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#WhyWeCare

You may already be aware that Foster Care Fortnight began this week. This year, the annual campaign to raise the profile of fostering and show how foster care transforms lives is using the hashtag #WhyWeCare. I like the way it’s highlighting foster carers’ reflections about why they have chosen to be caregivers in this way, and at the same time to prompt those of us who aren’t foster carers ourselves, but who truly value those who are, to think about why we care about fostering.

A quick look at the hashtag on social media tells a heart-warming story of individuals and families who have opened their hearts and homes to children at every age and stage of their lives. Some write about what they see as the privilege of looking after children for a short, but difficult, period of instability and insecurity until a permanent home is found for them, others about a stay that was originally planned to be short but became firstly a child’s home for the whole of their childhood, and then a place to regularly return to in adulthood, often with children of their own. Some are what might be considered ‘traditional’ families, expanding their view of themselves to make room for more children, either alongside their own children as they grow up, or when their birth children have ‘left the nest’; others emphasise how fostering is open to families who defy traditional stereotypes and to single people who become a family when they welcome another family’s child into their lives. Some have made important connections with the birth families of children they care for and maintain these connections long after children return home to their parents. Some are fostering new mothers and their babies together.

There’s some important myth-busting in these shared stories: people who foster and work at the same time; people who foster in a rented home; people who foster when English isn’t their first language; people who foster although they don’t drive, or when they have a pre-existing health condition. Of course, some circumstances may mean fostering isn’t possible right now, but very few issues are an automatic bar to fostering, which means that great carers come from really diverse backgrounds and all walks of life. Sometimes it’s what makes a carer different, that makes them so special, and this in turn makes the home they offer somewhere a particular child can feel they really belong.

One of the reasons I care so much about fostering is that children need to belong. Most children and young people, most of the time, need to be cared for in families rather than in institutional settings; that’s usually where they’ll have the greatest sense of belonging. When birth families or wider kinship networks aren’t able to look after a child, family-based foster care provides a home that is safe with an adult or adults that can be trusted.

Why am I, as the Chair of the Workforce Development Police Committee, blogging about the importance of families and family-based care? Because as well as sharing family life with children in care, foster carers are experts, essential members of the support teams around a child. Experienced foster carers may know more about trauma, attachment, child development, life story work, additional needs, and specialist therapies than many recently qualified social workers. So another reason #whywecare about fostering is that it brings these specialist skills and expertise into the lives of children who need families.

This Foster Care Fortnight, I want to say a huge thank you to foster carers, for everything they bring to the care of the children and young people with whom they make their home.


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