A leading charity in foster care has said there is an urgent need for investment in services after it emerged that the number of children in care in Derry is at an “all-time high”.

In Monday’s Derry News it was revealed that in the Western Trust area alone there are 427 vulnerable children on the child protection register, which represents an increase of 19 on the previous year.

And 665 children or young people are being “looked after” in foster or residential care by the Trust, an increase of 77 children since September 2016.

A report published by the Fostering Network on the state of foster care shows that the allowance given to foster carers does not meet the full needs of the child and that carers aren’t treated as a valued member of the team by social workers.

The Fostering Network has now raised concerns about a lack of support for foster carers, along with a failure to recognise the vital role they play at the heart of children’s social care, which risks undermining their ability to meet the needs of fostered children.

Kathleen Toner, Director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, commented: “There is an ongoing need for foster carers across Northern Ireland, and fostering services are continuously working to recruit more foster carers.  We continually need more foster carers to ensure that children coming into care can live with a foster family who can best meet their needs.

“We have the greatest number of children in care since the Children (NI) order was passed in 1996 for a variety of reasons including neglect, abuse, family breakdown and so on. This creates a challenge within Northern Ireland, meaning it is vital to invest in well supported, responsive fostering services who can meet a wide range of children’s needs.”

She added: “Being a foster carer can be challenging and, although our latest State of the Nation’s Foster Care report shows that foster carers in Northern Ireland report being more positive about the support from their fostering service compared with the rest of the UK, we continue to work with all health and social care trusts and independent fostering providers across Northern Ireland to help make foster care the best it can be.”

Foster carers are having to look after children with complex needs who has either had involvement with the police, caused violence in their home or gone missing from home.  According to a YouGov survey of 1,000 parents, this compares with just eight per cent of parents coping with the same three challenges from any of their children.

Forty-eight per cent of foster carers also say that they are supporting fostered children with mental health needs who are not accessing specialist support.

Chief Executive of Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, says that many of these children have had a “traumatic start to life” and therefore require “expert and loving care” to turn their lives around.

“A decade of austerity and subsequent cuts to early intervention and key family support services have led to more children coming into care with more challenging needs. At the same time these budget cuts also mean that, at the time when they most need it, foster carers are not receiving the support, training and respect that they need to do this difficult role to the best of their ability,” he said.

The government was urged to deliver adequate funding to make foster care the very best it can be.

Photo: Kathleen Toner Director of Fostering Network NI.

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