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Fostering is not just vital for children in need, it also offers uniquely rewarding experiences for carers, says Ellie Jones

There is a shortage of 10,000 foster carers across the UK. This can make it difficult to match children with the right foster carers, and many children get bounced around the care system, suffering significant disruption in their lives.

Since 2007 the number of children needing foster homes in the UK has risen by more than 6,000, putting the system under huge pressure. Many fostering services say they are struggling to cope and they urgently need more people to come forward to foster.
Foster care makes a positive difference to the lives of tens of thousands of children every year and more foster carers are urgently needed.

Making a difference

Children coming into care have more complex and specific needs. A report by the Department for Education in 2010 found that in 73 per cent of school age looked after children had some form of SEN, compared with around 20.9 per cent of other children. They are also around nine times more likely to have a statement of SEN than their peers (Department for Children, Schools and Families, March 2009).

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Good foster carers can give children in care a positive experience of family life. They are highly skilled and have the abilities and qualities to deal with the challenges of looking after someone else’s child. They also receive training and support from their fostering service to help them further develop their expertise.

Bernadette Moylan, a foster carer from Solihull, says fostering is an incredibly rewarding career: “I had been working in a college for twelve years, working with young people with autism and other educational needs on a day to day basis. I enjoyed my job but felt that I wasn’t making as much change and impact on their lives as I felt I could, and that’s when I decided to apply to foster.

“My partner and I were approved around five and a half years ago, and have cared for three young people on the autistic spectrum in that time. My children were ten and seventeen when we began to foster, and we have always worked together, fostering as a family team. My son found it challenging at first, being of a similar age to one boy that we foster long-term with autism, but they have become great friends and spend a lot of time together. With my experience we were able to appreciate how much harder it would be to care for others 24 hours a day, and it has been a challenge, but a fantastically rewarding one.”

Gloria Samuel, a single foster carer from Essex, feels that fostering children with SEN can be tough but also a very special opportunity: “Over the past 20 years I’ve fostered 67 children, including a number with SEN. I began providing respite for my sister as she was fostering a boy with SEN, who she then went on to adopt.

“I have had been fostering a child long term for seventeen years now, since he was a baby, and he is part of the family. He has always needed extra support to other children of his age, and is possibly on the autistic spectrum. When he was younger, it took longer for him to walk and talk than other children his age and he sometimes struggled with concentration. Whenever he achieves something, even something others may consider simple, it is such a great achievement. He achieved above what was expected of him in his SATs at school and is now at college, and I believe the support he has had from being in foster care has really helped.

“Caring for children with additional needs means you need to be patient and understanding, and when I feel frustrated, it’s not for myself but for them. There is a lot of training involved in being a foster carer which is so worthwhile and helps you to do the best job that you can. It can be hard work, but it is extremely worthwhile.”

Getting involved

Research by the Fostering Network has found that 65 per cent of foster carers in the UK are in their 50s, 60s or 70s. While there is rightly no upper age limit on fostering, these figures suggest that a huge proportion of the workforce might choose to retire over the next ten to fifteen years. This would make an already worrying situation far worse; unless recruitment of new foster carers is stepped up sharply, the system could struggle to cope, causing even more disruption and instability for children.

However, this will change if more people come forward to be trained as skilled foster carers who can help to create a better future for society’s most vulnerable children. Now is the time to care.

How much do you know about foster care?

{pullquote}Unless recruitment of new foster carers is stepped up sharply, the system could struggle to cope{/pullquote}
Foster carers offer children a home while their own family is unable to look after them. This is often a short-term arrangement and many fostered children return home within a few months. Those who cannot go back to their families but still want to stay in touch with them may stay in long-term foster care, which can last from when a child is extremely young until they become adults.

Almost anyone can apply to become a foster carer, but you need to have the skills and qualities to look after a child separated from their own family. The qualities include strong listening and observational skills, a good sense of humour, optimism and resilience.

Foster carers are as diverse as the children they look after. You can be single, married or in a long-term stable relationship, gay or straight. You can own your home, rent accommodation or be receiving housing benefit.

In addition to short-term and long-term fosters, respite foster carers look after children on a part-time basis, perhaps one weekend a month to give a child’s family a break, while emergency foster carers may take in a child for just one night.

Some foster carers specialise in fostering teenagers, others young mothers or fathers and their babies. Foster carers with enough room may take groups of brothers and sisters to prevent them from being split up. Others decide to look after disabled children.

Foster carers are trained before they start fostering and are offered ongoing professional learning and development opportunities. They receive an allowance to cover the costs of looking after a child, and some are paid a fee for their skills and time.

Foster Care Fortnight

Foster Care Fortnight is an annual event, organised by the Fostering Network, to raise awareness of fostering and to encourage new people to consider fostering. The theme of this year’s campaign (16 to 29 May) is fostering: time to care.

Further information

Ellie Jones is Media and Communications Assistant at the Fostering Network:
www.fostering.net

To find out more about becoming a foster carer contact your local fostering service or visit:
www.couldyoufoster.org.uk


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