Leona O'Neill: Can you help change a child's future through fostering?
To mark Foster Care Fortnight, Leona talks to those who help encourage prospective foster parents to make a positive difference in the lives of vulnerable young people by giving them a loving, stable home
WE ARE now in the second week of Foster Care Fortnight, the UK's biggest foster care awareness-raising campaign, delivered by leading fostering charity the Fostering Network.
Now in its 20th year, the campaign showcases the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers who change lives every single day. This year's theme for Foster Care Fortnight is #changeafuture, asking people to consider a time in their lives – be that some encouraging words from a teacher or a life-changing trip overseas – that changed their lives for the better, and encouraging them to 'be the change' in a young person's life which positively impacts on their future.
Across Britain and the north, over 8,000 new foster families are needed in the next 12 months alone to care for a range of children, with the greatest need being for foster carers for older children, sibling groups and disabled children.
There are more than 3,000 children now living in care in Northern Ireland and the need for foster homes grows here by the day. Foster Care Fortnight aims to increase awareness of the need for more foster carers and recognises the central role that existing foster carers play in providing stable, caring homes for vulnerable children and young people.
Here in the northwest, there are currently 627 'looked after' children and young people within the Western Trust area. Despite the Trust’s best efforts, this number is at an all-time high.
Deirdre Mahon, director of Women and Children’s Services for the Western Trust explained to me that they are urgently looking for fosters carers, not just in our area, but across the north.
"Foster carers care for children who cannot live with their own families," she said.
"They provide alternative care where children can benefit from a loving, safe and stable home. They are committed to guiding the most vulnerable children, helping them build resilience and confidence for the years ahead.
"Some of these children require care for a short time, others need nurturing homes until they reach independence. The trust is urgently looking for people who want to make a difference to the lives of children and young people by becoming foster carers."
Vanessa Nelis, fostering recruitment officer for the Western Trust asked people to consider making a real change in the life of a child who needs a safe, stable and nurturing home and change their future.
"Being a foster carer can be a really rewarding and enriching experience," she said.
"People often think they can't foster because they are single, work, or are too old, but none of these things matter. People from all walks of life can foster – don’t rule yourself out.
"If you are resilient, flexible and have the energy, time, commitment and feel that you could be there to make a difference to help a child to grow and develop through your care and support, we would love to hear from you."
In my job, I have spoken many times with families who have fostered children down through the years.
They have spoken about the challenges and the rewards of opening their home to a child in desperate need of care and love. Some of these children have not known unconditional love. Through no fault of their own, they have found themselves in an awful situation and, through nurturing, caring and loving them, foster carers can shine a light back into their little lives.
Foster carers do such an important job in welcoming a child who has been through more than any of us can even comprehend, showing them that there is love in the world. They build trust. They build the foundations of a happy and contented life. They make a monumental difference to a small person's world.
Could you be that person to make a change to a child? If you are based in the north west and would like further information, please contact Vanessa Nelis, Western Trust Fostering Recruitment officer on 028 8283 5264 / 7131 4244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone in Northern Ireland who's interested can check out Thefosteringnetwork.org.uk for more information.