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Meeting a vital fostering need in Bradford
Every child deserves a loving family home but, when it comes to foster care, teenagers are traditionally the hardest to place.
Of the 900 children in care in Bradford, 433 are over the age of ten, prompting the city’s adoption and fostering service to launch a campaign during Foster Care Fortnight – running until May 27 – to find more foster carers to provide a family home for older children.
The theme for this year’s Foster Care Fortnight is ‘Fostering: time to care’. The annual awareness campaign, run by the Fostering Network, aims to raise the profile of fostering and highlight the urgent need for foster carers.
For Sally and Stephen Muhl, from Keighley, fostering has become a way of life – and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The couple met when Sally was 36 and Stephen was 38. “We got together and thought we wouldn’t mind fostering,” says Sally. “I was a nurse and Stephen was an engineer. We were working full-time. One day we made the phone call, the forms came and that was it.”
In the nine years the couple have cared for four children. They are currently looking after two boys, aged 16 and 12.
They were particularly keen to look after older children with behavioural problems. Sally says the reason is because those are the children who are difficult to place. “I think a lot of people have this idea that those 12 and 13-year-olds come in and tear up your house, but it’s not like that. We have never experienced it,” says Sally.
She believes children’s behaviour is borne out of circumstance. “They have had to do certain things to survive. I think they are amazing, all looked-after children, especially the older ones. They have experienced far more in their 12 or 13 years than I have experienced in 54 years,” she says.
Sally says foster carers can give a young person a ‘platform’ to change their behaviour.
But she says some people are afraid of older children, and people can be ‘unforgiving’ about their past behaviour.
Some young people struggle to fit into a family unit, but Sally sees every day as a new start. “You have to forget about yesterday – it is two steps forward and five back. It is slow but you do make progress with these children. Even if they are with you for a year or two years, you have made the difference because they will look back on that at some point in their life,” she says.
Fostering is a way of offering children and young people who need to be in care a stable family environment while their parents are unable to look after them. On any one day, around 59,000 children live with 45,000 foster families across the UK.
Foster carers look after children so families have the chance to sort out their problems. These range from a family member’s short-term illness to parents’ depression or drug or alcohol abuse. Many children have been abused or neglected.
Some children only need to be looked after for the short-term until they return home, while others stay with foster carers for a longer term or move elsewhere.
During Foster Care Fortnight, Bradford Council’s Adoption and Fostering unit aims to recruit a further 22 carers specifically to look after older children.
Sally says potential foster carers need to be patient, good negotiators, good listeners and have a good sense of humour and a strong relationship.
Her advice to anyone thinking about foster caring is: “Just go ahead and do it it”.
“If it is something in the back of your mind just do it – just make that phone call. You won’t regret it. You get lots of support.”
Sarah Patrick, service manager for fostering, says: “In Bradford we need more carers to look after older children and also to provide short breaks for all ages of children.
“Teenagers can be challenging, but we were all that age once, and if you cast your mind back you will appreciate how important it was to have a supportive and secure homelife. If you think this is something you could offer, we would love to hear from you.”
* To find out more about fostering teenagers, call (01274) 434331; e-mail email@example.com or visit bradford.gov.uk/adoptionandfostering. Anyone who contacts the unit will be given details about an information evening in June for people who are interested in fostering teenagers. This includes all the schemes from one or two nights, crisis care to long-term.