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There’s a growing need for foster carers in Somerset as the number of children needing care is increasing.
Somerset County Council has put out a call for people to consider taking on the role, especially to look after teenagers, who make up half the number of young people needing homes.
In 2017 there were 477 looked-after children in the county. The figure is currently 582.
One Somerset foster carer hopes the publishing of her first children’s book can encourage more people to consider the role. It is dedicated to all the children who came to her ‘without warm jumpers’.
‘The Little Red Dragon’ is written by Emma Lloyd, who has fostered for Somerset County Council for more than eight years. It tells the story of a dragon who encounters friendship and kindness as he searches for his missing jumper.
The book includes a personal dedication for ‘all the children who came to me without warm jumpers’, which Emma says is one of the many challenges of fostering.
“Many of the children arrive without adequate clothes," she said. "They can arrive late at night, maybe without pyjamas or shoes for the next day, and often without warm coats or jumpers.
"As a foster carer you need to be flexible and prepared for children to arrive with very little and at short notice, often frightened and scared having been removed from their homes. It’s a scary time for these children and sometimes they display that through their behaviour.
“But it is an incredibly rewarding role. Seeing them a few months later, twirling around in their new party dress or proudly heading off to school – these are all little pictures I keep in my mind of children building their self-esteem and confidence.”
Emma, who is passionate about the benefits of reading to children from a young age, began to explore the possibility of sharing her own stories with others after encouragement from her eldest child.
Emma said: “Reading to and with children from a young age is really important; it’s a life skill.
"Children who read well are likely to have a wider vocabulary and be able to write well, and I also believe it encourages imagination. For traumatised children especially, reading can allow them to lose themselves in another world and forget unhappy memories, or feelings of sadness or anger, just for a moment. Taking children to a happy, imaginative world before bedtime can really help if they find it hard to sleep.
”If I’m caring for a child who struggles to settle at night, we’ll still read together, but at bedtime we’ll dim the lights and I’ll tell them a story rather than read one. I find this can help them sleep as your voice can be quite comforting to them, they’re not as stimulated from focusing on the pictures in a book, and you can soften your voice as they get sleepier. Those repetitive stories are particularly good at helping a younger child sleep.”
Another Somerset foster carer, Jane, says she hopes more single people like her will consider taking on the role. She also says it's important people are open to fostering teenagers.
She said: "I call them my children. They're not - they will go home, hopefully to their parents, at some point or go on to independent living. But it's a pleasure to have teenagers. They've got so much to give me and they keep me young. They don't keep me rich in any shape or form! But they enrich my life, which I feel is really important.
"That's the thing with fostering - you are so enriched by these children that come through your care. We can give them so much. We can change their lives."
She added: "I'm a single carer and actually being on my own I don't have to be thinking about the partner. There's no pressure and you can give all to those children and that's what they need at this age. So don't let it hold you back just because you're single or anything to do with your situation because it takes all sorts to make a child's life and change that child's life."
Councillor Tessa Munt, Lead Member for Children and Families said “It’s wonderful to see Emma raising awareness of the importance of fostering with the release of her first children’s book. Foster carers like Emma make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children, by offering them the stability of a loving home.”
Tessa added “We urgently need more foster homes for children of all ages in Somerset. If you think you could change a child’s story as a Somerset foster carer and you’d like more information, visit www.fosteringinsomerset.org.uk or call 0800 587 9900 for an informal chat. Foster carers need to be aged 21 or over, have a spare room in their home and receive a weekly fee and allowance payment.”