More east Antrim residents are being asked to consider giving a stable, secure and loving home to children needing foster care throughout 2014.
Figures reveal that at least 200 new foster families are needed in Northern Ireland this year because of record numbers of children needing foster care.
At the moment, almost 2,100 children will be living with around 2,000 foster families across Northern Ireland. More foster families are needed not only to replace the 12 per cent who leave each year, but to ensure that children who come into foster care find foster carers who are right for them, have the skills and qualities they need, and are available now.
More foster families are particularly needed to provide homes for children with disabilities, sibling groups and teenagers.
Without enough foster families willing and able to offer homes to these groups, some children will find themselves living a long way from family, school and friends, being split up from brothers and sisters, or being placed with a foster carer who does not have the ideal skills and experience to meet their specific needs.
A survey conducted by the Fostering Network in 2013 found that in the previous two years one in three foster carers had felt under pressure to take children – usually teenagers – who they were not trained or supported to look after.
One in 10 had felt under pressure to take in a child, again usually a teenager, when they felt they had no more capacity. Two in five had looked after children temporarily because the fostering service could not find a suitable long-term home.
Fostering can be a challenging job, and when the match between foster family and child is not ideal, it becomes even more difficult. Too many fostering relationships break down as a result.
A wider pool of foster carers makes it more likely that fostering services can find the right foster home for each child, first time.
Margaret Kelly, director of the Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “Children and young people come into care for a wide range of reasons, but all come needing professional, dedicated and compassionate support.
“Fostering services are working really hard to find more foster carers, but recruitment remains an ongoing challenge. We need to attract a diverse range of foster carers who can meet the needs of children in care and who can offer as much choice as possible so that they can find the right home for each child, first time.”
“We urgently need people who believe that they have the right skills and qualities to foster to come forward and make a long lasting positive difference to the life of a child. In particular, foster carers are needed to provide homes for teenagers and children with disabilities, and to help sibling groups stay together.”