Wales

Coronavirus: Barnardo's declares fostering 'crisis' in lockdown

Chris and Sarah Williams Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Chris and Sarah Williams say they have had 11 "great" years of fostering

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a "crisis" for foster caring in Wales, according to a children's charity.

Barnardo's Cymru has seen a 45% rise in the number of children needing foster care at the same time as a 51% fall in parent inquiries during lockdown.

The double impact has led the charity to declare a "state of emergency".

It believes the pandemic and lockdown has increased pressure on vulnerable families due to job losses and poverty while also affecting mental health.

"The coronavirus pandemic has hit vulnerable families hardest, with many reaching crisis point," said chief executive Javed Khan.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barnardo's fears children in lockdown are in abusive households

During March and April, Barnardo's Cymru fostering service received 140 referrals, an increase from 96 for the same period in 2019.

At the same time, there were just 19 inquiries from people considering becoming foster parents for the charity - down from 39 a year earlier - amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

There is now a growing fear children are experiencing abuse and neglect while they wait for foster care places with the problem only worsening as lockdown continues.

"This has created a state of emergency, as more children than ever need a safe and loving foster family, while fewer adults are coming forward as potential foster carers," said Mr Khan.

The charity is urging more people to follow the likes of Chris and Sarah Williams, of Anglesey, who are now fostering a third child.

Image caption "Fostering will change your life for the better," said Chris

The couple, who also have two children of their own, "fell into" fostering 14 years ago when they became carers for a friend of their daughter who had run away from home following a family breakdown.

"We helped her to turn things around and get back on track with school," said Chris, now 56.

"It was a real eye-opener and we enjoyed having her with us, being a part of our family."

It was several years later that the couple saw a Barnardo's appeal for foster parents and after 12 months, they welcomed three siblings aged 18 months, eight and 13.

"We didn't hesitate and said yes straight away," he said.

"When we met with the children, they asked us lots of questions and we just knew we were going to get on.

"They moved in a few days before Christmas and it was lovely to have youngsters in the house again at that time of year. They settled in really quickly and became part of our family."

'Biggest high'

As with any family, there are highs and lows, said Chris, but he and Sarah adore being foster parents.

"The biggest high for us was when the children called us mum and dad for the first time," he said.

"We have always worked hard with the children to help them do the best they could, to believe in themselves and get the most out of life.

"Having Sam [not her real name] with us is just wonderful. She's one of the happiest little souls I know."

He added: "If anyone was considering fostering, I would encourage them to pick up the phone. If you feel you want to help, then trust that you can.

"It's been a great 11 years fostering for us and it won't end here. Guaranteed, fostering will change your life - and for the better."

Brenda Farrell, head of fostering and adoption at Barnardos Cymru, said people could help in different ways, from providing short term to permanent care.

"Coming out of lockdown we are anxious that more children will need support," she said.

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