Barnardo's in plea for more foster carers as number of Northern Ireland children in care rises
Northern Ireland is in desperate need of foster carers, as the number of children in care has risen by more than a quarter in the past decade, it has been warned.
There were 2,433 children in care in Northern Ireland at the end of March 2008, of which just over half were in foster care.
However, 10 years later, this had increased to 3,109 - the highest number on record - with 79% of the youngsters placed in foster homes.
A leading children's charity has warned that the number of children in care is likely to rise further and said that many more foster carers are needed to minimise the suffering and distress experienced by some of the most vulnerable children in Northern Ireland.
Barnardo's said that a rise in children in care without a similar rise in foster carers could mean children having to wait longer before finding the best match.
It may also mean that they need to be moved to a different family several times because the most appropriate carer is not available. This is because carers need to have the right training and skills and be available at the right time for a child who might be disabled, have siblings, be older or from an minority ethnic background.
As part of its Barnardo's Fostering Week 2019, which is being launched today, Barnardo's is urgently appealing for more people to consider fostering so that Northern Ireland's most vulnerable children can have a bright future with a loving, stable family.
Paying tribute to the thousands of people who have signed up as foster carers over the years, Lynda Wilson, director of Barnardo's Northern Ireland, said: "As the number of children in care continues to rise, it is more important than ever that more people consider becoming foster carers to ensure the right loving families are available in the right location and with the right training when children need it.
"Being a foster carer can be a challenge, but it is incredibly rewarding and gives children the life skills, support and care they need to build better and brighter futures."
In the past decade, the charity's foster carers have taken care of thousands of children, giving them the best chance to have a happier and positive future.
One Barnardo's couple who know the difference a safe and stable foster family can make to a child's life are Ann and Brian Beattie.
Since becoming foster carers 14 years ago, they have seen amazing progress in some of the children they have cared for.
Ann described how one toddler struggled with their speech and didn't know how to play when they arrived.
However, the couple dedicated countless hours trying to address this and the child's speech had improved dramatically by the time they returned to their family.
Ann (62) said: "They couldn't speak when they first came to us, they would just point to things.
"Over the weeks and months I would just play and play and their speech just came on amazingly."
Brian (59) said: "It was just amazing to see the difference from when we first met them.
"It's so rewarding to know we were part of their journey to becoming the confident young person they are today.
"We really would encourage everyone to find out more about it, as it really can change your life in such a positive way."
To find out more about becoming a foster carer, log on to www.barnardos.org.uk/fostering or ring 0800 0277 280.