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More foster carers needed as demand increases

January 27, 2014

By Christine Keighery

Earlier this month the Foster Network charity revealed that at least 200 new foster families will be needed in Northern Ireland this year to keep up with increasing demand.

Margaret Kelly, the charity’s Northern Ireland director said factors like the recession meant more children were being taken into care as families get into more difficulties and children get neglected.

With about 45% of young people in care aged 12 or over, the charity highlighted the greater need for foster families to provide homes for teenagers, as well as children with disabilities and sibling groups.

This is a matter particularly close to the heart of local Foster Carer, Kate Cahill, who has opened her home to children of all  age groups over the last eight years.

The Newry based Foster Carer spoke to The Examiner about the challenges and rewards of fostering, and encouraged anyone, irrespective of background or marital circumstance to consider the benefits of fostering, for both the foster child and the carer.

The admirable mother of two grown up children was initially approached to be a foster carer through “kinship”, when a relative in difficult circumstances asked her to foster her children.

Eight years later she has welcomed many youngsters into her home for both long and short term stays.  Currently fostering two youngsters, Kate’s 16 year old foster child has been with her for the entire eight years while the other has been fostered by her for two years.

Having fostered teenagers who have difficulties and who presented challenges, Kate explained how she thrives on this and feels personally rewarded when their time with her helps them to change and heal emotionally.

“I know people considering fostering may be inclined towards providng a home for younger children,” says Kate,

“But I personally find workng with teenagers extremely rewarding. when you successfully build a rapport with a troubled teenager you often get more positive feedback from them which can be so rewarding. People have a negative attitude towards teenagers but if you work  with them, fostering a teen can be such a positive experience.”

Kate also stressed the importance of the full time support and on-going training provided by the Trust.

“There is definitely a lot of help and support available and I think foster carers should take every opportunity for training as it really does open your mind and give you the skills to deal with, not just foster children, but your own children too.”

The Foster mum revealed the positive effect that fostering has had for her own children. She feels that welcoming children in need of a home into their lives has given her children a new, more sympathetic perspective and opened their minds to another side of life.

Indeed, integrating long-term foster children fully into family life is key to being a successful Foster Carer. The Trust actively encourages Foster Carers to “do whatever they do with their own kids.  Take them on holidays, visit family members, attend family occasions.” everything that normal family life encompasses.

According to Kate, being able to provide that stable family environment, even for just a short time, means that children moving on and, in some cases, going back to their family home, is a positive experience for everyone.

“I dont find it difficult when foster children move on and are returning to their family home becuase I know I’ve done my best for the children that were in my care and provided a loving home at a time when they needed it most.”

“All chiildren, should they be your own children or foster children come with problems and its just a case of adapting to them, learning how to deal with their problems,”she adds.

“Foster  children can often come with quite difficult problems but all children can have difficulties as their personalities are developing so I feel it’s no different to tackling the upheavals among your own children and family and having the patience and understanding to get through it.”

At almost 50 years old, Kate’s commitment to fostering remains steadfast and she sees herself providng a foster home  for children as long as she is physically able to do so.

This formidable Foster Carer, who has also found time to pursue an honours degree, has a message for anyone considering fostering:

“If you feel you can make a commitment to a child and provide a loving home, the rewards are endless, from the most simple changes you can make  for a child to the bigger emotional support you can give. If you think you can help a child, and indeed a family in difficult circumstances then becoming a foster carer could be the  best thing you ever do.”

Northern Ireland’s Health Trusts aim to find the right foster home for each child first time round so a shortage of foster carers may result in children living with foster carers outside their local area, having to travel significant distance to school, being far away from their family and friends, and sometimes split from their siblings.

By recruiting a wide pool of foster carers, Trusts can place foster children within their own areas with trained foster carers who best meet their individual needs.

The Southern Trust foster carer campaign stresses that people may apply to foster whether they are married, co habiting or single, own or rent their home, work or are receiving benefits, or if they have children of their own. There is no upper age limit to who can foster as long as they are healthy and have the energy to care for a child or young person. Applications will also be considered irrespective of sexual orientation or religious or ethnic background.

So, if you are patient, understanding, compassionate and flexible and have time and space in your life to devote to a child or young person then contact the Southern Trust, Newry and Mourne on 028 3083 2693, Freephone 0800 0720 137 or visit www.adoptionandfostering.hscni.net

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