A fostering organisation and social enterprise is encouraging more people to think about offering safe and loving homes to vulnerable children and young people as new figures suggest people across the South West of England are unaware of the true number of children and young people referred to social services.
This comes as the country gears up for Foster Care Fortnight, an annual campaign that raises the profile of fostering which runs from Monday 10th – Sunday May 23rd.
A report commissioned by Five Rivers Child Care, an independent fostering organisation and social enterprise revealed that there is a distinct lack of awareness around the number of children entering the care system. Only two percent of people surveyed across the South West of England had an accurate grasp on the true number of children being referred to social services each week.
Across England today, there are 57,380 children living with around 44,500 foster families , but more than 8,500 foster carers are still desperately needed nationwide  to meet demand and help support children and young adults in need.
The number of looked after children and young people has risen steadily over the last 11 years , and this has increased significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic . This has put immense pressure on the fostering services, something Five Rivers Child Care is keen to highlight this Foster Care Fortnight.
Discussing Foster Care Fortnight 2021, Martin Leitch, head of fostering operations at Five Rivers Child Care, which operates in Exeter, said: Children being taken into care is a sensitive and complex issue and something that people, generally, don’t want to think about. On average, over 1,000 children are referred to social services each week in England alone. Research has revealed that there has been a dramatic increase in referrals to social services since the start of the pandemic, and we are certain that it will continue to rise as it has done over the last several years.
“Today there is national shortage of more than 8,500 foster carers. This makes finding safe places for children to live extremely challenging. With the added post pandemic pressures, we are extremely concerned about whether there will be enough safe homes for vulnerable children in the greatest need.
“We are in desperate need of more foster families across Exeter to care for children either on a temporary or permanent basis. If you’re a kind, compassionate person interested in fostering, do something different this year and get in touch to find out more. Fostering comes in many forms and can be tailored towards the needs and lifestyle of foster parent, or parents, and those in their care. Foster carers can work flexibly as respite or short-term foster carers, or they can have foster children and young people living with them long-term, meaning they would remain in care until they feel ready to live independently.
There are lots of misconceptions around who can become a foster carer. Five Rivers Child Care’s report highlighted that more than 60 percent of people across the South West of England aren’t aware those living in rented accommodation can foster – a serious misconception that could be hindering foster carer recruitment across the region.
However, people from all walks of life can be considered to become foster carers as long as they are over 21 years of age and have the key qualities needed to look after children in care. This includes single people, co-habiting couples, same sex couples and people living in rented accommodation. There must be a spare room for each foster child.