Can you give children a 'helping hand in life' and make a difference in 2017?
PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:12 04 January 2017
There are more than 220 children in North Somerset who do not have a place to call home, but the council only has room for 120 of them.
This shortfall has prompted North Somerset Council to take action and it is this week launching its Make A Difference In 2017 campaign. The council hopes to recruit people to foster a child in the new year and have set up the campaign to spread the word. Mercury reporter Eleanor Young sat down with Eric Brown, the council’s fostering team leader, and marketing officer Louise Eddins to find out more.
Foster care is a way to provide a family life for children who cannot live with their own parents.
Mr Brown told the Mercury: “This Christmas there are 222 children in North Somerset in need of a foster care placement, but we can only place 120 of them with carers who live in this area.”
Foster carers can care for up to three children at a time, but newly-qualified carers are only able to care for one child in the beginning.
There are 75 foster care households in North Somerset – a mixture of families, couples and single adults – who between them can care for 120 children at any one time.
Councillor Jan Barber, the council’s executive member for children’s services, said the council needs more foster families to keep up with the numbers of children in need of homes.
She added: “Christmas is a great time for reflecting on the past year and thinking about new challenges and changes for the year ahead. Could 2017 be the year you make a difference and transform a child’s life?”
There are four different types of foster care...
Emergency: Carers who need to be prepared to take a child into their home at short notice, at any time of day or night.
Children will usually need to stay for a few days.
Respite: This service is planned and designed to provide a break to the long-term foster family if they have to attend a life event, such as a family emergency or need a few days or weeks off.
Short-term: Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place to stay until the child can return home to their own family or a longer-term fostering or adoption arrangement can be made, this can be from a few nights to a few years.
Long-term: This service allows children to stay in a family where they can feel secure, living with the family until they can live independently.
Meet Joanna and Martin White
Joanna and Martin have been foster carers for five years and have cared for the same child since the beginning.
The married couple from Worle attended an open evening and were hooked from the start.
Joanna, aged 41, said: “Both my husband and I were extremely blessed to have had a good childhood. There are so many children who need homes and to be looked after and we knew we had the availability and a spare room.”
Joanna and Martin, aged 51, took in their child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, as an emergency case when he was nine but still care for him today at the age of 14.
Joanna said: “We did not know what to expect. We wanted to make him feel welcome and feel like part of the family by creating a safe and secure environment for him.
“When he came, he was struggling in school and uncomfortable in social situations. Now he is thriving, he has career ambitions and is much more confident.”
The pair have moved to a larger house in the hopes of caring for another child.
She added: “It is not easy and it is a journey but to look back now it has been amazing.”
Meet John and Lynn Purcell Experienced foster carers John and Lynn said it ‘really tugs at the heartstrings’ seeing children as young as two with such ‘lifeless’ eyes.
The couple have cared for 10 children in their four and a half years as foster carers. They first thought about fostering more than 20 years ago, when their own children were toddlers.
After John, aged 56, was made redundant the couple decided it was the perfect time to become foster parents.
John and Lynn, aged 53, reached out to the council and, within a matter of days, had spoken to a social worker and had a house visit.
John added: “They talked us through the process and gave us an opportunity to ask questions and find out information.”
John said the most challenging part of being a foster carer is not knowing what to expect and trying to understand what the child has been through to react in a certain way.
He added: “Nothing prepares you for when the child walks through your door. The first child we ever cared for had such lifeless eyes. It is heartbreaking to see this child had been taken away from their home. It really tugs at the heart strings.”
How it works
People who show an interest in foster care will go through four to six months of training. They will be allocated a social worker who will work to ensure they are fully prepared for when a child walks through the door.
Any prospective carer will need to live in North Somerset and have a spare bedroom.
If they meet the criteria they will have a house visit where they can ask questions and seek advice.
After the first stage they can expect to go through a series of background checks, training courses, meetings and talks with experienced carers.
Mr Brown said: “The process is quite stringent but it is necessary. You are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
Carers and children receive financial support from the council.
There are two elements to the fees, firstly a weekly allowance which should be spent on the child only – which is based on the child’s age – which ranges from £119,36 to £195.10
Foster carers also receive a weekly pay, which is based on their skill level. Carers move up the skills brackets by completing further training and courses. Foundation level carers will receive £69,26 a week while an advanced carer will receive £147.57 a week.
Are you ready to help make a difference? The council launched its Make A Difference In 2017 campaign on Boxing Day as an early New Year’s resolution to find each child a home.
It will target people in North Somerset who want to help their community and make a difference in the new year.
Plans to launch an online campaign have already begun and #makeadifferencein2017 will be used to raise awareness and promote the campaign.
How to get involved
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, take the first step towards changing a child’s life by calling 01275 888999 or visiting fostering.n-somerset.gov.uk