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Can you give a child a home?

PUBLISHED: 15:37 26 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:43 23 August 2010

LOVING HOME: A foster family.

LOVING HOME: A foster family.

THERE are 53,000 children and young people living with foster carers in the UK. Foster Care Fortnight runs until the end of May and is designed to promote foster care as a profession. Journalist Shelley Whittaker talks to some local foster carers and disc

THERE are 53,000 children and young people living with foster carers in the UK. Foster Care Fortnight runs until the end of May and is designed to promote foster care as a profession. Journalist Shelley Whittaker talks to some local foster carers and discovers it can be a tough job but incredibly rewarding.

THOUSANDS of children end up in care every year, often through no fault of their own.

A tough upbringing, parents who can't care for them as well as they need, or an unexpected teenage pregnancy are all things which can put children into the foster care system.

Fostering is a favoured alternative to a children's home, yet there is a shortage of foster carers in Kent and nationwide, meaning some children inevitably end up in residential care when a foster home would be better suited to them.

Being a foster carer is not easy. Daily reports are combined with visits from social workers, meetings with schools and parents and often complex medical or behavioural needs. It's a 24/7 job.

Childminder Heidi Dudley said: "Fostering is so rewarding. It's hard work and there's a lot involved in it but as long as you have the support there, it's great to make a difference to a child's life.

"Every child you foster is different and you work towards achieving goals for that child and when you see the difference you've made you get a real sense of pride.

"For me it's important to not get attached to the children because they are with me temporarily. It's very much a profession - I'm a foster carer, not a mum to them."

Heidi, who is a single foster carer without children of her own, explained that the foster carer always gets a choice about taking on new children, but often has to make a decision at a moment's notice.

She added: "I would say to anyone thinking about becoming a foster career to just take the plunge and get the ball rolling. There are plenty of steps along the way when you can opt out if it's not for you but all sorts of people can make good foster parents, not just couples with experience of bringing up their own children.

"I have no regrets and feel a real sense of pride in helping them move on in their life and make a difference to them."

Heidi's fostered a number of children over the past four years and currently looks after three children aged six, seven and 16.

Her views are supported by Tracy Norris. As well as having four children of her own, she currently fosters three others, and sometimes more. So mealtimes are hectic.

"We're encouraged to sit down for a meal as a family but in reality, by the time we've got round to dishing up the adult meals, some of the children have finished theirs," she admits.

Over the past five years, Tracy has fostered around 20 children, ranging from a new baby to teenage mums and their babies. He husband Mark also quit his job and is a full-time foster carer.

First steps to fostering

Applications from couples, single sex couples and single people are welcome.

Call 0845 330 2968, visit www.kent.gov.uk/fostering or call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675, e-mail info@fostering.net, or visit www.couldyoufoster.org.uk

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