As recent news stories have demonstrated, children in care in this country are being badly let-down by the system. Foster families could provide the first positive experience of family life for many children, but first we have to persuade many more eligible people to take up the fostering challenge.
Across the UK tonight almost 62,000 children will stay with over 50,000 foster families, but the Fostering Network estimates that 9,000 new foster carers are needed during 2013 alone to home the ever rising numbers of children coming into care.
The Independent on Sunday has reported how the shortfall of carers leads to sibling groups being separated, children being housed far away from their home and changing schools several times. A wider pool of foster carers, with the right skills and qualities, would make it more likely that stable homes can be found for children first time, giving them the best chance of a happy childhood and a successful future.
Too many people count themselves out from fostering because they don’t understand what it involves and believe the myths about who can and can’t foster. In fact, fostering services are looking for people from all walks of life, of all ages, gay and straight, owning or renting, single people, child-free couples and large families.
What matters is that they have a desire to work with children separated from their own families and the right skills and qualities, including good judgement, patience, resilience and great communication and listening skills.
One such foster carer, Richard, tells his story below. To find out more about becoming a foster carer, visit couldyoufoster.org.uk
Jackie Sanders, Head of Media and Campaigns, The Fostering Network
"Thirteen years ago I began my career as a primary school teacher. Then I moved into working with children at risk of exclusion, before training to become an educational psychologist. 18 months ago, I decided to become a foster carer.
With life not quite panning out the way I had expected, and with no long term partner or children of my own, I began fostering as a single carer. I crossed my fingers firmly and hoped that I was going to be able to put all the theory that I had learnt in the world of work into practice.
The eight-year-old child I currently have in placement, who has lived with me for 18 months, is definitely putting my theories firmly to the test.
I currently have two fostered children in placement with me. My youngest one arrived with me days after I was approved. He is described as being in ‘short term’ foster care but is likely to be with me for 2 years before a final decision is made over where he will be living permanently.
My oldest child has just turned 12 and arrived just over three months ago with plans to support his transition back home. The time scales for fostering are unpredictable and children can remain in short term foster care from several days up to several years. After this if children are not returned home the options become adoption, though this is extremely rare for children over seven, or more likely long term foster care.
Times are particularly challenging for my youngest child despite the fact that he has been in a secure placement for 18 months. He spent the first six years of his life living in a home where he wasn’t always the priority and where his needs often got forgotten. This has resulted in a little boy who becomes terrified of being forgotten about if he isn’t being given lots of attention.
When he feels forgotten about or left out this can result in what can often be termed as ‘attention seeking’ behaviours but which actually are unconscious strategies he has developed for survival. Being alone is likely to trigger all sorts of traumatic memories and I often need to remember how hard it can be for him in order to ensure that my own emotions don’t drive my responses to his behaviours.
In order to think about addressing his difficulties in this area I often time him to do tasks, give him clear time boundaries for when I will be returning to check on him or give him something of mine to hold on to or look after whilst I’m not with him. Challenging behaviour can often arise when I divert my attention to other people such as when I’m on the phone, when I’m talking to a cashier in the supermarket or when I’m helping my other child with his homework.
At these times I support him by giving him little jobs such as packing the dairy products or feeding the cat in order to keep him focused on a task rather than worrying about his relationship with me whilst I am occupied.
Since he has been with me I have seen him settle well and when he is with other people with who he feels safe and secure, then he presents as a gorgeous and fun little boy who is a pleasure to be with. He still struggles when faced with change and anxiety, most notably in relation to situations relating to his mother or court decisions.
What is telling is that when I remain calm and consistent with my responses to his wobbles, this can challenge his core value system and result in sudden extreme behaviours intended to push me to see whether I can manage his feelings.
It is crucial that I am able to hold onto the understanding that it is still unconsciously dangerous for him to rely on others and be dependent on me due to his early experiences of being let down and not having his needs met.
Trust and dependency in others are still skills he is learning.
Over time the consistency and reliability which I can provide will enable him to develop trust and security, providing him with the foundation stones to a future where he can build positive relationships with others in the knowledge that he was valued and safe whilst he was with me."
Richard Field, 37, is a single male gay foster carer who lives in London. Previous to starting fostering, he worked in education 13 years and uses this knowledge to help him better support the children in his care.
To find out more about becoming a foster carer, visit couldyoufoster.org.uk