'Council desperately needs foster carers' 'massive shortage of carers' '10,000 new families needed'
Year after year, you will read statements like the above from the government, councils and the fostering network. They implore you to consider the impact you could have on a young person's life if you made room in your heart and home to become a foster carer. The problem is, when you read the same message year after year it becomes easier to ignore, it loses impact and meaning, and it also makes the situation appear kind of hopeless.
We rarely explain what this shortage actually means, after all, if there aren't enough foster homes then where do the children go? Are they left waiting in the local council's office holding on to a ticket 'you are number 234 in a queue', are they put in a bleak group home or left to wander the streets? Surely not?!
I think it's important to know why there will always be a need for new foster carers, because it's not all about numbers. This is how it works...
When a child comes into care and they become the responsibility of the council. The council then need to find the best match for the child, this means finding a foster carer who can best meet the child or young person's needs. When we talk about a child's needs we're talking about everything, from their education - 'can the carer get the child to and from school?' To their culture - 'can the carer take the child to the mosque or prepare their favourite kosher meal?'
Meeting a child's needs is really vital. As you can imagine coming into care is rarely a happy experience, you are forced to stay with a stranger that you've never met before for an often unknown period of time. Even if you have moved from an abusive home into a safe one, it can feel destabilising. However, if you are going to a place where they eat similar food and can communicate with you in your language then it can really go a long way to making you feel at home.
A good example of this is the current migrant crisis, we now have a lot more children coming from Syria that speak Arabic - therefore we need more people that speak this language to come forward as carers.
On a more general level, the UK is a very multi-cultural place and the children coming into care reflect that. For example, in Newham, London where our agency is based, 41% of the population's first language isn't English*. That's why we reach out to people from every ethnicity and religion to consider fostering.
Ethnicity isn't the end of the story though; we also need people that can meet the needs of children with autism, learning disabilities and behavioural issues. We need people that have the space and time to look after sibling groups. We need people that are sensitive and accepting of young people that identify as transgender or who are struggling with their sexuality.
There isn't a one size fits-all foster carer that can look after all these types of children... This is why we need as many people as possible. This is what the shortage of foster families is all about.
The language used year after year around fostering in in the press and traditional advertising has lost its meaning. I think some potentially great foster carer's are being missed because they feel overwhelmed by the scale of the need or simply don't connect themselves with its message. It's not enough to tell people we need X amount of carers in London; we need to be telling them why we need them and how they can do it....
There will always be a need for new foster carers and we ought to look at that positively, every child and teenager is different, they deserve a truly broad and diverse range of carers to be matched with in order to give them the best chance of a good outcome in care and achieving success in their lives.