Would you consider fostering?
I've been mulling again over the prospect of making a difference to a vulnerable child's life.
Yet, widowed in my 40s, with two teenagers and a full-time job, I've been beginning to accept this may be but a pipe dream. I'm no spring chicken and space at home is limited.
My friend Laura is more confident.
She says: "I know that fostering is something we will do in the future. It's something I've always wanted to get involved in and while my husband had doubts initially, we have talked about it in depth and realise we want to offer a loving home to a child, or children, in need.
"Alan was concerned about the impact on our own boys, and was worried about getting too emotionally involved and the trauma that would bring when you have to hand a child back.
"I completely understand these concerns but I think that the support you can offer and the rewards that brings far outweigh the obstacles and heartache. I told him the fact that he would want to invest that emotion in the first place makes him exactly the right person to do it.
"But we appreciate the timing has to be right for us as a family. We have been completely open about our intentions with our boys, and explained to them that it won't be an easy thing to do, but they are both very empathetic and caring individuals and have both said they want us to do it if it means helping someone who needs what they have always taken for granted.
"Now our own children are getting older, with the eldest 16 and youngest 10, we are starting to think more seriously about the practicalities of how we can become foster parents. Our main stumbling block at the moment is making room in the house. We will need either a garage conversion or extension to build another bedroom before we can seriously contemplate it, but hope to be in a position to achieve that in the next five years."
When I consulted the experts, it turns out I may not be so unsuitable after all.
James Foyle, recruitment expert at the Fostering Network, said: "Many people think that their situation means they can't foster, but I would always tell them to start by ruling themselves in.
Through our work at the Fostering Network, we support fostering services to dispel the myths around fostering – you can foster if you're single, you can foster if you don't own your own home and you can foster regardless of your ethnicity, religion or sexuality and there is no upper age limit. As a foster carer it is important to recognise the needs of the child in your care.
"Clearly, children who come into care who need to be fostered have had a difficult start in life. Across the UK, fostering services are looking for a further 9,000 people this year alone to come forward who can provide the loving, stable environment, the time and commitment that these children need.
"As well as space in your heart, foster carers need space in their home – a spare bedroom is often a key requirement to be approved as a foster carer to allow a fostered child to feel secure in their new environment.
"The process takes on average six to nine months, during which time you will be assessed and trained to identify the types of children you can foster. Each fostering service's needs are different; some struggle to place teenagers, others sibling groups and children with learning difficulties and disabilities.
"Do find out in advance the types of foster carers they are looking for as this could impact on how soon a child is placed with you. Once approved, your fostering service will provide you with all the support you need to look after a child that comes into your care.
"Becoming a fostering family is a decision that everyone in your household needs to be involved in. The Fostering Network's website www.couldyoufoster.org.uk can provide answers to the questions you may have, and when the time is right, help you find your local fostering service to begin your journey to what many foster carers say is the best decision they ever made."
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