THERE are 53,000 children in the UK living with foster families.

For many of these children, this will be their first positive experience of family life, and a stable and secure home for as long as they need it.

Foster carers offer children a home while their own family is unable to look after them. This is often a short-term arrangement and many fostered children return home. Those who can’t go back to their families but are still able to stay in touch with them may be looked after in long-term foster care.

There is a shortage of 10,000 foster carers across the UK, with at least 600 foster carers needed in south west England alone. With more children coming into care and an ageing workforce, this figure is likely to rise.

More children will have to move a long way from family, friends and schools, and may not be able to live with their siblings.

The shortage also means that too many children are placed with foster carers who do not have the specific skills and experience required to meet the child’s needs.

When this happens the arrangement is more likely to break down, and foster carers and children who experience this invariably suffer as a consequence.

“Becoming a foster carer was the best thing I ever did,” says foster carer Michael.

“Every day I’m helping young people to turn their lives around.

“As well as providing a caring, nurturing home and supportive family life to these children, I consider myself a professional child care expert and a crucial part of the team that works with children in care.

“Being a foster carer is one of the most challenging roles of my career, but by far the most rewarding. It’s a true vocation and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

More foster carers with the right skills and qualities are urgently needed. Without them the system will struggle to cope and there will be even more disruption and instability for children.

During Foster Care Fortnight, the fostering network is calling on people of all ages to come forward and consider fostering.

With the strapline Do you have the skills to foster? the campaign will encourage people to consider a career in fostering and focus on the personal and professional skills that a modern foster carer needs to fulfil their role as a child care expert.

Foster Care Fortnight continues until May 30.

To find out more about becoming a foster carer, contact your local fostering service, call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 or see the 'Related Links' below.

BRENTON Watson has been in foster care for over eight years.

Now 18, he is enjoying success on a catering course at Southampton City College, recently receiving two gold medals and a silver medal at this year’s Wessex Salon Culinaire competition.

Brenton’s achievements highlight the impact foster carers can have, as Brenton says: “The firm foundation that foster carers provide, help children move in to the future with confidence”.

Greg Allen, recruitment officer for Foster Care Services at Southampton City Council, says: “The difference that foster carers make to young people’s lives is immeasurable.We need more local people to come forward and offer what are often vulnerable children a stable home. No matter what your circumstances, you can usually offer some kind of help, whether it’s short or long term. With outstanding support and training available, the weekly allowances that are paid cover the cost of having a child in your home.”

Interested in fostering? Contact Southampton City Council’s Foster Services team on freephone 080005 19 18 18 or see the related links below.