In the next 12 months, over 7,000 new foster families are needed across the UK to care for a range of children.
There is a particular need for more foster carers in Essex who can provide homes for children with disabilities, as well as for older children and sibling groups.
Kim Shears from Clacton has been fostering for 16 years on her own, and currently has two young girls with cerebral palsy in her care. The 57-year-old is keen to advocate that a lack of experience, or not having a large home, should not be barriers to coming forward.
“I had always been reluctant to foster a child with disabilities as I didn’t feel that I had the relevant experience.
Little did I know though, my first experience of fostering would reverse my opinion emphatically.
My first foster child was a new-born baby who, as he grew older, had difficulties lifting his head and learning to speak. He was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
We very much grew together, learning from each other what worked. Although I get ongoing training and support from Essex County Council the child themselves is often the best teacher. I’ve learnt over the years that what works for one child does not necessarily work for another, even if they have the same disability”.
Foster carers can be single, like Kim, married, from a same-sex family or retired. Fostering can be undertaken on a part-time basis alongside a full-time job or offered as a full-time role, both with the full support of Essex County Council.
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Essex County Council, said: “Our foster carers help build better, brighter futures for hundreds of children across Essex every year. We desperately need more people, like Kim, to foster those with both physical and learning disabilities.
Our foster carers have a wide range of previous experience from personal to professional and some of them have transferrable skills. Nobody should discount themselves if they feel they don’t have the right experience or a suitable home to accommodate someone. Give our friendly team a call if you are unsure.”
Essex County Council provide high-quality bespoke local training to all foster carers and provide ongoing support. There is also an active network of support groups providing opportunities to meet and learn from other foster carers, with many going on to make long-term friendships.
Kim had worked with children for a long time and the nursery where she worked was owned by a foster carer, so it was always in the back of her mind as something she wanted to pursue. When her husband moved out of the family home, Kim decided it was the perfect time to embrace full-time fostering as it would also give her more time with her six biological children.
In the family home, Kim has a daughter aged 20 and a son aged 24, alongside her two foster children. Three of her daughters and a son have already moved home to start their own lives.
The whole family agree that it has changed their lives for the better.
“Helping a child focus on the things that they can do, as opposed to the things they can’t do, has had a really positive influence on our own approach to life. We’ve all grown to be much more compassionate and understanding of other people’s needs.
I don’t see them as children with disabilities, but just children. And my family is giving them what all children deserve – a happy childhood”.
Find out more about fostering by calling our friendly team on: 0800 801 530. We have online information events where you can ask any questions and speak with existing foster carers to find out more here.