As we approach the end of a tumultuous year, we will all eventually reflect on what is important to us. Many of us will arrive at the same conclusion: family, friends and community. In difficult times, we have turned to those we love as well as neighbours who were once strangers to us.
There are many children across Surrey who need love and attention beyond their family through no fault of their own. Children can be placed in foster care for many different reasons ranging from family breakdowns, abuse, neglect to family illness. Right now, in Surrey, there are around 1000 children in care and only half are able to stay in the county due to a shortage of foster placements. Perhaps you could be the next person to open your home to a child who is waiting for a safe space to live and be cared for.
Francesca Magnavacca at Surrey County Council explained the need for recruiting more people in Surrey to become foster carers. She told us that “nearly half of the children go to live with foster carers outside of the county. This can have a negative impact on the children who end up living far away from their family, friends and school.”
Francesca believes in the positive experience that fostering can have on both the children involved as well as the foster carers. “Our foster carers often tell us that making a difference in someone’s life is hugely rewarding and seeing that child or young person grow and become the best they can be. For the children, fostering can help them find stability and security during what can be a very difficult and traumatic time in their lives. Many young people who have been fostered say that they are grateful to their foster carers for always being there for them, for believing in them and supporting them to achieve their goals.”
Nine years ago, Vicki and Andrew Jones, along with their three children decided to open their home as foster carers to Ben*. Vicki told us her experience of her first time fostering and how it led her to become a general foster carer.
Vicki said: “Ben was a lovely boy, very frustrated and his relationship with his Mum had broken down. He had diagnoses of dyslexia, dyspraxia, Aspergers and ADHD. He was struggling at school. I worked with the school to ensure they understood his needs as he was not attending lessons and was very angry. Within 6 months of being with us he was much happier and able to reflect. We worked together with the school and he got to the point when he attended all lessons and was doing well at school. His relationship with Mum had improved with some help and guidance from us and so the decision was made for him to move home.”
The care and attention that Vicki and her family applied to Ben opened the doorway to more children coming into their lives. Vicki said: “We now have three extra children. Hari* joined us at age 14, he is now 21 and in his 3rd year at University. He returns home every holiday. He is very much part of our family. Bella* joined us 4 years ago and her brother Jackson*, 2.5 years ago.”
All three children have thrived within the family and the support they have received shines through in their achievements both in and out of school.
Vicki explained, “for me, what makes me most proud, is seeing each child grow in confidence, feeling safe and loved and achieving their potential, whether academically, in sport or in healthy relationships. Fostering not only enhances our foster children’s lives, it has enhanced ours and our birth children’s lives. We are all part of a child’s success story, seeing each child grow in confidence and trying new things, whether it be seeing another country for the first time or playing in a local football team.”
Vicki added: “We love having a large family and there is always someone to talk to, watch a movie with or to simply go for walk. We work together and fit like a jigsaw and are a team. Each child that joins us becomes part of that team and this also gives them life skills.”
Vicki accepts that it can be daunting when considering taking that leap into becoming a foster carer. Most people are worried about having a child they do not know come into their homes. Questions and concerns will inevitably enter your mind, but as Vicki says, “these children are just children, like any other. And who, through no fault of their own, need a new home. I would say to anyone who has space in their heart and a space in their home to get in touch and have a chat about your concerns.” Vicki is so passionate about her positive experiences that she, like many other carers, would happily talk through her experience with anyone who is interested.
To become a foster carer, the assessment process takes around 4-5 months. Francesca explained: “During this time, we carry out checks and references and the applicants will complete a training course that will help them develop the skills they will need to foster. The applicants will also meet regularly with their assessing social worker during this time as well as having access to a monthly support group and an experienced foster carer ‘buddy’. Once you are an approved foster carer you will be matched to a child who needs a safe and loving home. This is often within 2-8 weeks of your approval.”
If you are interested in finding out more about fostering in Surrey, click on the links below. There is no question too small that you can put to the team. Like the 500 children who are hoping to be fostered close to home, they are ready for you to make that first step into becoming a Surrey foster carer.
*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the children.
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0800 096 9626
If you are interested in finding out more, join the upcoming information sessions via Microsoft Teams:
Saturday 28 November 11am – https://bit.ly/3mfjfnV
Thursday 10 December 7.30pm – https://bit.ly/34kf447
Saturday 19 December 11am – https://bit.ly/2HvuEAD