Foster carers are desperately needed at a time of unprecedented pressure on Northern Ireland’s care system, a senior social worker has said.
There are more than 3,000 children in care, with around 16 young people newly admitted each week in the 2017-18 year.
Finding a bigger range of carers who can look after children with different needs is a priority, said Colm McCafferty, assistant director of corporate parenting with the Southern Trust.
“There has never been a higher number of looked after children in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“There’s unprecedented pressures on the foster care system to meet the needs of children coming in.”
Friday marks the fourth annual care day, celebrating children who have had experience of the care system, and their carers.
As of March 2018, there were 3,109 children in care – a figure which increased by almost a quarter since 2011, according to the Department of Health.
The Southern Trust had the largest proportion of admissions across all of Northern Ireland’s five trusts in the 2017-18 year.
Mr McCafferty, who has been a social worker for 25 years, said while the trust is successful in placing around one in three children with their extended family, the rest need other placements.
He said foster carers who can take in siblings, look after young people with disabilities, and carers from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are particularly welcome.
He said: “Every child is unique, every foster carer is unique. Every foster carer has his or her own priorities whether it’s to their own family or, in many circumstances, to the foster children they’re already committed to, so we would desperately want to have a broader pool of carers to enable us to get that match right from the outset.”
The greater number of children in need is a “reflection of significantly increased complexities in society” including the effects of austerity on vulnerable families, he said.
“I think vulnerable families are less equipped to deal with pressures,” he said.
“Going back maybe a generation, I think there were more sophisticated extended family support networks whereas a lot of the children that now come in to the care system don’t have that extended family network.”
While fostering is a challenging experience, it is also a very rewarding one, said Mr McCafferty, whose own parents became foster carers.
He said: “Fostering can be a really, really rewarding and positive experience.
— VOYPIC (@VOYPIC) February 11, 2019
“The vast majority of those children (in care in the Southern Trust) are in very settled, long-term foster placements and become very, very ingrained into that family.
“It’s a two-way relationship. I certainly know foster carers who see the benefits and see a child making progress. It’s exceptionally rewarding.”
Care Day takes place across the UK on February 15, celebrating the rights and experiences of young people who are or have been in care.
A gala show, organised by Northern Ireland charity Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC), is due to be held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Friday evening.
To find out more about fostering, visit www.adoptionandfostering.hscni.net or contact the Regional Fostering Service on 08000720137.