Myths debunked in drive to attract more foster carers in Suffolk
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Owning your own home, being in a long-term relationship, being heterosexual - there are plenty of misconceptions about what you need to be a foster carer, but Suffolk County Council is debunking some of those myths as part of Foster Care Fortnight.
And for those already fostering in Suffolk, those myths are not the reality.
"If you have got a spare room and think you could do it, put yourself forward and have those chats [with the local authority]," says Ellie Scannell, a foster carer in Ipswich for more than 15 years with her husband Mark.
"If you are not the right person you will soon realise because the discussions that go on you will soon know would I be able to offer that. You surprise yourself in your own inner strength, because you think it is the right thing for those children.
"There are a lot of misconceptions around fostering and rules, what you wouldn’t be able to do - but once you have those discussions you will soon know. Sometimes people just rule it out."
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And there are many misconceptions. Among some of the most common are:
- That you must own your own home
- That you must be in a long-term relationship or married
- That you must be heterosexual
- That you must be a certain age
- That you would have to give up work
- That you have to have had experience with childcare
- That you would have to give up pets
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Suffolk County Council's fostering team says that people are assessed on their merits, and sexuality, faith, home-ownership or childcare experience are not reasons someone won't be considered.
Dylan Pomietlo from Felixstowe completed his registration last year. He is young, single, and gay but that hasn't precluded him from becoming a foster carer.
"When I was 20 or 21 me and my then partner ended up looking after one of their family member’s children quite a lot when they went into some personal crisis, and that happened a good few times over a couple of years," the 30-year-old said.
"Once they were better and the children were able to stay home it was a little bit of empty nest syndrome. I realised at a young age I wanted to have children in some shape or form, and after looking after someone else’s children, it was quite a real experience.
"I waited a few years to find the right time with the right person, but it was when I was talking to a friend who pointed out it was a bit of a myth that as a young man, gay, working and single, it would be near to impossible I would be taken seriously if I were to apply at that time.
"Sexuality is really not a problem with most things – times have changed, and actually there is a whole community of gay and lesbian people who it wouldn't be as simple to have their own children biologically and there are plenty of children out there who need to be cared for."
For Mrs Scannell, 41, she began fostering in her mid-20s as her mum had been a foster carer already, and even adopted one of the youngsters she was caring for. Despite already having a family of her own, fostering has been an integral part of their whole lives.
But having that childcare experience wasn't a prerequisite.
"It’s about you being able to have the skills to do it – and they don’t necessarily have to be about parenting," she says.
"They can come from different aspects of your life. Some of it is parenting and helping out with family and friends’ children, but some of it is learning mechanisms, coping strategies through stressful situations, through life, through jobs and lots of different things. You don’t realise that until you talk to the social worker."
Lots of foster carers are those taking to it later in life once their own children have flown the nest, but the council is encouraging those in their 20s or 30s to consider it too.
Martin Newton from the fostering team said: "We have got a massive shortage of young people fostering. We are seeing a lot of people retiring from fostering who just aren’t being replaced.
"With a lot of young people the reasons they think they can’t are because they don’t own their own house, they are single, they are in the LGBT community – there are so many misconceptions that they can’t become carers but they actually can."
For the children, those foster placements can have a transformative effect. Mrs Scannell said children she has looked after have had all kinds of traumas in their life, or may have problems communicating, eating or sleeping.
She says: "They have come into care for a reason and they need that love and support, the boundaries, the guidance. They need everything their family has not been able to give them, so you are giving them everything. You are opening up your heart and home.
"When you make the breakthrough it’s amazing – to see them smile, enjoy the activities, see them change, be happy they have clothes that fit, have a home-cooked meal, to do well at school and not to be picked on anymore. The little things at each placement are a major breakthrough."
The registration process is thorough - "intense in a good way and reassuring to see how thorough they are," Mr Pomietlo says, but people supported throughout. It can take between four months and a year to complete, but there is no obligation to commit for those who are not ready.
And the support networks in place for those becoming foster carers or considering it are vast. They include social workers, full training and the ability to talk to experienced foster carers already doing the role, as well as online information packs and virtual Q&As.
So for those considering fostering, the advice from those already doing it is clear: "If you are somebody who has been considering it or child options, have that initial contact," Mr Pomietlo says.
"I wish I had done it a good few years prior to when I did. You are not obliged and you are not committing.
"Even if you are not ready now and it might be something you want to do in a couple of years, there is no harm in getting in contact to make sure you are in the best possible position when you start it."
To find out more visit the website here or call 01473 264800.