The urgent need for more foster carers has been on the increase in recent years, with requirements reaching an all-time high. Calls have been made by fostering authorities to find approximately 8,370 extra foster families this year.
High profile cases of child abuse in recent years have cast serious doubts on council policy towards child protection and a subsequent overhaul in national attitudes has increased the number of children being placed in care every year. Startling new statistics released by foster agencies reveal that every 14 hours a child is admitted to the care of Northamptonshire County Council in need of foster care.
There are an estimated 63,000 children currently in foster care in the UK and this is only expected to increase. Unfortunately this rising requirement clashes with a number of cuts being made to funding. As a result a number of child care authorities are encouraging more families to consider fostering a child for either the long or short term.
In the East Midlands, there are currently 3570 children in foster care and one in every 650 people is currently registered as being a foster carer. However, 640 more carers are urgently needed, including in rural areas such as Oundle.
Sue Foster, of Oundle’s Fostering Solutions branch, said, ‘I don’t think any area can have enough foster carers really. It’s not only about the number of carers, but it’s also about providing a good match for the child that needs a foster home.’
Becoming a foster family may be accessible to more people than initially thought. ‘One of the key things that people need, as well as the time and energy to put into fostering, is a spare room. If there is something [in the home] that it is not quite up to our health and safety standards, for example a big pond, we would speak to them about making it safe. It’s more about what the family has to offer.’
It can be a very rewarding experience to provide a child or young person with a safe, stable home and emotional support. A common misconception is that the foster family does not receive enough support themselves. However, fostering authorities such as Fostering Solutions offer a range of support services, including social workers, ongoing training, visiting speakers and a 24-hour helpline for carers. Foster families can receive counselling support from Conatus and enjoy a range of social events throughout the year. In fact, the support services are so effective that the break down rate of placements is very low.
“We are quite a small group of staff here, we get to know the carers quite well. I know every carer that we have here, I’ve been to all of their houses, I know their own children, I know their foster children… I think that helps our break down rate to be so low,” says Foster.
Nevertheless, fostering is not an easy challenge to undertake. There are, of course, a number of highly necessary checks to go through before a child is sent to the family. According to Foster: ‘We have to ensure that we are providing the best quality foster carers for the most vulnerable children and young people in society. What we say to people is that you are really opening your door to a whole range of people – you’ll have the fostering social worker, the local authority social worker, there will be meetings, reviews, panels.’
In addition to this, carers have to follow a specific code of conduct when raising a foster child, often adopting alternative behaviour management strategies to those that they used with their own children.
Sue Foster’s parting advice to anyone with a spare room and the time and energy to change a child’s life forever:
‘First discuss it with all the members of the household… If you were to come to Fostering Solutions, we have a good support package available. Call our Freephone number, give your basic information and it will be passed over to the local office and an initial visit would be arranged to discuss what fostering involves, what the applicant has to offer, and what we would expect from the applicant.
‘At this point, there is no commitment… I think, ultimately, fostering isn’t always easy, but it can be good fun and carers say that the best reward they get is seeing a child develop into a confident, articulate, young person.’
By Francesca Coates