The UK’s largest children’s charity has launched its annual Fostering Focus campaign, which runs throughout the whole of September, and warns of a growing shortage of foster carers, leaving vulnerable children without safe, stable and loving families.
With latest statistics showing the number of children in care in Scotland now standing at over 14,000, figures released by Barnardo’s show that between August 2021 and July 2022, the number of children referred to its Scotland fostering services was 691. This is a rise of 50 per cent, compared with the previous 12-month period.
Barnardo’s has also seen a significant increase in children aged 11 and older referred to its Scotland fostering services, with a rise of 34 per cent from the period of August 2021 to July 2022.
The urgent need for new foster carers comes at a time when Barnardo’s has seen a decline in the number of people coming forward to be foster carers. With the average age of a Barnardo’s foster carer in the UK aged 55 and older, the charity says the advancing age of many of its foster carers means an increasing number are now retiring.
Meanwhile, a new YouGov survey for Barnardo’s encouragingly shows that a quarter (24 per cent) of adults in the UK would consider fostering a child in the next five years. However, that figure drops by over a half to 11 per cent for children aged 11-15 and just 3 per cent for children aged 16 to 17, suggesting that prospective foster carers may be more inclined to support younger children.
When asked about the concerns of fostering, key concerns included 48 per cent of adults who said they were either too old or too young; 31 per cent who said they didn’t have what it takes and 27 per cent who said they couldn’t afford to foster a child for financial reasons.
The survey also shows misconceptions remain in the eyes of some adults about fostering, with a quarter (25 per cent) of people agreeing a person should already have children of their own before becoming a foster carer, and just under a third (28 per cent) of people agreeing that an adult who is 21 is old enough to be a foster carer. In actual fact, Barnardo’s points out there is no requirement for a foster carer to already have a child of their own, and the minimum legal age to become a foster carer is 21 with no upper age limit.
Sylvia and David, 65 and 66, from Aberdeen were foster carers with Barnardo’s for 10 years, during which time they cared for 15 children and helped to encourage and recruit several other families to step into fostering through their local church group.
The couple, who have recently retired as carers, say they saw the difference that their love and support made to each individual child.
Sylvia said: “There are so many special moments that we shared with each child, from teaching them how to tie their shoelaces and ride their bikes, to supporting them to thrive at school. And emotional moments when one of our foster children introduced us as ‘mum and dad’ to their friends for the first time.”
Barnardo’s Scotland Head of Family Placement, Anne Whyte said: “With increasing numbers of children in need of care and support, we urgently need more people to consider becoming foster carers. At Barnardo’s many of our most experienced foster carers are now retiring or nearing retirement age, meaning it’s especially important that others come forward.
“Foster care can provide vulnerable children with the love, care and support they so desperately need to overcome challenges and work towards a positive future, but our new survey shows there are still many misconceptions about what it takes to provide this vital role.
“We are particularly appealing for people to consider fostering teenagers and siblings to help fulfil The Promise to children in care in Scotland – your love and support can allow brothers and sisters in care the opportunity to grow up and stay together, making a huge difference to their life, and to yours.
“At Barnardo’s we welcome passionate individuals from all walks of life, and all communities. If you are over 21, have a spare room, are a UK resident and have the time and commitment to care for a child, then you could help transform their life chances.”
When asked about their experiences of fostering teenagers, Sylvia and David said: “I think some people are afraid that they don’t believe they can handle teenagers, but there needs to be a greater understanding around this age group. Each young person is different and has different needs, but they all just need love and support. You have to accept that there can be times of trauma, but just as with children of any age, when you show them love, acceptance, encourage their strengths and equip them with life skills, the change and difference you can see in them is so satisfying. Most of the teenagers we fostered loved spending time together as a family, getting involved in games together and it was really important to them to feel a part of our family, which they were.”
During their 10 years fostering, Sylvia and David fostered three pairs of siblings. They said: “We found that fostering siblings was an advantage in helping them to settle in – they come together and value each other being there, having that someone familiar with them. When siblings were able to celebrate birthdays and Christmas together, it was so special. They would spark each other up and get excited. They had a stronger sense of family and an identity that they belonged to, and maintaining that connection was extremely important for them.”
Barnardo’s has over 100 years of experience in fostering. Experts provide all the training needed and provide support 24/7. Foster carers will also get financial support, including a carer’s allowance to help make a positive difference to a child’s life.