Should this be the year you adopt or foster a child in need of a home of their own?
As Fostering and Adoption Week approaches, adoption agencies discuss the benefits of giving a needy child a home, and who can do it
If you have a spare room and some spare love, you could change a child's life forever. Thousands of children need adopting and fostering in the UK, but there are not enough people and families willing to do the job.
In the approach to Fostering and Adoption Week, which starts on January 11, adoption and fostering agencies including Barnardo's and Action for Children are appealing for more people to give a child a home, and attempting to dispel some of the myths that surround the process.
The Fostering Network estimates there's an urgent need for 9,000 more foster carers in the UK, and Action for Children says there are more than 6,000 children needing adoption every year. However, more foster carers are currently needed than adoptive families.
Stacey Burnett, Action for Children's director of children's placements, says: "Our foster carers and adopters tell us that although fostering and adopting can be challenging, the rewards are endless. They help children, who have experienced the worst in life, to learn to trust again and grow in confidence."
Many of the children who need fostering or adopting are of school age, and more than half are in groups of brothers and sisters who need to be placed together. There are disabled children, and some children who've been abused and/or neglected and may have challenging behaviour.
The length of time a child stays with a foster carer depends on their needs, and fostering can include emergency overnight care, short-term respite care, long-term fostering, and fostering to potentially adopt.
Action for Children stresses it works with foster parents from a wide range of backgrounds, and it doesn't matter if you're male or female, married, single or in a civil partnership, renting or a homeowner. What matters most, says the charity, is your attitude to life. Foster carers should:
- Be over 21 (in some areas it's 25). There is no upper age limit.
- Have time - most foster carers are there full-time, although part-time carers are also needed to provide breaks over weekends and holidays.
- Have a spare bedroom big enough for a single bed, chest of drawers and wardrobe.
Other considerations include your health, financial security, certain criminal convictions, and if you have aggressive pets.
Experience with children through being a parent, or from spending time caring for children in your family or working with children is also valued.
And you'll need personality characteristics, including energy and resilience, willingness to learn, understanding, consistency and confidence, and the ability to make a child feel part of your family.
Barnardo's chief executive, Javed Khan, says: "Across the UK, ordinary people are doing something extraordinary: opening their hearts to help children feel secure and loved. More foster carers are desperately needed to give these children loving and stable care - which is why we'd like to hear from people like you."
People who want to adopt should:
- Be over 21 - there is no upper age limit.
- Have the physical and mental energy to care for demanding children.
Action for Children says any criminal record will be carefully looked into, but apart from some offences against children, will not necessarily rule someone out.
A medical examination of potential adoptive parents is needed, and health issues will be explored. People from all ethnic origins and religions, people with disabilities, single people, or one partner in an unmarried couple - heterosexual, lesbian or gay - can adopt. The charity points out that children usually do best when brought up in a family that reflects or promotes their ethnic, cultural or religious identity. Burnett stresses: "There are still far too many children out there that need a loving home.
"That's why we need more people who want to make a difference to a child's life.
"Lots of people can foster and adopt; it doesn't matter if you're older, single, cohabiting or married, male or female or in a heterosexual or same-sex relationship, but you must have a spare room and the ability to stand alongside children and young people to help them recover."
A final word from Shelley Rose (18), from Weymouth, who never had a loving and secure home and had brought up her two younger sisters from the age of eight. At 16, she was fostered by Sally Meadows through Action for Children.
"During my first Christmas there, Sally's family came to visit and her daughter had done a canvas picture of the family, which I was included in. I broke down and cried because I thought: 'I have finally found happiness'. She's my guardian angel and I wouldn't know what to do without her."
To adopt or foster, you need to go through an adoption agency, like Barnardo's or Action for Children. For more information, visit www.actionforchildren.org.uk, or for fostering contact Barnardo's on 0800 0277 280 or visit www.barnardos.org.uk/fostering.