Steve Phillips was made redundant from his job as picture editor on a daily newspaper in January 2015. He now chairs two panels vetting prospective foster parents and adopters. He also runs his own photography/training business.
Tell me briefly about your career:
“I joined the Merthyr Express as a trainee photographer in 1989. I did my last A Level exam on a Thursday and started work on the Friday. I remember that my first assignment was a court snatch of an escaped prisoner who had been caught. It made the front page.
“I worked for the South Wales Evening Post as a trainee from 1991 to 95. Then I went to the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, where I became deputy picture editor on the Echo. I joined the South Wales Argus as chief photographer in 1999, and left in 2003 to rejoin the Evening Post as its picture editor.
“In January this year my position was made redundant. I had the option of staying with the Post as a staff photographer, but I chose redundancy.”
That was a big step to take. Why did you decide to do that?
“In 2003 I was invited to join a fostering panel. I had to set up a business to pay the extra tax on the money I was earning on the panel. I also had a photography business on the side, doing things like local weddings at the weekend.
“I could see the way the newspaper industry was going, I had experience of running my own business, and I had a customer base in the valleys where I was living. So I thought I would go into freelancing in a bigger way.”
Tell me about the fostering panel. What does it do?
“Potential foster parents have to go through assessment. That is done by the members of the panel. They are a mix of people. There are social workers, people with a background in the law or education, and medical advisers. There is also a foster parent on the panel, and somebody who has been fostered themselves. That’s where I came in.”
I know that you have a personal reason for being involved in this work.
“I was taken into council care when I was 12. I had been brought up by my great grandmother, but she became too old and too ill to look after me. I went to live with my mother, but it didn’t work out.
“I had five different foster families. That’s quite normal, sadly. I could not settle into family life. I ended up at 17 doing my A Levels and living alone in a flat paid for by the local council.
“So being involved with a foster panel was my chance to give something back. Being fostered was a very positive experience for me.”
What advice would you give somebody who was thinking about being a foster parent or adopter now they have retired from full-time work?
“Lots of people who go into fostering think they will somehow change the kid’s life. It very rarely happens like that. But I got something out of each foster parent I had. It’s more about planting a seed that may germinate later.
“Fostering is now regarded as a profession more than a vocation. Somebody who wants to become a foster parent has to attend training and support groups. They will be an advocate for the child, be the point of contact with the birth parents, supervise that contact if it is appropriate.
“It is now much more professional. It is a better fostering experience for the parents and child because the training is excellent.
“But anybody thinking about doing it needs to be aware that it would be like starting a whole new career.”
Let’s talk about when you were made redundant. How did you adjust?
“Luckily, I had some work that kept me busy for about the first three weeks after I left the Post. But after that, I found there were periods of no work. I had to adjust from weeks that were packed with different stuff, to having some days with nothing to do.”
How did that feel?
“Your sense of self-worth disappears. It knocked my confidence, and my self-esteem. I was looking at the charity sector because I thought the skills I have from working in newspapers would be valuable. But I didn’t even get invited for an interview.”
How did you cope with these feelings?
“I began to spend time developing and marketing myself online. I thought I had to get myself out there, and build up my own business.
“I now do some training for local newspapers. I’m training reporters on how to use mobile phones to shoot videos for the newspaper websites. I’m also working with photography students at local universities.”
What does the future hold for you?
“I have a meeting next week with a charity that is looking for trustees for a scheme working with disabled people through the medium of photography and video. It’s a voluntary role and it sound very interesting.
“Meanwhile, I’ll continue building my business, and doing my fostering panel work.”