Like many facets of society, the foster care system has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. However, foster carers across the region are continuing to provide day-to-day care to children who can't live with their birth families.

Foster families were already a scarce resource in our region. Due to the pandemic, however, fewer young people are able to leave temporary care for permanent arrangements, while many existing foster carers will be unable to accept children because they're having to isolate.

With councils in the East predicting a rise in the number of children being referred to care as lockdown eases, foster carers across the region have been using this time to encourage others to come forward to support a child.

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As well as bringing up their own children, Helen and Dave Archer from Stevenage foster a 16-year-old girl, and support two over 18s who have left the care system. They've fostered for around 8 years now and want to encourage more people to come forward during this time.

Helen Archer with some members of her family Credit: ITV News Anglia

"We are desperate for foster carers, before lockdown happened, before corona happened, we were already very desperate. There are over 900 children in foster care in Hertfordshire, we do not have enough foster carers to meet that need. I think coronavirus has exacerbated the situation."

Helen Archer, Foster carer from Stevenage

20-year-old Kelli is currently living with Helen's family as a 'care leaver'. She originally met the family when they found out she had no one to spend Christmas with and so invited her to celebrate with them. She's now been fully welcomed into the family with her baby boy, Julian, for extra support during the pandemic.

Kelli was welcomed in with her baby by Helen's family for extra support during the lockdown Credit: ITV News Anglia

"The relationships last forever, whereas when there isn't enough foster carers and people go into residential homes it's because of professionalism and everything that it kind of has to end at 18. Whereas with foster care it can last for every and it's like having a family."

Kelli, Care Leaver
Helen and members of the family playing in the garden Credit: ITV News Anglia

Every day over 3,000 foster families across the East of England are offering over 6,700 fostered children and young people a loving, secure and stable home. This commitment from foster families is ongoing during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our foster carers are all ordinary people, but they do an extraordinary thing. I’d like to say a big thank you to our foster carers for everything they’re doing for their foster children in these challenging times."

COUNCILLOR TERESA HERITAGE, DEPUTY LEADER OF HERTFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL AND CABINET MEMBER FOR CHILDREN, YOUNG PEOPLE AND FAMILIES

Councils in the East are already seeing a slow rise in the number of cases, and say they're expecting to see a steep rise in the number of children being referred to care as lockdown eases.

"At the moment we have 10 children waiting to know if they're going into care, they're going through court proceedings, and that's just over the last few months. It's coming. And that's what we've all been saying, there's recovery coming, and during the recovery period it's going to be a real challenge. I would say please people come forward and foster with us."

COUNCILLOR TERESA HERITAGE, DEPUTY LEADER OF HERTFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL AND CABINET MEMBER FOR CHILDREN, YOUNG PEOPLE AND FAMILIES

The Fostering Networks estimates that in the East of England alone, 650 foster carers need to be recruited in the next 12 months to cope with the demand.

650

650 Foster Carers need to be recruited in the next 12 months in the East of England.

"Foster care transforms the lives of children and young people as well as those of foster carers and their families. This has never been more important. Foster carers help children and young people flourish and fulfil their potential, as well as provide a vital service to our society. Because this happens mainly in the privacy of their own homes – especially at the moment – their contributions too often go unnoticed."

Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network

Not only are carers and councils looking to recruit people during lockdown, they also want to dispel certain 'myths' surrounding fostering:

  • Depending which type of fostering you choose, working is not a barrier so please do contact us to find out more.

  • You are never too old to foster - we welcome the experience!

  • If you have your own children or no children we want to hear from you.

  • We don’t expect foster carers to be perfect, we want people who can offer safe, secure and loving homes.

  • You can be in a same sex relationship, married, single or living with a partner.

While we have all been told to keep our distance from friends and relatives, and keep our doors closed, that's not the case for foster carers who are being asked to take in more children.

Sue Neale from Essex usually provides support for other foster carers by hosting sleepovers for foster children among other things. Three weeks ago she was asked to take in a primary-school aged boy who had come into care as a result of the pressure of lockdown on his family. If Sue hadn't of stepped up, he could've ended up having to move out of the county.

Sue Neale, from Essex, took in a primary-school boy just 3 weeks ago Credit: ITV News Anglia

"It's been hugely rewarding for us as a family.Yes, some tough times, but the rewards most certainly outweigh it. So if you are considering it, make the call, please."

Sue Neale, foster carer in Essec=x

While it's not a role you'll see on the frontlines, it's s vital one nonetheless:

"One thing the coronavirus has done is it's forced society to prioritise a little bit and there are some services that have to go on no matter what else is happening. Being a foster carer or being a residential homes worker is now recognised as essential and one way to look at it is you're always gonna be essential for the children that need you."

Neil Sutherland, Manager of The Barns Residential Home, Hertfordshire

Like Helen and Sue, there are hundreds of foster carers across the region doing essential work to help vulnerable children through the pandemic. In order to raise awareness of this during the coming weeks, many have been taking pictures of what they’ve been doing to keep their foster children occupied during lockdown.

Some have been building dens, creating artwork, baking, setting up an outdoor cinema, and more.

Foster carers have been taking pictures of what they've been getting up to in lockdown Credit: ITV News Anglia

Councils are asking who anyone who thinks they may have the skills to foster a child to get in touch and get some more information.