Misconceptions including being single or too old are said to be putting people off fostering at a time of dire need for more carers, as Olympian Fatima Whitbread and poet Lemn Sissay front a new recruitment campaign.
Radio presenter Pandora Christie has also joined efforts to get more people to consider fostering, as the trio – who all had experience living in care as children – shared photographs of their younger selves in support of the campaign.
The National Fostering Group (NFG), which describes itself as the largest network of independent fostering agencies in the UK, said its research had shown thousands of carers are needed across Great Britain.
Sissay, who has previously detailed his experiences in the British care system, said fostering or adoption is “the greatest thing a human being can do for another”, while Whitbread, who grew up in children’s homes, said it is “a unique chance to make a real difference to a child’s life”.
The NFG described the care system as being “at a critical point” and said information it had received from 128 local authority fostering agencies in England, Scotland and Wales suggested almost two thirds of those had seen a rise in young people going into care in the last 12 months and an estimated 10,500 foster carers are now “urgently needed across the country”.
But its polling of 2,000 adults suggested less than a fifth (14%)of people would consider fostering – a figure the NFG said could be higher if certain misconceptions were not held.
More than a third (34%) of people felt they were too old to foster – with most of those who said this in the 65-plus age bracket, but 18% aged between 55 and 64 and 11% aged 45 to 54, the NFG said.
Other reasons included already having their own children (13%), being single (13%), working (11%) and being disabled (9%), it added.
Steve Christie, chief executive of the NFG said: “Many people perceive there to be barriers to becoming a foster carer that simply aren’t true.
“We will consider people regardless of age, marital status, gender, sexuality, disability or employment status.
“Anyone who has room in their home and their heart could be a foster carer, and most of our foster carers say that fostering is the best thing they have ever done.”
Backing the campaign, Olympic javelin champion Whitbread said: “Foster carers offer children and young people a safe, loving and nurturing home when they can’t live with their birth families. This means they have a unique chance to make a real difference to a child’s life.”
Heart radio presenter Christie, who went into foster care aged nine, said: “Foster parents are fundamental in creating a safe home environment and support system for children and young people who find themselves needing care.
“The amount of futures they help to change and the difference foster parents can make to a child’s life is indescribable.”
Sissay, who wrote about his time in care in his autobiography, My Name Is Why, said: “A child will test you emotionally, spiritually, financially, throughout your life, so to foster or adopt a child is the greatest thing a human being can do for another.”
For more information on fostering, visit www.nfa.co.uk.