Every 20 minutes, a child in the UK is put into the care system in need of a suitable foster family.
At any one time, over 65,000 children are living with 55,000 foster families – around 80% of the 83,000 children who are in care away from home.
These eye-opening statistics have been shared by The Fostering Network, the UK’s leading fostering charity and the organisation behind Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from 10th – 23rd May this year.
This annual campaign highlights the valuable work of foster carers and the positive contribution they make towards the lives of vulnerable children and young people. It also aims to tackle the stigma surrounding children in care and encourage other potential foster carers to step forward and make a difference too. Over 8,600 new foster families are needed across the UK during 2021 and The Fostering Network are hoping that their campaign will attract those with the right skills and a desire to improve the lives of young people to consider fostering.
The children in foster care range in age from birth to 18 years old. Around 40% of fostered children are aged 11-15, which means that foster carers for teens are in high demand. Foster care placements vary in length, from a few days or weeks, to several years. Some children can spend all or the majority of their childhood and teenage years with a foster family.
Children are put into care for a variety of reasons. Some are put into temporary care whilst a parent recovers from illness. Others may have experienced serious neglect or abuse and may never return to their birth families. Every child’s circumstances are different and they have a wide range of needs.
Foster carers often specialise in a particular age group or specific need. For example, some will only foster babies and young children, whilst others only foster teenagers. Others are more skilled in caring for disabled children or those with learning difficulties, whilst some will foster multiple siblings from the same family.
Many children in foster care have experienced trauma, either by being witness to inappropriate behaviour at home, such as domestic violence or substance abuse, or by suffering direct physical, sexual or psychological abuse or neglect. Health problems associated with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are more prevalent in looked-after children, causing poor growth, developmental and learning difficulties, poor co-ordination and behavioural issues. This is a life-long disability caused by the consumption of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy.
There is unfortunately too common a perception that children in foster care are ‘damaged goods’. They are often looked down upon, regarded as troublemakers by some adults, and bullied by their peers. Many foster children will try to hide their looked-after status from others for fear of being judged or singled out for being different. In fact, the very purpose of foster care is to provide a nurturing environment for vulnerable children who have suffered traumatic events in their childhood and to help them overcome their issues and fears.
It is vitally important to challenge the stigma, so that children in care don’t let the fear of failure become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many children who have experienced foster care have gone on to be happy and highly successful adults, and it is these success stories that we need to focus on as a society rather than negative stereotypes.
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