Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 12:10 UK

Warning on 'ageing' foster carers

Adult and child
The average age of foster parents has risen since 2000

Two thirds of people who foster children are near retirement age, which could leave Wales short of carers in the near future, a charity has warned.

Fostering Network has found 68% of current carers are in their 50s, 60s or 70s, and could retire from fostering in the next decade.

They say the average age of carers is rising, and have expressed concern over the lack of younger foster families.

The assembly government said it was committed to supporting foster carers.

The report, The Age of Foster Care, found only 8% of foster carers are in their 30s and the average age of a carer has risen from 46 to 53 for women since 2000 and from 47 to 54 for men.

The charity says there is already a shortage of 700 foster families in Wales, and believe the age of current families make it more likely this figure will rise in the near future.

It wants fostering services to audit their current fostering workforce to assess the potential impact of forthcoming retirements and review recruitment procedures to ensure they appealed to younger people.

It is vital measures are put in place now to ensure that there is not an even more severe shortage of foster carers in 10 to 15 years time
Frieda Lewis

Last month, the charity claimed half of the councils in Wales did not pay their recommended minimum rate to foster carers, leaving them financially badly off.

It called on the Welsh Assembly Government to introduce regulations requiring all fostering services to provide adequate, statutory payment levels.

Frieda Lewis, director of Fostering Network Wales, said: "It's extremely worrying that such a very high proportion of the foster care workforce is potentially so close to retiring.

"For the sake of the thousands of children who need the support and care of a foster family each year, it's crucial more people come forward.

"In order to avert the impending crisis, it's important that we attract people of all ages.

"Older people can bring experience and skills from previous jobs, but it's essential we also appeal to the untapped pool of those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who are particularly well placed to offer long-term care to younger children.

"This report also shows that it is vital measures are put in place now by national and local governments to ensure that there is not an even more severe shortage of foster carers in 10 to 15 years time."

Mags Amos, 30, who has been fostering with her husband Simon, 35, for the last year through Cardiff-based Pathway Care, said they were able to relate better to the children they cared for because the age difference was less.

"We have a three year old daughter and there are not many years between some the children we've been fostering and her, which helps," she said.

"From the beginning we have found fostering to be very satisfying.

"It sometimes can be difficult and challenging but you have to be calm and patient with them. Trust and confidence builds up."

Gail Duffy, 43, who has been fostering for 11 years, said the benefits for her and her husband had been "incredible".

"Watching them developing, their achievements along the way, watching them leave school with all their GCSEs when in years previously people had told them they were not capable of, has meant a lot to us," said Ms Duffy, who has had around 20 children placed with her since 1998.

A spokesperson for the assembly government said: "We have commissioned researchers to look at a methodology to develop a national fees and support framework to provide a structured approach to support carers and reward them for the care they provide.

"The research will inform the policy development and consultation on the Strategy for Vulnerable Children due later this summer which will consult on a range of measures to support family friends and other foster carers."

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