Chief executive of the Fostering Network

Ever since I started work as a social worker, I have regularly been amazed and impressed by the fantastic work that foster carers do. Whether it is the kindness and caring they show somebody else's child, the patience and calm they bring to a challenging situation or their dedication and commitment to transforming a vulnerable child's life, foster carers make a vital contribution to our society.

As someone who has worked in social care for more than 30 years, I have seen fostering go through considerable change. While the desire to care for and help vulnerable children has been, and will always be, at the heart of fostering, it has moved on from being largely a voluntary role and is now rapidly becoming a viable career option.

The expectations and demands of fostering still require foster carers to be absolutely committed to the children they look after. However, today's foster carers need to have or to develop a broad range of skills in order to care for children who may have experienced a traumatic start to life or have very challenging behaviour.

Fostering is a career like no other, uniquely bridging family and professional life. Foster carers have to be committed to providing children with the best possible care, and they must work alongside a team of other professionals including social workers and education and healthcare specialists to support a child and to meet their needs.

To fulfil this role, foster carers receive extensive training and support, and many choose to develop their careers and specialise in looking after some of the most vulnerable children in our society who often have a complex range of needs. All foster carers get an allowance to cover the costs of looking after a child, and many are now paid a fee for their time and skills.

Recognition of the important role that foster carers' own children play is growing, too. The whole family is involved in fostering, and the sons and daughters who live in a fostering household make a fantastic contribution, helping a child to settle and feel at home.

However, despite all this progress, foster care is facing an impending crisis. There is currently a shortage of more than 10,000 foster carers across the UK. At the same time, the foster care workforce is ageing, with two-thirds approaching retirement, and the number of children in foster care is rising and has been for the past two years.

The shortage means that more children may have to move a long way from their family, friends and schools, and may not be able to live with their siblings. It also means that too many children are placed with foster carers who may not be right for them and who may not have the skills and experience required to meet their needs.

When this happens, the arrangement is more likely to break down, and foster carers and children who experience this invariably suffer as a consequence.

Fostering services throughout the country urgently need more people to come forward and consider becoming foster carers. They need a diverse range of people with different skills and qualities so that more children can be placed with the right foster carer the first time, and are not continually moved around the care system – a scenario we sadly hear all too often.

During this year's Foster Care Fortnight (17-30 May), our annual awareness campaign, we are focusing on the personal and professional skills that a modern foster carer needs, and are asking people of all ages and backgrounds to consider fostering. While most people have heard of fostering, many may not realise they have the skills to foster.

Are you committed to children? Can you listen to someone's problems and concerns without being judgemental? Are you optimistic with a good sense of humour? Do you take a professional approach to your work? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you may have what it takes to be a great foster carer.

Go to www.couldyoufoster.org.uk or call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 to find out more

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