The search is on for hundreds of foster carers to offer support to some of the city’s most vulnerable children and teenagers. Laura Bowyer finds out more about their valuable work.
Shaune Teasdale always knew he wanted children to play a prominent role in his life.
The former manager and his partner, Daniel Lee, frequently discussed their options about how they could be a family.
The couple were determined that one way or another they would raise children in their north Leeds home.
When Shaune was made redundant, it opened up a window of opportunity for the pair.
They had talked about adoption and fostering but never thought they would be in a position to do so.
Initially, their main concern was that their sexuality might act as a barrier but their fears proved to be unfounded.
They decided to attend an open day and, within days, the couple had decided they wanted to look after some of the city’s most vulnerable children.
Shaune and Daniel were approved to be foster carers last year and they have spent almost a year caring for a little boy.
Now, they are fearful of the day that they have to say goodbye to the youngster who has captured their hearts.
Shaune, 37, said: “We had been talking about having children for a while. As a same sex couple we were looking at options of having children in our lives one way or another.
“I wasn’t currently working as I had been made redundant so it seemed like the ideal time.
“We could have adopted but we would have only been helping one person. We decided we wanted to help a range of children.
“At first we weren’t aware that we would be considered but then we heard an advert for an open evening for gay and lesbian couples.
“We came away from that feeling really inspired.”
Shaune added: “We have had no issue whatsoever from people we have come across because we are a same-sex couple.
“It’s been surprising because we thought we would experience it somewhere down the line.
“But it’s not about us it’s about the child who is being looked after and what is best for them.”
Within weeks of the open day the couple had already registered an interest in fostering.
They were approved to be carers last year and soon their young foster son arrived in their home.
Shaune said: “It’s been really rewarding and I think it will be very difficult when the child who is living with us does move on.
“We don’t know when it is going to happen but it is bound to be emotional for us.
“We are attached to him and he is attached to us, but it is all about getting him settled somewhere.
“This is probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done and you can see the happiness that it brings the child.
“His confidence has come on so much because he has got the support he needed.”
Shaune and his partner Daniel are part of the city’s foster carer army who look after some of Leeds’s most vulnerable youngsters.
But Leeds City Council has stressed that it needs even more people like them to become foster carers.
There are over 1,300 children and teenagers in Leeds who have been taken into care.
But currently there are just 646 foster carers to look after them.
The authority has decided to set the ambitious target of recruiting 200 new foster carers.
And the council has warned that it has seen an increase in the number of babies and children aged up to five coming to their attention.
Councillor Judith Blake, executive member for children’s services in Leeds, said: “Recruiting more foster carers is one of our top priorities.
“We want to make sure that we have a pool of people in our service that we can work with to improve our service.
“The role of the foster carer is one of the most important roles in the city.
“They are taking in some of our most vulnerable children and these children can be vulnerable for a number of different reasons.
“Their families could have broken down.
“Some children have profound health needs and this means that it could be difficult for them to stay with their natural parents.”
There are also financial implications for the authority if they do not have in-house foster carers.
Leeds City Council has been forced to pay soaring amounts to independent fostering agencies for external placements.
The council’s budget for payments to independent fostering agencies leapt from £5.35 million in 2011/12 to £12.46 million in 2012/13.
Coun Blake added: “If we don’t have enough of our own foster carers, it becomes a much more expensive process.
“It means there is less money to spend on preventative work in making sure that as many children can stay living with their own families.”
Figures show that 118 foster carers have been approved by the authority between 2012/13.
But during that time 76 foster carers ceased to care for the city’s children because they decided to retire, resign or were caring for a child under different legal arrangements.
The council is hoping to recruit more carers who can look after babies and children aged up to five.
They are also searching for more carers who are prepared to take on more than one child from the same family. The number of children coming into care in Leeds has increased dramatically following high-profile cases such as Baby P.
The case shocked the nation after a catalogue of abuse led to the death of the tot in 2007.
The YEP reported last year that since the furore surrounding Baby P’s death, the number of referrals made to Leeds’s social services department has more than doubled.
Coun Blake added: “The pressures on services have increased dramatically as a result of high profile cases in the media.
“But when you talk to foster carers the extraordinary stories are so heartwarming in terms of children gaining confidence and trust.
“Some of the relationships that are made can last a life time.”
FOSTER CARING IN LEEDS IN NUMBERS
Number of children waiting for long term placements.
Youngsters waiting for short term placements.
Number of children who are currently fostered in-house by the authority
Number of young people supported by the authority
Number of foster carers who stopped providing a service in 2012/13.
Number of approved foster carers in Leeds.