AN APPEAL is being made for more foster carers across the country. Here BELINDA HARGREAVES talks to one foster family in the Staffordshire Moorlands about their caring role.
MARK and Kate Sutcliffe have been fostering for nearly five years.
The couple, who are both in their early 40s, have an eight-year-old son themselves and say that fostering has "benefited our own family life for the better".
They have looked after six different children over the past five years for varying lengths of time.
Mark said: "We always foster children who are younger than our son, because the children we foster come with different challenges and we don't want them to dominate our son.
"He loves that we foster. Yes, some children we have we do find a challenge, but our son does enjoy the nuturing side.
"We decided to become foster parents because we wanted to offer a home and family life to other children in need."
As for the process of becoming foster parents, Mark admitted: "It is very intrusive. Obviously the social workers need to feel ok about you looking after a child in your home on your own. They have to be confident in you and your ability – confident that you can do the job. They have to ask intrusive questions.
"However, we did feel supported through the process and understood why they asked the questions they did." He added: "The support is very good and continues. We have our own social worker who visits regularly and is available on the phone 24/7. They are not too intrusive with their visits but you do have to realise that your house is more than just a home – it is a meeting place."
As for any emotional connection after looking after a child, Mark said: "Being a foster parent you are a professional and therefore you will have professional attachments.
"You will get emotionally attached to the child you are looking after and that can be challenging, but we are aware that we only have that child for a certain amount of time. What matters is that child gets the best result at the end. The whole idea is for them to be a part of your household, but be able to move on whichever way is best for them.
"We do keep in touch with some of the children we have looked after, but it all depends on their circumstances."
As for the personal benefits of being foster parents, Mark said: "It has made a huge change to our own family life, and for the better.
"By being foster parents, we can spend more time together as a family.
"Our son also benefits from having interaction with another child in the house.
"There is also the benefit of the difference we feel we are making for those children."
Mark added: "I would urge others to consider fostering. It has been a positive, life changing decision for us. But it has to be right for your family circumstances because nothing will prepare you for the challenges that you could face. However those challenges can be positive and also rewarding for ourselves."
THE charity Fostering Network has, this month, stated that at least 7,000 new foster families are needed across the UK, with 925 needed across the West Midlands in 2014 to provide stable, secure and loving homes for the record numbers of children who need help.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: "We urgently need people who believe that they have the right skills and qualities to foster to come forward and make a long lasting positive difference to the life of a child.
"In particular, foster carers are needed to provide homes for teenagers and children with disabilities, and to help sibling groups stay together."
Councillor Mike Lawrence, cabinet member for children, communities and localism at Staffordshire County Council added: "Mark and Kate are a great example of people making a real difference to many children's lives. We are always looking for new foster carers , and I would urge anyone interested to get in touch."
For more, go to www.staffordshire. gov.uk/fostering or www.fostering.net/could-you-foster.