Derek Lavery, foster carer: 'It is essential that I am there for them 24 hours a day'

Derek Lavery, who previously ran a riding school, is now a foster carer for Aberdeenshire Council. He has been fostering for more than 10 years and specialises in looking after teenagers with behavioural problems. As one of the first carers to benefit from a fees-for-training scheme introduced by his local authority, he receives payments totalling around £18,000 a year for his work.

"Some of the young people I've looked after have been excluded from school, others have flatly refused to go to school or got into trouble with the police, and there have also been those times when a school has called me in the middle of the working day and asked me to go in and offer support to a youngster in my care.

Whether it's building bridges with teachers or with police officers, the youngsters I take on have been through some bad times, and it is essential that I am there for them 24 hours a day. Working outside the home would simply not be possible.

I became a full-time carer after doing some respite cover, and although at that stage I had no fostering-related qualifications, I have now reached my SVQ level 3 (the Scottish equivalent to NVQ) and I intend to train still further so I can stay one step ahead.

It's really important that a carer specialising in teenagers keeps up with current slang and understands how young people feel. There's a whole range of support services out there to ensure that the training is as relevant and accessible as it can be, and, in my view, the support is getting better all the time.

Although I have a 28-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old grandson, I like to think I'm in touch with the young. Understanding what makes them tick is just as important as maintaining a sense of humour."