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Dominic Stevenson looks at how the right fostering placement can transform the lives of children and parents alike

For the first time, there are now more than 50,000 fostering families across the UK. Despite this record figure, though, at least 9,000 new families are needed in 2013 alone, as the number of children coming into care continues to rise.

Each looked-after child is an individual, often with complex needs. They can all benefit from a foster carer with the right skills to help them develop and thrive, both in care and when they leave, whether they return to their birth family, are adopted or live as an independent adult.

The number of children in care with statements of SEN is rising, so there is an increasing demand for foster carers who have the skills and willingness to support a child with special needs.

The shortage of foster families means that children sometimes have to live with foster carers who may not have the right experience, training and support to meet their specific needs. This can put a strain on the relationship and may cause placements to break down, meaning children are moved around time and time again, suffering even more disruption to their often already traumatic lives.

A well-matched fostering placement, on the other hand, can see a child live and thrive with one foster carer over many years.

Matching families

The shortage of foster carers also means that fostering services often struggle to find the right home for a child, first time around. As a result, children often have to live with a foster family a long way from their home, are split up from their brothers and sisters, and have to move from family to family and school to school. Some live in children’s homes, even though foster care has been identified as the best option for them.

A wider pool of foster carers with the right skills and qualities would make it more likely that the right homes can be found for children first time, giving them the best chance of a happy childhood and a successful future.

Hayley became a foster carer two years ago and has never looked back: “I wanted to do something to help families that needed it”, she says. “I had a spare room and spare time so I made the decision to become a foster carer. It has, without a doubt, been the best decision I've ever made. I love how I've made a massive impact on families that I now feel a part of.”

Paula and her family have also put themselves in the frame, despite extraordinary circumstances: “My husband is a paraplegic full-time wheelchair user and we thought, at first, that we would not be able to foster due to his disability. But this has never been an issue due to a very supportive fostering service,” she explains. “None of the children placed with us have seen my husband’s disability as a problem, and we are able to show the children that whoever you are and whatever your problems, you can be someone.”

The number of children in care with statements of SEN is rising.Janet, who has been fostering for 35 years, knows that fostering can not only change the life of the children you care for, it can change yours too. “We have had lots of great success during our time fostering”, she says. “My husband has walked one of our children down the aisle at her wedding and I have attended the university graduations of young people that we have cared for. I have been at the hospital for a scan when someone we used to care for had her first baby and she is now a police constable. We are just so proud of them all.”

Clare was two when she went into care. For the first five years, she was moved around between a lot of different homes, before a permanent foster carer was found. “I’ve had a stable home since I was about eight years old when I was placed with my foster family, who are amazing”, says Claire. “I had some tough experiences at the start, but in a way I think it gave me the determination, inspiration and ambition I needed. My foster carer, who I now see as my mum, always instilled good values in me and she’s why I’ve been successful and gone on to university. She’s encouraged me to go for everything I want to achieve and has been the biggest inspiration in my whole life.”

Foster Care Fortnight

13 to 26 May 2013
Fostering services are currently looking for people from all walks of life, and of all ages, to become foster carers. Having the right skills and a desire to work with children are essential. Carers also need to have a good sense of humour, to show resilience in the face of challenging behaviour and to have the confidence to provide stability in a welcoming home where a child can feel secure and safe.

This Foster Care Fortnight, 13 to 26 May, the Fostering Network is asking people to get in the frame and consider becoming a foster carer. If you believe that you’ve got what it takes to foster, visit: www.couldyoufoster.org.uk

Ten steps to fostering

  1. Starting point – visit: www.couldyoufoster.org.uk to find local fostering services.
  2. Choose a fostering service – contact local agencies for an information pack.
  3. Find out more – attend an information session and meet current foster carers.
  4. Make a formal application.
  5. Start the assessment – a social worker will support you through the process, carrying out a thorough assessment of you and your household.
  6. Attend training – all prospective foster carers complete pre-approval training to prepare them and their household for a career in fostering.
  7. Get checked out – background checks are made on all applicants as fostering services need to be sure that children will be safe and well cared for.
  8. Fostering panel – when all information has been gathered, a report is made to a fostering panel who recommend whether the applicant is suitable to foster.
  9. Becoming a foster carer – the fostering service then makes the final decision about approval.
  10. Looking after a child – the fostering service matches a child with a new family. This could be the next day or in a few weeks.

Further information

Dominic Stevenson is Media and Communications Officer at the Fostering Network, organisers of Foster Care Fortnight:
www.fostering.net

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