Leeds foster carer's 'heartbreak' at refusing more children amid shortage of carers

Foster carer Rachel Charlton said it is "heartbreaking" having to turn down requests to care for more children than she can cope with.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 4:45 am
Foster carer Rachel Charlton pictured with her dog Leo at her home at Rothwell. Photo: Simon Hulme

Rachel, who currently cares for two teenagers, has spoken of the challenges and many rewards of fostering and is urging people to consider applying to become foster carers as more are desperately needed in Leeds

Rachel, 43, of Rothwell, has given a home to 20 teenagers and young adults, with stays varying from two nights to six years.

After ten years of fostering, Rachel is still in regular contact with many of the children she has cared for and speaks with pride about their achievements.

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Foster carer Rachel Charlton pictured with her dog Leo at her home at Rothwell. Photo: Simon Hulme

Leeds City Council wants to recruit another 150 individuals or families to increase the number of foster homes in the greater Leeds area to 700.

"The council sends emails to foster carers looking for emergency beds," said Rachel. "One recent message was about two teenagers desperately looking for a home in Leeds.

"It is heartbreaking. I just want to build an extension to my house and take them in."

Rachel said she chose not to have birth children, adding: "The gut feeling to procreate just didn't come. I chose very early on not to."

Coun Fiona Venner, executive member for children and families at Leeds City Council.

Rachel, who works part time in Leeds City Council's communications and marketing team, first got involved in caring for children after she took part in the 2009 project Year of the Volunteer - which was partly aimed at raising awareness of homelessness.

She went out with volunteers from charity’s including Simon on the Streets and St George's Crypt as they helped people sleeping rough in the city.

"It must have been November or December and it was snowing and I was leaving them there and I was coming home to a warm house with spare rooms in it," said Rachel.

"I knew I could do more and I had a home which I could share. I did have spare rooms and spare time, so I could help.

"People would often share their personal stories. I started to feel like many of the teenagers and young adults who were sofa surfing and technically homeless had nowhere safe to go, as home life, for many reasons, was no longer a viable option for them.

"I made a promise to myself that I would research what I could do to make a difference."

She joined the council's supported lodgings provider team to give short term care.

Rachel said: "As a supported lodgings provider I provided accommodation, meals, practical and emotional support for young people aged 16 and over who had been in care or homeless, to help them learn to live independently in a safe environment."

The first teenager she cared for was a 17-year-old girl who had come out of a long term adoption.

Rachel cared for the girl for six months and helped her secure an apprenticeship with Leeds City Council's housing department.

"She now works for the Department for Work and Pensions and rents her own home," said Rachel.

"I'm so proud of her, but I can't take any of the credit. She was open to help and took everything that was offered to her and put the effort in to make it work."

Rachel said she looked after four teenagers while part of the supported lodgings caring team over two years before becoming a foster carer.

She is currently caring for two boys: a 15-year-old who she has fostered for ten months; and a 17-year-old who has been with her for four years.

Rachel has been taught negotiating skills to help defuse potential arguments over setting boundaries for the children she cares for.

"Fostering is very rewarding 99 per cent of the time," said Rachel."

"I love watching them transition into adults, finding their style, their love and attachment to music.

"I love watching their understanding of the world around them grow, finding their pathway into adulthood - including college, part time jobs and relationships.

"Young adults bring life, warmth, laughter and much more to my household.

"I keep in touch with almost all of them. I'm always on the phone, one of them is always calling. It has become like the Walton family, it just keeps on growing."

Rachel said: "Burn out" and "compassionate fatigue" are two of the lows she has dealt with during her fostering career.

She said another negative has been "not learning how to say no to the placement team when things at home aren’t going well for our permanent fostered young people."

Rachel advises anyone considering fostering to speak to foster carers to get a first hand account of what it entails.

"There are so many children that need a home and some stability," she said. "We desperately need more foster carers in Leeds. If you can, please help."

Background checks and training mean it takes an average six to eight months to become a foster carer after applying.

Foster carers are paid a weekly fee and allowance ranging from £180 to £400 per child placed.

Foster carers also benefit from free membership to all Active Leeds gyms, free day trips and residential breaks, free access to a luxury holiday lodge, free access and discounts to family focused local attractions and many more benefits.

Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council's executive member for children and families, said: “We’re always looking for local people to become foster carers and help support local children.

"There are so many benefits to fostering and you can have a real impact on young people’s lives when they need it most.

"Foster4Leeds welcomes applications from anyone, there is no typical foster carer.

"You could be single, married, LGBTQ+, any race or religion and have your own children or not, all that matters is that you can care for children that are going through such a difficult time in their lives.

"We give practical support to all of our foster carers and are always here to offer any help and advice.

"We’re urging anyone who is considering fostering to please get in touch with your local council.”

To find out more about fostering, go to www.foster4leeds.co.uk