As part of Foster Care Fortnight, Guardian reporter GAYLE ROUNCIVELL looks at the desperate need for more foster carers in our region, and hears how fostering has transformed the lives of two local families
A heartfelt appeal for more foster carers has gone out to families across the region as part of a fortnight aimed at raising awareness.
The latest fostering figures make uncomfortable reading, and as part of Foster Care Fortnight, charities which help find homes for children in need are hoping more families will come forward to offer their help.
There are more than 1,300 children in care in Lancashire, at the same time as a desperate shortage of foster carers.
Nationally, one child goes into care every 20 minutes and more than 7,000 foster carers are needed.
A recent YouGov survey showed an 11 per cent shortfall between people interested in fostering and actually becoming full-time carers.
You Can Foster, the north of England fostering campaign that so far helped create more than 1,000 enquiries from prospective foster carers, has launched its 2017 campaign during Foster Care Fortnight.
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by You Can Foster revealed that just one per cent of the adult population in the UK surveyed currently fosters a child or children – yet 12 per cent of those adults have considered or are considering fostering a child.
And there is a desperate need to recruit carers for certain groups of children, including brothers and sisters, older children and young people, children from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, children that will be in foster care long-term and children who need more specialist care.
Kevin Goosey, fostering team manager at Lancashire County Council, said: “Don’t worry about all of the myths around fostering – lots of people think they can’t foster because they’re single, too old, too young, have a job, don’t own house, don’t have the right qualifications or experience.
“But it really isn’t the case. All you need is a spare room and a desire to make a difference to a local child’s life.”
Anyone who wants to know more can call 0800 0124 278 or visit www.communityfostercare.co.uk.
You can also find information at http://youcanfoster.org/
LEONA AND CHRIS PYE
Leona and her husband Chris, from Morecambe, have been fostering children for more than eight years alongside their two birth children.
“We always knew we wanted to foster,” Leona explained. “My husband was given up for adoption as a baby and had a really positive experience. We had so much to offer and have both always loved being around children so we thought we’d give it a go.”
Both Leona and Chris’s own children and foster children have special and complex needs.
“Our own children didn’t reach key milestones so we were able to pick it up more quickly with our foster children when they were younger,” Leona said.
“They came to us with attachment issues, trouble sleeping and were underdeveloped emotionally and socially.
“It’s been challenging in different ways, but with our help they’ve come along leaps and bounds.
“They’ve progressed so much, are healthier, happier and enjoy playing together.”
Leona is incredibly proud of how well her own children have supported and cared for the new family members.
“Our birth children have grown up with fostering. We’re so proud of how they’ve shared us as parents and accepted new children into the family.
“We actually adopted one of the children we were fostering and their attitude is ‘he’s our brother and that’s that!’”
Leona is quick to reassure families with children of their own considering adoption that they should take that next step and enquire.
“You manage, you adapt and you make it work,” she said. “The process is so flexible and completely centred around your family’s needs.”
And would Leona recommend fostering to others?
“Yes, It’s truly one of the best things we ever did,” she said. “You can work from home, and be completely involved in your child’s education and go to school events etc. It’s all about them.
“You get to see some really tough cases with great outcomes and you know that you’ve done your best for that child.
“We love it.”
RUSS AND ANDREA JONES
Two people who know first-hand how transforming fostering can be are former prison officers Russ and Andrea Jones from Crag Bank, who are carers with not-for-profit agency Community Foster Care (CFC).
They became foster carers last year after retiring early for health reasons.
“We were sitting around doing not much all day, said Andrea, 44. “We couldn’t go out to work but we were too young to be doing nothing.”
The couple spent six months going through the necessary procedures, including taking part in CFC’s Skills to Foster training course.
They also had discussions with their two sons, aged 16 and nine.
Russ and Andrea were finally accepted in July 2016.
“A nine-week-old child entered our lives, and we’ve never looked back,” said Andrea.
“It’s pretty full on. You don’t just take on a child and get on with it – there are meetings, training and everything that goes with it. The support we get from CFC is amazing.
“This child has had a massive impact on our lives. She brought us so much.
“We treated her as one of our own. She gave us a new lease of life and made us feel as if we were doing something worthwhile. It’s everything we thought it would be and more.”
Russ, 47, is equally positive.
“Watching a child develop and grow in a safe environment has been incredible,” he said. “These children are just little innocents who didn’t ask to be in care. It’s our job to offer them protection and a safe place to thrive.
“Fostering has transformed all our lives. We weren’t ready to watch Cash in the Attic on daytime TV and there’s no doubt we’ve done the right thing.
“It’s a chance to give a little bit back and we’ve definitely gained as much as we give. ”
Chief executive for CFC, Matthew Roberts, said: “Most people think they can’t foster, but usually the opposite is true. So long as you’re over 25 and in generally good health, you too can foster.
“The fact is that there’s lots of help to get you started, plenty of support and excellent training, as well as an allowance to cover the cost of looking after the children in your care.
“Fostering is not just about transforming lives, it’s about transforming the futures of children who are in care through no fault of their own.”
FOSTERING: THE FACTS
* There are almost 70,000 children in care in the UK and the number is rising
* In Lancashire, there are approximately 1,350 looked-after children and young people (750 boys and 600 girls), including about 80 babies under a year old. The highest number (475) are aged 10-15.
* Around 30,000 children in England come into care in a year, through no fault of their own, with similar numbers leaving the care system to return home, move in with another family member, live with new adoptive families of move on to adult life
* Children and young people come into care for a wide range of reasons: they may have been abused or their birth parents are no longer able to look after them. These children are hurt and vulnerable. All have great potential, but need extra support, compassion and understanding from their carers and school.
* Being placed in a foster home, with the right levels of attention and support, gives them the opportunity to rebuild their lives and find security, stability and the belief that they can have a secure future.
Foster carers can be:
* Single, married or divorced;
* Male or female;
* A parent, single parent or someone who has never had children;
* In a same sex relationship.
Foster carers must have the following:
* At least one good-sized spare room for each child;
* Evidence of parenting skills;
* for long-term fostering, one person must be willing to be at home on a full-time basis;
* a commitment to ongoing training and learning;
* A real interest in helping children and young people with difficulties understand they do have a future;
* A commitment to working in partnership with the child’s birth family and professionals.
* Foster carers receive regular supervision and support from a qualified social worker;
* Experienced staff at Community Foster Care also offer 24-hour telephone support;
* The current weekly maintenance allowance is circa £380 per child.