Wirral councillor on being a foster parent

A foster parent is urging people “to make a difference” as shortages leave vulnerable children struggling to find a home.

At a council education committee on 18 October, Cllr Paula Basnett talked about her experience fostering children and suggested foster parents could get more involved in the process believing this could reassure potential parents.

Cllr Basnett first considered becoming a foster parent 16 years ago after looking after her younger sister in the last year of her life. Her sister had been adopted by her mum when she was just six weeks old. She said: “After that I just started to think about how we gave her a home, how my Mum gave her a home.”

She later became a special guardian for a baby in her extended family. When her daughter was four, Cllr Basnett started taking in other children with six over the last 12 years. With three children already, their family grew to 11 people.

She said, “We all had family holidays. It was as if we were a school. Everyone would think it was a school trip but it was our family,” adding: “I do not have any social care background but I have 30 years of looking after children.

“I wouldn’t say it is easy. It isn’t but it is hugely rewarding. The two boys are both at University. Three of the girls, one is at college and the other two are working full time and they have got a future ahead of them.”

Fostering is managed on the Wirral by its council’s children’s services and is one of the most cost-effective ways it can look after the more than 700 children in its care.

It was revealed at a recent council meeting it costs £230 a week to home a child in a foster family setting compared to an average of £4,300 a week in a residential children’s home with some children’s homes charging far more.

The council is now appealing for foster parents to come forward as it looks to cut down on the £28m it currently spends looking after children. This is especially important as it continues to face financial difficulties and possible bankruptcy going forward.

57% of Wirral’s 772 looked after children are with foster parents but nationally statistics show there is a shortage of foster parents with 1,400 more people leaving than becoming one. While things are better in Wirral, it’s also seen a decrease.

Becoming a foster parent is currently a 16 week process but Cllr Basnett thinks that getting more foster carers involved in the application process can encourage more people to follow through lightening the workload on social workers who can deal with up to 30 cases at a time.

She added, “They want to place the children who need a family but if you’ve got a limited pool of foster carers, you are trying to match the children to who you have got rather than what is needed.

“We are crying out for foster parents. It’s a national shortage, it’s a regional shortage and it’s very much a local shortage on Wirral. I do think if families, employers, and individuals were aware of it more, you could get more.”

Cllr Basnett wouldn’t recommend fostering to everyone, especially those with young children, as “it is demanding and it is 24/7.” While two of her biological children were 19 and 12 at the time, she said her youngest daughter who was five struggled.

When she was working full time, Cllr Basnett said her mum would help out and cook for all the children, adding, “I wouldn’t say we did anything different but what we did is give them a loving, supportive family home but also a sense of direction.

“I’m very lucky in that all of the six children had very similar values to our children and our family and it was very easy to integrate them into our family.”

She added, “There are so many children who need a mum and dad that are there for them and can support them and there has to be parents out there whose children have grown up who can help one child and make a difference to their life.

“They haven’t chosen their parents so why not give them the next best thing? It is giving something back and everyone I talk to never mentions payments. What they want is try and help a child who needs that support and love.

“I would ask anyone who has space in their heart, room in their home, and capacity to support to just help one young person.”

To find out more about becoming a foster parent on the Wirral, information can be found here

Image: Cllr Paula Basnett

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