Covid: Foster families speak of rewards amid pandemic drop in carers

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Media caption,

Kerryann had a foster match within hours of being approved

Foster families have spoken of the rewards of bringing children in need into their lives, as the Covid pandemic is blamed for a drop in carers.

In Aberdeenshire the number of new foster families fell by more than half during 2020.

And new figures show more carers left fostering services right across Scotland than joined.

Aberdeenshire Council told BBC Scotland the pandemic was "central" to the drop in foster carers.

Kerryann McKechnie has been a foster carer in the area since September 2019, after going through training, interviews and a panel meeting.

"They said we're happy for you to come on board", she said.

It was then "very quick" - within two to three hours she had phone call from a social worker who said there was already potentially a match for two children.

There was a one-hour visit initially.

"From day one there was a connection," she said. "It's been really good, the children have settled in. Our lives have changed.

"They just flourish when provided with the right environment."

The children are now with her and her husband on a permanent basis.

She recommended fostering for others "as long as you have time and support", adding: "It is rewarding. You are so proud of them."

Nicola Thomson has been a foster carer for three years, and has children of her own.

Image caption,
Nicola Thomson has been a foster carer for three years

She has looked after 10 children in total, with the oldest staying with her from the age of six to eight. The current baby is the youngest.

"We love her dearly, we don't know how long we'll have her for", she said.

'Part of the family'

"I try to make it special for them. They do become part of the family."

She described lockdown as "challenging" due to home schooling and travel restrictions, but added: "We got there".

New Care Inspectorate figures shows more carers left fostering services across Scotland than joined.

There are 59 fostering services in Scotland, a mix of local authorities and independent organisations.

In 2020, both sectors approved fewer new carers, and more people left the service than actually joined.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
More foster families are being sought

Aberdeenshire Council social work manager Andrew Dick said that over the course of the pandemic a drop in numbers in people coming forward to want to foster had become evident.

"Our aim is always to keep children at home with their families whenever that is possible", he said. "When that is not able to happen we rely on other options, we have some amazing foster carers who do an incredible job.

"The pandemic has resulted in a number of challenges for them on top of the general challenges that often arise.

"Our foster carers have put aside concerns about their own health and the health of their own families in order to continue to open their homes to the children and young people who need their care."

Image caption,
Aberdeenshire Council's Andrew Dick said fostering could be challenging but was rewarding

As to the drop in Aberdeenshire, he explained: "I think the pandemic is central to it. People who might have considered coming forward to foster previously might now be experiencing other priorities in their life.

"The number of children who need care away from home has remained fairly consistent over the course of the pandemic.

"We will at times have families who decide that for various reasons they are not able to continue to offer foster care any longer. That means we are reliant on new fostering families coming through into the service."

Mr Dick said they were keen to buck the trend and redress the balance.

"Many different people come forward. We'd be really keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in hearing more.

"Fostering can be incredibly rewarding."

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