Shropshire/Staffordshire foster agency highlights pressures of pandemic and urges potential parents to come forward

A foster care agency on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border celebrating its one-year anniversary has revealed the challenges of working through a pandemic and urged prospective parents to consider fostering.

Rachael Davies with mother Amanda Davies and children Vinnie and Ava
Rachael Davies with mother Amanda Davies and children Vinnie and Ava

Rachael Davies, director of Families First Fostering, said the number of referrals for children in need of foster care was "high", and that issues made worse by the pandemic including domestic abuse, finance and education, were all contributing factors.

The agency, based in Stone, is run by Rachael and her mother Amanda, and partnered with four families in Shropshire and 11 in Staffordshire – which care for 32 children in total.

Receiving its Ofsted accreditation on May 13 last year, the agency has been partnering families with children virtually before they are able to meet in person since.

Rachael, 37, who has been an approved foster parent for 16 years, said: "It's been a great year and we've grown much quicker than we expected, but it hasn't been without its challenges.

"We've had all staff predominantly working from home and we've had to use virtual means to communicate with people.

Rachael Davies with mother Amanda Davies, of Families First Fostering

"This includes setting up Zoom calls with potential parents and children, setting up virtual panels and interviews, so it's been a year of constantly adjusting to the changing conditions."

Barnardo's foster charity declared a 'state of emergency' in June last year after the number of children needing foster care across England, Wales and Northern Island rose by 44 per cent, while the number of potential parents plummeted by nearly half.

From March 1 to April 23, 2020, there were 2,349 referrals to Barnardo’s fostering services, a figure which shot up from 1,629 for the same period in 2019. Meanwhile the number of enquiries from people looking to become foster parents fell from 302 to 161 – a 47 per cent drop.

Rachael said family breakdowns and changes to personal circumstances were to blame.

"We've definitely noticed the high number of referrals for children needing care coming in, and it's down to a lot of things," she said.

"People have lost jobs and are on reduced income, children haven't been in school, and there's a rise in domestic abuse – there's been a lot issues.

"Due to this there's a huge need for more foster families across Shropshire and Staffordshire.

"Likewise, if people have had a change of circumstance or change in career and they're in a position and have the experience, I would urge them to consider fostering."

For more information, visit familiesfirstfostering.com, email info@familiesfirstfostering or call 01785261621.

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