foster carers will need a spare room for each child.

For more information, call Five Rivers Child Care on 0345 266 0272 or visit www.five-rivers.org.