Martin Newland

The moral case for becoming a foster carer

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Three months ago I travelled with my wife to Ireland’s west coast for a reunion with our first foster placements, now settled with their new family. The two sisters, then aged five and two, had been removed by police from their home in pyjamas and driven to our house in 2017. I remember trawling around shops the next day, panic-buying clothes and pushchairs while my wife fed them, read to them, bathed them and administered nit treatments. The five-year-old stayed with us for two years. Her younger sister left us after a few months for another temporary foster family. Both now sail, ride horses, play rugby and are about to get Irish citizenship.

If there is a reward, it is witnessing a child, with basic necessities assured, learning how to trust

We are temporary foster carers, whose own four children have left home. We can take short-term emergency placements or placements of up to two years. We have looked after Syrian, Iranian and Afghan refugees found clinging to lorries at our local port of Felixstowe. We have hosted children from the travelling community, emergency cases removed from their homes, children at risk of sexual exploitation, children born addicted to opiates. We have taken on children as respite care for long-term foster carers who need a break.

Some of the kindest and most effective carers in my experience are from modest backgrounds – painter-decorators, council workers, administrators and builders. Our first two girls are now with a health and safety specialist and his wife, who runs a small arts and crafts business.

Fostering agencies tend to pay carers more than local authorities, but the amounts are never life-changing. Nobody fosters for the money. Successful applications for foster carers are declining even as overall demand for places skyrockets, with nearly 100,000 children predicted to be in care by 2025 in England, up from around 70,000 in 2015.

‘To be honest, the job’s soul-destroying.’

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