Leading fostering charity The Fostering Network is calling for more under 35s in the South East to consider becoming foster carers.
The call comes during the second week of Foster Care Fortnight, as part of the charity’s campaign to help recruit 830 new foster families in the South East (7,000 new foster families across the UK) in the coming year.
Less than five per cent of foster carers are under 35, despite this age group making up about 20 per cent of the UK’s population.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: “Older foster carers bring life experience and skills from other work to fostering, and do an amazing job in providing homes for thousands of fostered children.
“However, given the need for over 800 more foster families in the South East during 2017, it’s vital that we also reach out to more people under 35 who are heavily under-represented among foster carers.
“What is important is not age, but rather the skills and qualities to look after fostered children, and we believe there are many people in this younger age bracket who would make fantastic foster carers but may think they’re too young.
“Younger foster carers will also be in a great position to offer homes to the many children who need to live with a foster family for the long term, often until the age of 21.”
Joelene Hodgson-McKail began fostering at 29 and believes being younger has been beneficial to the care she and her wife Yvonne provide.
She said: “I thought my age would be a big concern at first and we had lots of discussions with social workers about the age of the children we could care for.
“However we have found that our youth has worked really well, particularly with teenagers as we’ve been able to relate well to them.
“Even the basic stuff like knowledge of social media and sharing interests in music for example has helped us to build and establish bonds.
“When we enquired about foster care there were never really any concerns about age.
“Prior to fostering, I worked for the Scottish prison service in a position that held a great deal of responsibility and maturity, and I had experience looking after nieces and nephews whose ages range from three to 21.
“During the assessment process the focus was very much on my experience with children and not the lack of ‘life experience’.”
At the other end of the age scale, those in their sixties and beyond can also provide loving, stable environment for a child.
Anthony Prewett and his wife Joyce, who are now in their eighties, didn’t start fostering until they reached their sixties, which for them was the perfect time to start after retiring and watching their own children fly the nest.
Anthony said: “I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the town and its children something of the privileged existence I had led, the love and care my son had received and the support of a large family which I had never experienced before.
“We think older foster carers bring a wealth of life experience to the task, tend to have a ‘longer fuse’ and be more empathetic and understanding.
“They usually have more time to devote to the children and are also more active than in the past and can expect to make a worthwhile contribution for many years.
“It’s great to have the health and vitality to keep up this work a couple of years into my ninth decade!”
If you believe you may have relevant skills and experiences to foster, financial stability and a spare room, then please visit thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/couldyoufoster for more information.