FOSTER CARE FORTNIGHT: Southend Fostering Service needs heroes to help transform young lives

As part of Foster Care Fortnight (May 10-23), Southend Council’s Fostering Service is searching for much-needed local heroes to become foster carers and help transform the lives of children and young people.

Foster Care Fortnight is a national awareness campaign headed up by The Fostering Network. It aims to not only raise the profile of fostering but to increase awareness around the power of fostering to transform the lives of children and young people.

This year’s theme #WhyWeCare provides the opportunity to showcase the great work foster carers are doing across the borough.

The Fostering Network’s overarching message of every Foster Care Fortnight is ‘foster care transforms lives’ and looks to highlight the ways in which foster carers make incredible differences to the lives of fostered children and young people.

But foster care doesn’t just transform the lives of the young people who are fostered, it also has the power to change the lives of foster carers, their families and all those who are involved in fostering.

Tina Papworth has been fostering children and young adults for nine years

Southend foster carer, Tina Papworth, 52, has been fostering children and young adults for 9 years and says entering the profession was ‘the best decision she has ever made’.

Tina explains: “My family and I were born to do this; we always try to be charitable and help where we can. We care passionately about our planet and we want to help make a better world which starts with protecting our children – nothing is more important for the future than the children of the world.”

One nine-year-old boy who was placed in Tina’s care had a very low sense of self-worth, but Tina’s compassionate care and skills as a foster carer helped rebuild the boy’s confidence and aspirations.

Now aged 16, the boy has secured a conditional place at a sixth form grammar school and wants to study at Oxford or Cambridge University and become a physicist. This transformation would not have been possible without Tina’s care and compassion and perfectly demonstrates the vital role foster carers have in transforming lives.

For many, becoming a foster carer is seen as their life calling and is literally life changing as was the case for Jo Twyman, 40, who has been a short-term carer for four years.

Jo said: “I’d always dreamed of being a foster carer and I feel I have found my life’s purpose. It has made me whole. I care because each child deserves to feel safe and loved.

“So many people say: ‘oh I couldn’t do what you do – it would break my heart to let them go’. This makes it sound like it doesn’t break my heart but, I can assure you, it does! But I would choose to have my heart broken a thousand times over rather than a baby or child not to have the opportunity to feel safe and loved.”

Debbie Kelly, 51, has been fostering for six years as a single carer and has placed children aged two to teenagers as well as providing respite care for babies. Initially Debbie didn’t realise she could foster as a single carer, but when she discovered this was possible, she wasted no time in working with Southend Council’s Fostering Service to place children.

Debbie said: “My experience of working with the council’s Fostering Team has been one of close community support from other foster carers and the social workers.

“Southend fostering is forward thinking and open to the newest research around therapeutic care. There are also excellent support groups run by a senior mental health practitioner.

“I care because these children need you to be their safe base, their hope and their stepping stone to a bright future. And I get to do all the fun things again, like watch school plays, read stories, take swimming, be silly and dance and play.

“Fostering definitely keeps me young and it’s an honour to be part of a child’s life.”

Over 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families across the UK each day. This is nearly 80 per cent of the 83,000 children in care away from home on any one day in the UK.

Every year thousands of new foster families are needed to meet the demand. There is a particular need for carers of sibling groups, children with disabilities, child and parent placements and those for older teenagers.

With such a great need, now is the time to start finding out more about taking those first steps towards becoming a foster carer. Why not contact the Southend Fostering Team and start that journey to change a future?

Susan Benson, the team manager of Southend Council’s Fostering Service, said: “As a service we are committed to offering high quality care to our local children who cannot remain in their parents’ care due to many reasons – some children need alternative care for a short period, others need looking after until they are ready for independence.

“We need more local heroes to take on this vital role. Fostering can be a career and it is possible to earn a fee alongside an allowance to cover the child/young person’s costs.

“There is substantial support in place for foster carers including training, a dedicated social worker, peer support groups and a senior mental health practitioner who is linked to the service.

“What is clear from listening to the experiences of foster carers is that fostering can be challenging but it is equally enjoyable and rewarding”

Nikki, a social worker and practice educator in Southend Council’s fostering team, assesses potential foster carers and facilitates a comprehensive training package to ensure new fosters carers have the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed.

Nikki explains: “Although I look for some level of childcare experience this does not rule out those that have the skills of caring for children in the wider family network – I often look for those experiences that aren’t necessarily on paper. These may be relevant life experiences from childhood which provide empathy for the situations that our children and young people in care have lived. This can also help to understand that, at times, these children and young people are victims of circumstance.”

Southend Council’s Foster Care team will be holding a Meet the Team day on Saturday May 15 and 22 from10am to 2pm at the Beach Hut located on the walkway behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Shoeburyness seafront. The team will be offering advice and support, in a COVID-safe manner, to anybody considering a career as a foster carer.

For more information call 01702 212938, email [email protected] or visit www.southend.gov.uk/fostering

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]