At any time around 1,600 children need to be fostered in Hampshire so suitable carers are in constant demand across the whole county.
Debbie (51) lives on a farm with her husband and grown up children. She became a foster carer last year, looking after a young baby as well as caring for a number of other children for a short time or for respite care.
Debbie said: "This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I genuinely feel privileged to have met the most amazing and resilient little people. To anyone who is thinking about fostering, I say – get in touch." Read more of Debbie's story
Steve Crocker, Hampshire's Director of Children's Services, said: "Although a whole community of foster carers support the County Council to look after vulnerable children, there is a particular shortage of carers for older children, those in sibling groups or who are disabled, and unaccompanied asylum-seekers.
"Foster carers come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, but what unites them all is a desire and ability to give a caring and stable home to support children and young people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot live with their birth family. This can be on a short-term basis or for extended periods of time. Forget the myths around fostering – you don't need a whole range of qualifications to become a foster carer – all we ask is that you have a determination to give vulnerable children a safe, happy and stable home environment, a spare bedroom for a child or children to sleep in and that you have some experience of childcare."
Debbie added that potential foster carers should be flexible and that in her case, she was grateful to have a supportive family, adding: "Honesty and being willing to learn is also important. It can be tough at times emotionally, but help is there for you, both from the Local Authority, as well as from the many other foster carers who are happy to share their stories and support each other."
Hampshire County Council is holding the following events during Fostercare Fortnight where people can drop in and find out more about fostering:
- 14 May, from 10am to 12 noon: Hampshire County Council, Elizabeth II Court, Winchester
- 18 May, 10am to 2pm: Fleet Library
- 21 May, 4pm to 7pm: Aldershot Library
For other events and to find out more about fostering in Hampshire, visit www.hants.gov.uk/fostering.
"My name is Debbie. I am aged 51 years.
"We decided to foster once our own children had grown up and become more independent. We live on a farm, had a spare room and decided to apply in 2017. We had an amazing assessor who supported us all through the whole process which took around six months. It was sometimes tough revealing a lot about ourselves, but it was all handled sensitively and positively.
"When we went to the fostering panel to be approved, it all started to feel like it was really happening. We were asked a lot of questions and then when we were told we were approved it seemed like the long journey was finally over. We were all so excited, and I couldn't wait for our first children.
"Soon we had our first two children for respite care. They were aged 18 months and five years old. They came having not met us before. I was surprised how they settled so well. When they went to bed on their first night, I felt sad for them and I was determined that they'd have a happy time. We filled their memories with fun on the farm, and after only five days we said goodbye to them… we would need to toughen up!
"We were then given our first short term placement, a baby. When I went to collect him from hospital I had mixed emotions. I was so excited to take him home to show my family who were waiting eagerly to meet him but also sad for his mother who had just said goodbye to him."
He has brought joy to us all
"I've loved every minute looking after this baby. Our family have embraced him and he has brought joy to us all. I have enjoyed being part of the team helping him and attending meetings and have met with his mother at appointments too which has been good. Maintaining a non-judgemental approach to his parent has helped us to build a good relationship for him.
"Throughout his time with us we have looked after five other children, one child placed for a month, owing to an emergency, and four children for anything between one to three weeks of respite.
"The most fun part has been meeting so many children and giving them some happy memories of their time with us. Watching my family welcome and enjoy the children has been amazing. There have been great moments, like when my two grown-up sons played skipping games with the children or seeing my daughter help with and care for the children. We are a great team! My husband has a lovely bond with the baby and he is very popular with all the children, taking them safely on regular tractor rides.
"The toughest part to deal with has been learning the stories behind the children and one or two of the children have struggled, but our training prepared us well for the different behaviours. I have always remembered that their behaviours are for reasons we may or may not know. When I have been alone, I have shed a few tears for some of the children. They are amazing."
It's okay to grieve when a child leaves
"We are currently preparing for the baby in our care to move on to be adopted. Without the support and advice of our social worker and a group of foster carer friends we have made, it would be harder than it is. It will be sad to say goodbye, and we know it is okay to grieve when a child leaves. Having met his new family, we couldn't be happier for them and for him.
"Flexibility is important for foster carers, and all members of our immediate family need to be supportive for it to be successful. Honesty and being willing to learn is also important. It can be tough at times emotionally, but help is there for you from the Local Authority, as well as from other foster carers who are willing to share their stories and support each other.
"This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I genuinely feel privileged to have met the most amazing and resilient little people."