[This article was first published on the 21st of May 2019 in the Edinburgh Evening News]

Foster Care Fortnight is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign, delivered by leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network. Established for almost 20 years, the campaign highlights the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers. It also supports fostering services to highlight the ne​ed for more foster carers.

Across Scotland hundreds of new foster families are needed every year to care for children, with the greatest need being for foster carers for older children, sibling groups, disabled children and unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

Last week in the Scottish Parliament, I led a Members Business debate on this issue to highlight the current situation in Edinburgh and across Scotland, asking the Scottish Government to make some urgent changes to enable more people to become foster carers.

In Edinburgh there are around 300 foster families and Scotland wider there are approximately 4,000, however this still leaves a foster carer shortfall of 580.

For children and young people who can no longer live with their families, foster carers provide a safe, secure and loving family environment, a place to call home.  Today those 580 children and young people still need a foster family who they can rely on for love, care and being kept safe. That number would be closer to 900 if you factor in what would happen if every young person entitled to continuing care took it up.

Ahead of my debate in Parliament, I met with foster care providers who had first-hand experience of just how rewarding being a foster carer can be and the difference a stable loving home can provide to a young person’s development.  Encouraging young children to play, learn and try new things, being there when things go wrong (and when things go right) for young adults and just being there today, tomorrow, and the next day for all of these young people makes a world of difference to their future life chances.

There are some common myths about fostering that may lead to some people believing they would be ruled out , however you don’t have to be married – you can be single, living with someone, or be in a same sex relationship, you don’t need a spare room to foster a child from birth to two, you don’t have to own the house or flat and you don’t have to come from a certain ethnic background.

That’s all well and good for getting people into fostering but the rules down the line can create unnecessary disruption to young people living in a safe and stable environment. I have a constituent in Edinburgh who lives in a 3-bedroom house who has one birth child and who fosters a baby intermittently around their parent’s cancer treatment, and because of her age, she can stay in their bedroom. However, she also fosters a set of mixed sex twins

The twins have lived with her since they were one year old. They are 7 now, going on 8. When they do turn 8 they will not be allowed to share a room anymore and one of them will have to move out unless alternate suitable accommodation can be found.

Despite having lived in the same council house for 15 years and the same street for 22 years the foster family are prepared to move to keep the family together. The reason they came to me was that the council told her she wouldn’t get priority or extra points for being a foster carer.

How incredibly short sighted.

Whilst the foster carers and families who do take children and young people on do incredible work, they are often placed at a disadvantage due to red tape and an uneven playing field. The Scottish Government could improve the situation today and help keep siblings together by prioritising care experienced young people in the housing system. A change that is on the way, but is long overdue.

Today Edinburgh are still looking for foster families to place children with and have children from birth to 21 years who still need a placement. The council are offering an information drop-in between 5-7pm at their HQ at Waverly Court on the 6th June where anyone interested in finding out more about fostering can attend. If you think you have what it takes to start a new and fulfilling career where you get a chance to make a real difference to young people’s lives, please consider going along.

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