SEEING Janet and Keith with their large happy brood at home on their farm in the rural Wyre Forest countryside you may be forgiven for thinking you had wandered onto the set of the Waltons.
In fact, the pair often joke that they are the real-life UK version of the popular TV family.
There is never a dull moment in the Wilden Lane household, with birth children, grandchildren, adopted children, and long term foster children coming and going to and from school, college and countless social activities.
The quietest time of day is when the family sits around the dinner table each evening to have a meal and discuss the day’s events.
Janet and Keith’s story started with the birth of their son Martin - now aged 32 - who was born with severe learning difficulties.
However, it was not until the couple’s daughter Wendy was born two years later that the extent of his problems became evident.
Over the next few years the couple spent time learning new skills to help their son as well as volunteering at the local playgroup and school.
When their children were 10 and 12, the couple decided to put the skills and understanding they had learnt to good use by adopting a disabled child.
The couple had friends who had adopted three siblings with Down’s syndrome, seeing for themselves the love and joy they had brought with them.
So they contacted Barnardo’s, and before long were training to become adopters with the charity.
“Barnardo’s made it so easy for us,” said Janet. “I will never forget the day they contacted us to say they had found a match for us.”
The match was a four month old girl with Down’s syndrome called Ellie, who the whole family fell in love with and went on to become the apple of everyone’s eye.
Janet said: “Everyone doted on her, she was the cutest baby, so easy going, and amazingly she slept through the night from day one – unlike our own children.
“I can definitely say she has enriched our lives and I thank her birth parents every day for sharing her with us.”
Ellie first went to the local nursery and then on to school, doing everything any other child would do – spending time with friends, attending Brownies – nothing fazed or stopped her.
Her love of sport was matched only by her passion for musical theatre and Ellie went on to become an accomplished Special Olympian, winning awards for swimming, athletics, basketball, football and gymnastics.
At the age of 19 she now attends college, but when at home she is either belting out show tunes on her own karaoke machine or planning whole family trips to theatres across the country.
Each year, as a birthday treat, the whole family travel to see a performance of her favourite musical – Mamma Mia – wherever it may be performing at the time.
One of Ellie’s most memorable moments came when an Abba tribute band played at her 18th birthday celebrations.
This is a family that love to do things together, including activity holidays, days out, sports events or theatre trips.
Janet said: “I can honestly say nothing has ever stopped us doing things as a family. At one time we had five disabled children living at home.
“It might take us a while to get everyone ready, and we probably make a lot of noise when we’re together, but that’s what we love and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Our children have enriched our lives and I often think of what a boring life we would have had if we hadn’t have adopted and fostered.
“Thanks to Martin our lives took a different direction.”
Janet and Keith, who were named Carers of the Year in 2010 by Candis Magazine and also scooped an award for Outstanding Family of the Year, are living examples of the sheer joy adoption can bring.
Their experience has inspired their grown up daughter and son-in-law to adopt a disabled child to complete her family of two young boys.
Janet’s brother and sister-in-law have also caught the bug and are now offering respite care to foster children as well as bringing up their own four sons.
“We don’t need anyone to make a party,” jokes Janet. “It’s party time every day for us when we’re all at home.
“We often joke that if we ever do retire we’ll move into a tent in the garden so the children can all stay together.”