MORE than 700 new foster families are urgently needed across Yorkshire, to help give hundreds of children “their first experience” of a stable, secure and caring home, a charity has said.
Across the UK, 8,100 new foster families are needed this year, the Fostering Network said today - including 720 in Yorkshire.
The charity said that without more foster families coming forward - especially those who could foster teenagers and sibling groups - some children will find themselves living a long way from their family, school and friends, being split up from brothers and sisters, or being placed with a foster carer who might not have the right skills and experience to meet their specific needs.
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The new figures have been released on the first day of the charity’s Foster Care Fortnight, which has been running for more than 20 years to highlight the crucial need for foster carers.
On Saturday, the Yorkshire Post reported how “vitally important” legislation introduced by David Cameron to keep foster children with their foster families beyond the age of 18 had dropped to its lowest take-up levels since it was introduced in 2014.
The Fostering Network said increasing the number of foster families across Yorkshire would mean that the needs of each child could be more closely matched to the skills and experience of a foster carer, which would allow them to find the right home and improve stability “for the first time”.
Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: “Foster carers do something amazing on behalf of our society, opening their hearts and homes to fostered children, often offering them their first experience of a stable, secure and caring home.
“Looking after fostered children, many of whom who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, can be challenging. But it is that challenge, along with the reward of seeing these children and young people flourish, that many foster carers across Yorkshire and Humber say makes them proud to foster.”
Paul and his husband Michael have been fostering for Barnsley for 11 years and currently look after two siblings, one of whom has additional needs.
He said: “We are very proud to foster, to break all those boundaries and sadly taboos that still exist. Being a same sex couple we have made other same sex couples feel comfortable and confident about the fostering process because they can see we have successfully fostered children over many years.
“The best aspect of fostering is seeing the children and young people become happy, confident and comfortable in themselves and their surroundings. Of course, being a foster carer is very demanding and takes emotional resilience.
“Fostering is the best thing we have ever done. We have loved and cared for some fabulous children who have then gone onto flourish in their lives.”
Fostering North Yorkshire, part of North Yorkshire County Council, currently has more than 300 children looked after by foster carers and is seeking to recruit more families, including those interested in offering full-time care and those able to offer overnight short breaks for disabled children with additional or complex needs.
North Yorkshire’s executive member for children’s services, Coun Janet Sanderson, said: “People often think they can’t foster because they are single, work or are too old, but none of these things matter.
“We’re looking for people who have space in their home – and their heart – for a young person and can offer them a positive and loving home environment. By becoming a foster carer, people have the opportunity to change a young person’s life for good.”
There are currently more than 750 children in foster care with Hull Fostering, which is particularly in need of foster carers for over fives, teenagers and sibling groups.
Group manager Andrea Lewis said carers need to be patient, understanding and have a genuine commitment to make a difference to a child’s life.
She added: “Hull Fostering is the largest agency providing foster care in the local area with over 340 fostering households. We have always had strong presence in Hull and our carers chose to come to us because we have strong culture of supporting them and being alongside them on their journey to becoming a foster carer and throughout their career.”
‘You know you are helping them’
Mother-of-three Rachel Crossley began fostering in Sheffield six years ago, after her two eldest sons moved out.
She said: “You really do make a difference to these young people’s lives. Some of the children have come to me lacking the most basic of skills. They are not even able to use a knife and fork.
“Another child was completely frightened and withdrawn. She would be left in a blind panic after a door slammed. By the time she left she was able to relax and act calmly in any situation.
“Even when children are with you for a short period of time, you know you are helping them with an important transition, supporting them to move on to an adoptive family or into long term foster care.
“You don’t have to be the perfect mum to be a foster carer; everyone is only human after all. But it you have a spare bedroom and are able to give a child love and some time make sure you get in touch with the council.”
In Sheffield, the council is looking to recruit between 40 and 50 additional foster carers this year, and is holding an information event on Tuesday May 15, at the Quaker Meeting House from 5.45pm to 8pm.
Sheffield Council’s director for children, young people and families, Carly Speechley, said: “The foster carers in our city do a brilliant job. We need many more people to become foster carers – it’s challenging but also rewarding and those that do become foster carers can and will change lives.
“Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more details – we’d be delighted to hear from you.”
For more information contact Ruth on 0114 273 5075.
‘There is nothing as rewarding’
Former coal miner and grandfather-of-two Andy Fleming, 56, started fostering just two years ago.
When he was made redundant from mining back in 1999, Mr Fleming, who lives in Barnsley, retrained and started volunteering at a youth club. He secured a job in Youth Services and worked his way up to become a manager.
On a trip to Thailand he met his future wife Somsri and during his visits there he taught English at local schools. They lived in England but when Andy turned 50 he took early retirement and the couple moved with their daughter back to Thailand to set up English Language Schools.
They returned to the UK in 2015 so their daughter could settle into a secondary school and that’s when Andy started to seriously think about fostering.
After contacting various agencies, he chose to sign up with Action for Children, and fostered a teenage girl who still lives with them two years later.
Mr Fleming said: “Although I had a career working with young people and loved it, fostering is even more rewarding. In a nine to five job you are limited to how much time you can spend with them, but as part of a family unit you really can make a difference and see them develop and progress.
“Ours was a family decision to foster, with our daughter very much involved, and it has been such a positive move for us all, including my two grandchildren.
“Of course there are challenges but it’s all about attitude. You have to give it time and celebrate every step, no matter how little it may seem. Young people mainly just want someone to believe in them and listen to them.
“I’d encourage anyone thinking about fostering to go for it – there is nothing as rewarding as supporting a young person and watching them develop and grow, personally and emotionally. Action for Children not only have an excellent training and matching service, they support you all the way through, it feels like we’re one team, all in it together.”