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With a large increase in the number of children coming into care due to the Covid-19 pandemic the HSC are asking more people to consider fostering.

Melanie Coffey who is a manager in the Southern Trust’s Family Placement Service and comes from Camlough started working in fostering services twenty years ago and explains the present spike in demand for foster carers. "Across the board, Covid has hit us all really hard in terms of creating pressures within families, and social isolation, however for families that are already struggling with challenges, these difficulties are going to be amplified as a consequence the increased stress and isolation from many of their supports and services.

Bronagh and Damian Galloghly.
Bronagh and Damian Galloghly.

"We have recently seen a significant spike in the number of children coming into our care system and requiring foster care, so even though we continue to recruit new foster carers to the service, the increase has made it more difficult for us to continue to meet demand" said Melanie emphasising the focus has always to be on safeguarding children, and ensuring that they continue to receive stable and loving care when they need it.

Foster carers Bronagh and Damian Galloghly live just outside Newry and have been fostering for three years. As well as bringing them a great sense of purpose it also keeps them young at heart.

So much more to give

Speaking about what spurred them to think of fostering Bronagh said "My husband and I had our son and daughter when we were in our early twenties, we loved everything about being parents. When they went to University we felt a massive void in our lives. Yes at first that extra freedom was lovely but then we felt we were slowly sliding into old age and we were only in our early fifties! We felt we still had so much more to give and missed the busyness and noise around the house. Every time I picked up a newspaper or watched the TV there seemed to be an advert for Fostering so with the approval, encouragement and support of our children and extended family we made the call and started the process."

The couple found it a real learning curve as Bronagh explains "When we were growing up we thought every child had a life like ours, stable, happy, safe and loving, and learning about some of the realities for these children was painful. However, it made us even more determined to carry on with it. We also learned a lot about ourselves on the way and after a year of weekly visits from the Family Placement social worker and training courses we were approved."

Damian and Bronagh have been fostering for almost 3 years and have never looked back. Bronagh says "It gives us a great sense of purpose everyday, brings us joy and definitely keeps us young at heart. These children have brought as much to our lives as we have to theirs. They have taught us so much, made us appreciate the little things in life which we took for granted. It is a journey and a slow one, there is no magic wand to vanish the hurt and unhappiness from the children’s past. We have had our challenges but with the constant professional support and guidance from the The Family Placement team, we have worked through them, learned new skills and discovered strengths we never knew we had. I believe it has brought our whole family closer, we could not do it without their help and support. We all appreciate each other and the strong bonds we have continued to develop. When you see the children tentatively taking steps forward, trusting in you, believing in themselves and making plans for the future it is honestly the best feeling."

Foster caring can be hugely rewarding.
Foster caring can be hugely rewarding.

Rewards

Melanie knows she is very privileged to be able to work with so many people who are altruistic in their desire to make a real difference to the lives of children and young people and to feel that they have positively influenced that.

"When I talk to current foster carers, sometimes on a daily basis, what I hear them say is that they got into fostering because of their desire to make a difference and to feel that they had positively made that contribution to somebody's life and changed circumstances for them. Whilst there are challenges associated with foster care, undoubtedly the feedback would be that people continue to feel rewarded by their decision to care for a child in a fostering capacity" said Melanie.

Many foster carers also have their own birth children and like Bronagh and Damian they would say it has made them better as a family unit, giving them a better outlook and more understanding and empathy for other peoples circumstances. The Trust’s Family Placement Service provides a high level of support and training to people so carers are not 'doing it on their own' but rather as part of a team. Connections are made with other carers and other families that prove invaluable.

Making a difference

Damian and Bronagh would strongly encourage anyone interested to find out more. Bronagh adds "I asked the children today, what is the best things about your lives now here with us, this is what they said; the people all around us, the way you teach us how to do things, your dinners, all our new friends, the Trampoline and going to Donegal”.

"We hope to be fostering for a long time from now and would strongly encourage anyone who has ever given it even a fleeting thought to go and take the next step. You are never alone in this, there is help, advice and training all the way and the friendship and support from other carers is wonderful."

Concluding Bronagh said "There is such a need for foster carers here, anyone can foster if you have room in your heart and room in their home. These children just need support and nurturing, someone to stand up for them and welcome them into their family. There is no such thing as the perfect carer, it is just ordinary people doing their best. They are needed from all walks of life, from all backgrounds with all different life experiences. There are many different types of fostering too, such as short term, emergency support, disability respite and more permanent placements. You will be helped all along the way to find what type is best suited to you."

Fostering can give you the opportunity to make a huge difference to a child
Fostering can give you the opportunity to make a huge difference.

Interested?

In many cases the first port of call for people interested in fostering is the HSCNI (Health and Social care Board) adoption and fostering website which has all the contact details necessary (see below). Once an enquiry has been made by someone expressing an interest in Foster care they will be contacted by the local Family placement Service to further discuss the issue and agree how to proceed.

Essentially anybody can apply to foster. Enquiries are invited from interested parties from all section of our communities including those from all the various Religious, cultural, Sexual orientation, marital status and Ethnic backgrounds. Part of the assessment process will include various checks and references and should any particular issues emerge or if there are and potential complexities, you allocated social worker from the family Placement service will discuss this with you and advise of any implications in respect of the assessment and approval process.

There are different types of fostering including short and long term, care for young children and Adolescence and fostering in relation to providing regular overnight short breaks to children with disabilities.

With the present increase in numbers of children and teenagers coming into the care system the Trust is eager to receive enquiries for any area of fostering at the moment and would encourage anyone interested to lift the phone or to log an enquiry via the website. As Melanie explains "Quite often we hear people say, it's something we thought about for years, and it's a number of years later they are making that enquiry so if its something that they have been considering or that they think they might be interested in, now is a really good time to make that enquiry given the level of need that we have."

You can contact NI Foster Care at https://adoptionandfostercare.hscni.net or telephone them on 0800 0720 137

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