Tonight, 64,000 children across the UK will go to sleep in the safety and security of the loving home of a family who have made the commitment to foster - and The Fostering Network's Foster Care Fortnight is a unique opportunity to celebrate those 55,000 foster families who make this possible.
Across the UK, local authorities, independent fostering agencies, and health trusts, will showcase the work of foster carers so that everyone can see the commitment, passion, and dedication of the foster carers who care for fostered children and young people in their own homes.
I know though, from my everyday experience of working with and meeting foster carers and fostered children that these stats are just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to truly knowing what an amazing role foster carers play for the children they care for and the societies in which they live.
This Foster Care Fortnight, to dig a bit deeper into what foster care is, and what it means for children, we asked 261 care experienced children and young people their views on what they consider to be the key qualities and skills needed to foster.
The top three qualities that care experienced children and young people identified as key to making a good foster carer were:
• 67% want a foster carer who makes them feel safe and secure
• 61% want a foster carer who supports and helps them
• 54% want a foster carer who loves them
Sara from Litchfield, who fosters children with severe disabilities exemplifies these qualities, and she told The Fostering Network: 'We became foster carers to offer love to children who needed it but also to help children reach their full potential. Nothing changes with children with disabilities. The targets may be different but the goal to live life to the maximum still stays the same.
'Helping a child find their way in this world is one the greatest gifts you can ever give to them.'
We call them fostering families for a reason, fostering is something that everyone in the household can be involved with.
Brodie, Sara's daughter and a very proud foster sister, said: "Seven years ago, my sister Olivia passed away in her sleep. She had a condition called Rett Syndrome. She was unable to do the usual activities a nine-year-old would do. We were told that she was not going to be able to walk, talk or make a difference; she did all of those. She showed us how she could talk, walk and she definitely showed us that she would make a difference in this world. She was nine when she passed and, as I was seven, it made a large impact on my life.
"A few years after, we decided to foster a little boy. He had a hole in his heart and was tube fed - had never been shown the love a one-year-old should be shown. Sadly, ten months later his conditions took his life.
"After that, my parents insisted that we were no longer going to foster because the heartbreak of losing two people in our lives was too much to handle. As I was then nine, I felt as if my voice should be heard. I explained to my family that if we hadn't fostered that little boy for those ten months, he would have never have experienced the love of a family who cared. This then made my parents think; they thought about maybe fostering another child who has a disability, yet not one that was life threatening.
"So, a few months later, we had a call about this ten-year-old boy who has global learning difficulties, autism and much more. We agreed that he was to become part of our family and we were so excited for him to become part of our lives.
"Four years later... that 10-year-old who was shy and nervous is now my 14-year-old brother who enjoys being cheeky and mischievous. My experience of being able to watch him grow from a nervous child into a cheeky teen has been the best experience I could ever ask for. And yes, my family isn't the most 'normal' but it is the most loving, caring, cheeky and unique family there is, and we would never be who we are today without the foster children who have blessed our lives."
Fostering is incredibly challenging, but hugely rewarding, and this year alone there is a need for over 9,000 new fostering families to come forward to foster this year alone like Sara and Brodie's family did.
The pressure to recruit new foster carers is ongoing: just as there is diversity in fostered children, foster carers need to come from a variety of backgrounds and have different life experiences, skills and qualities to help meet the needs of each individual child and young person in foster care. At present the greatest need is to recruit foster carers for teenagers, sibling groups, and disabled children.
Debbie Douglas, a star of The Only Way Is Essex, has been a foster carer for more than 20 years, and she said: "Becoming a foster carer is daunting but something many people would be capable of doing. You don't have to be a superhuman you just need to be loving, understanding and resilient.
"I urge anyone who thinks they have the skills and personality to make a positive impact on these children's lives to talk to their fostering service about becoming a foster carer.
"Stop thinking, just do it and pick up the phone. Being a foster carer is knowing that you've made a difference."
Lydia Bright, star of The Only Way of Essex and daughter of foster carer Debbie Douglas, said: "I've never known a life without being part of a fostering family. My friends at school used to complain it was boring at home, but being a part of a fostering family meant I never felt alone as a child.
"No parents have a child and don't want to look after it, but some can't. That's why you should never stereotype, because every child has come into care for a reason that's nothing to do with them."
It is never the fault of a child that they come into the care system, and once they do it becomes the responsibility of local authorities and health trusts to ensure that they receive the care and support that they need. Foster carers are an integral part of this, advocating for children, loving the children, feeding, housing, and clothing the children and ensuring that they go to school. Ultimately, what foster carers do is to provide the safety, security and love that the children are asking for and to give them chance of having the childhood that they deserve.
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