Published: 06:00, 17 May 2021
| Updated: 10:15, 17 May 2021
Foster carers are needed now more than ever as the pandemic lead to more referrals for children needing safe, secure placements.
For Foster Care Fortnight, May 17 to 23, one couple, Sharon and Richard Lovelock are encouraging others to take up foster parenting in Kent as it 'feels good to feel that love.'
The couple from Tonbridge, became foster carers for the Diagrama charity after reflecting on their Christian values and deciding their spare room would be better used helping a vulnerable child.
Soon after completing their foster training in March 2020, they were quickly entrusted with the care of a four-year-old who could no longer be looked after by their older, shielding carers during lockdown.
Sharon, a methodist minister, said: “We had so many questions when we first began to explore fostering, especially how it might impact our family and particularly our birth children, a son of 18 and daughter of 15. But Diagrama was so supportive at every step of the way, answering our questions and preparing us for each phase.
“The day for the child to move in arrived and we were excited and nervous at the same time, yet I have to say it has always felt as if they are part of this family.
"We sought to welcome them and to take it a day at a time to see how we would connect and how the placement might suit them.
"Support from their social work team and Diagrama has meant we have never felt left on our own - someone is always at the end of a phone, there are support groups and supervision which have proved invaluable.
“To have opened our home to offer love and care to a child who has experienced trauma is something we feel we can do to try and make a difference where it is needed. There are bumps along the road, yet we keep going, and the relationships are becoming stronger, and our foster child is developing well at home and at school.”
Richard, a former teaching assistant, is now the full time foster carer for the child.
He said: "It's good to feel the love. It's good to know this person that we're helping is now being loved and all the hassle and trauma they had before they came to us is now in a place where we're helping them.
"It is challenging, they come to the house with their own experiences and those are sometimes their problems which have to be shared and talked about - their insecurities and any of their problems at all.
"They can be a problem, there's been a lot of crying, but that's what we're there for and that's why we went on those fostering courses to help cope with that."
Foster Care Fortnight is an annual campaign from The Fostering Network to raise awareness of the transformational power of fostering and to celebrate the fostering community. The theme is #WhyWeCare.
Charity Diagrama is encouraging people who may like to explore the idea of fostering to think about contacting them to find out more.
During the pandemic, the combination of delayed court cases, lack of in person monitoring for fostered children from schools and local authorities, and more children becoming unsafe due to increased domestic abuse has led to an unprecedented number of children on the fostering waiting list.
Though some foster families have thrived on the increased time at home, others have struggled with losing their jobs and the isolation of lockdown.
Margaret Gardiner explains the responsibilities of a foster parent
Margaret Gardiner, fostering and Adoption team manager at Diagrama, said “One of the side effects of the pandemic is that Diagrama is receiving more referrals than ever for children needing safe and secure placements.
"We need to increase the number of children we can support and are looking to train new foster carers across London and the south east to help with this demand.
"If you are interested in finding out if fostering might be the right career choice for you, please do contact us or sign up for an online information event.”
The team manager added though more potential foster parents are needed, it's more important more flexible carers approach them. More people willing to take on older children and those with more difficult behaviours are needed.
However - contrary to popular misconceptions - fosterers can be single, as young as 23, much older into their 70s, rented families can foster with the landlord's approval, parents don't have to be wealthy, and children can be fostered with the parents living in with the family.
She added: "Getting the right child for the right family - matching - is really important, because it's about looking at what the needs of the children are and matching that up with the skills and the ability of carers.
"I've been fostering for 18 years and I've been working in fostering for 19 years. For me, it is incredibly rewarding.
"Whatever you put in is not wasted and that child will also take with them for the rest of their lives. So it's an incredible thing to be able to do."
Sue Chandler, cabinet member for Integrated Children’s services at Kent County Council, said: “This year the council aims to recruit 120 new foster carers across the county.
"We need foster homes for children of all ages but particularly for older children, brothers and sisters who need to stay together and disabled children.
"We would also like to recruit more carers who could offer emergency beds at short notice and supported home carers to help young people adjust to leaving full time care and living independently.
"I would like to encourage anyone thinking about fostering to get in touch with our helpful team for an informal chat and more information.”
To foster with KCC Kent Fostering you need to have a spare bedroom, be a full-time resident in the UK or have leave to remain and be able to give the time to care for a child or young person, often on a full-time basis.
In return foster parents will receive a reward package including financial benefits, local training, career progression, holiday entitlement and 24-hour support.
If you are interested in finding out more about Kent Fostering visit kentfostering.co.uk or call us on 03000 42 00 02 to find out more.
To find out if fostering might be the career for you, join a Diagrama online information event by clicking here
To speak to the Diagrama fostering team, call 0800 802 1910 or email email@example.com or click here.