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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 17 September 2007

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North West Fostering Agency Looks To Recruit More Carers

FOSTER carers play a huge role in the lives of many children who cannot live with their parents, says the Department for Children, Schools & Families (DCSF), by supporting some of the most disadvantaged young people in our society and enabling their successful transition into independent adult life. The green paper Every Child Matters makes recruitment and retention of foster carers a government priority, seeking to encourage more people to consider fostering, including those who may not realise they are eligible, such as single people, unmarried couples, lone parents and older people.

In England, there are more than 60,000 ‘looked after’ children and young people, defined as those who are in the care of the council, almost 2/3rds of whom are aged 5 to 15 years, half have experienced abuse and neglect, and most of whom (42,000 / 70%) are living with foster carers. Yet it is estimated that there is a shortage of at least 8,200 foster families and the North West alone accounts for over 28% of that total (1,700), proportionately higher than any other region and showing a worrying 37% decline in the demand/supply balance since 2002. This significant regional shortfall has prompted NW independent fostering agency (IFA) Perpetual Fostering to mount a major recruitment campaign, aimed at enrolling at least 50 new foster carers this year and 500 over the longer term.

“We are currently inundated with fostering referral requests from local authorities across the North West and we don’t have a wide enough pool of carers to cope.  There is growing recognition that a shortage of foster carers is a contributory factor to the poor outcomes of many looked after children and, in the North West especially, we really need good, safe homes and people with sound parenting skills to help remove these disadvantaged young people from that negative equation.” says Perpetual Fostering’s founder and CEO, Tahir Khan.

Part of the Bolton-based Perpetual Care Group, the independent care provider to children and vulnerable adults that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, Perpetual Fostering was formed in 2005 to support young people whose needs could not be met in its residential care homes and it assists local authorities in placing youngsters 0 to 18 years in foster care, offering short, medium and long term placements. As an IFA, Perpetual Fostering is accredited by AGMA, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities covering fourteen councils across GM and Lancashire, and its equivalents in Merseyside and the West Midlands; it has also been favourably assessed by the CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection), which commented that ‘whilst the agency is in its infancy, its policies, procedures and protocols were generally of good quality’.

A key finding from the BAAF (British Association for Adoption & Fostering) study Delivering Foster Care was that a long term management policy, clear targeting and a systematic marketing approach were crucial to the recruitment and retention to foster carers. So it is expedient that Tahir Khan holds an MBA from Manchester Business School and has a Diploma in Management Studies from Middlesbrough, as well as marketing experience with United Utilities, and he brings these commercial skills to Perpetual Fostering’s organisation, administration and recruitment strategy.

Tahir also has extensive experience of voluntary work, having been prompted by the excellent care given to his prematurely born daughter, and was formerly Chair of mental health charity MHIST, where the national shortage of quality adult care provision motivated him to found Perpetual Care, managing homes for adults with mental health difficulties.

With regard to recruiting new foster carers, the recent DCSF report on fostering and children’s homes, by PriceWaterhouseCooper, suggested that demand for foster placements is expected to continue growing to 2010 and that IFAs, like Perpetual Fostering, may play an increasing role in the provision of care. The report suggested that good quality IFAs are often able to deliver better support for foster carers than local authorities, helped by a higher ratio of Supervising Social Workers to carers, and typically offer substantially higher payments to carers. This is borne out at Perpetual Fostering, where its basic weekly allowance is £375 per child, compared to the recommended national minimum of £131 for 5 to 10 year olds and £163 for 11 to 15 years, and, while financial reward is not uppermost in the minds of prospective foster families, it is reassuring that these and sometimes higher payments will compensate for the carer possibly giving up a full or part time job.

So what makes a good foster carer? According to Tahir, someone with empathy and nurturing for disadvantaged youngsters that have experienced rejection, who need to have a patient and consistent approach to sometimes difficult young people, provide a secure and stable home environment, and preferably have some child care experience, although some successful carers never had children of their own. Empty nesters, whose children have left home for college or careers, are ideal candidates, he says, but anyone can apply to be a foster carer, as long as they have the time, commitment, space and ability to look after children separated from their own families.

There are no real age limits to fostering, other than a 21 year old minimum, and it doesn’t matter whether the prospective carer is married or divorced, single or co-habiting, nor will race, religion or sexuality affect the application, although some criminal convictions may prevent approval. Perpetual Fostering additionally requires carers to be in good mental and physical health, be the owner, co-owner or tenant of the property in question and have a spare room for the sole use of the foster child. Also, the agency usually expects the main carer to remain at home to look after the child and take him or her to school, the doctors and other appointments.

“Naturally, there are forms to fill in, visits to be made, checks to be carried out and the whole process usually takes several months. But this is a critical procedure and you would expect us to be painstaking in our approach, so as to select appropriate carers and match them with the right youngsters.  This shouldn’t deter prospective carers, though, because we support them and their significant others throughout the assessment process and provide the necessary skills training that can even lead to professional qualification. Plus there is always the option to opt out if circumstances alter or there’s simply a change of heart.  Fostering is crucial to the social health of our region and the future of many of our disadvantaged young people. So we welcome those who are prepared to consider this challenging and rewarding role.” said Tahir.

Prospective carers should apply initially to Perpetual Fostering, 31 Chorley New Road, Bolton BL1 4QR, tel 01204 364 666, email.

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