Foster Care fortnight: 400 families needed in Wales
More than 400 foster families are needed in Wales in the next year to ensure children in need get a suitable home, a charity has said.
The Fostering Network said there was "a particular need" for carers for teenagers and sibling groups.
The charity's latest figures - released as part of Foster Care Fortnight (8-22 May) - show 7,180 families are needed across the UK.
It made a call "across Wales for people to come forward".
The charity said its latest figures showed at least 440 families were needed across Wales, with an additional survey suggesting 97% of UK fostering services have a particular need for foster carers for teenagers and 6% for sibling groups.
"Without more foster families in Wales coming forward during 2017, and especially people who could foster teenagers and sibling groups, some children will find themselves living a long way from family," Colin Turner, director of The Fostering Network in Wales, said.
He added it would result in children being split up from siblings and friends and being placed with a foster carer who "might not have the specific skills and experience to meet that particular child's needs".
There are three types of providers of foster care in Wales - local authorities, the charity sector and the the private sector.
'It changed our life'
Lynda and her husband Ian are foster carers for teenagers in Wales.
They said: "It has changed our life totally, we eat and drink fostering. It keeps us young and tests us every day.
"Of course, teenagers can be challenging, but we are so grateful to the teenager we cared for long-term as we learnt so much so quickly. He was fabulous company and was brilliant with other fostered children we had.
"Others should consider fostering teenagers because when you make a difference it is massive. Getting a teenager to eat vegetables rather than fast food is like winning the lottery."
TACT, one of the biggest not-for-profit fostering agencies in the UK, said the latest figures were "slightly better" than in 2011, when there was a shortage of about 550 suitable foster families.
Scott Ruddock, TACT's executive director of social services for Wales and the west, said a shortage had been talked about for the 16 years he has been in the industry.
"There's a lot more publicity and information out there about it, but when I talk to people in general the myths are also still out there," he said.
"People still think they can't foster if they're single or don't own their own home, if they don't have children or if they do have children of their own."
He said there were also myths about the kinds of children who come into care.
"[They] think they're particularly challenging or have criminal behaviour," he said.
"For the vast majority that's just not the case. Young people we foster in Wales are going on to university and achieving really well."
Mr Ruddock said 54% of the affected children in Wales were older than 10, with most of them teenagers.
Official figures show the number of children in care has gone up considerably in the last five years - 24% in Wales, Mr Ruddock said.
"My own view is local authorities are far better now at identifying children that need to come into care and are intervening quicker and sooner as a result of improved practice.
"But recruitment of foster carers is having to keep up with the increase."
'Recruit younger people'
TACT said there were 3,300 foster care households in Wales, with the average foster carer aged 55.
"It will become more of a challenge over the next 10 years because we anticipate large numbers of carers retiring," Mr Ruddock added.
"That's a challenge, trying to recruit younger people who don't think they can foster."