[D]uring National Care Leavers’ Week (October 25th to November 3rd) Cumbria County Council is highlighting the important role our foster carers play in ensuring the best outcomes for care leavers across the county.
The theme of this year’s awareness week is ‘togetherness’ and focuses on how foster carers, working alongside our Care Leavers’ service, can have a huge impact on the lives and futures of care leavers.
The county council is responsible for 275 care leavers, aged 16 to 25, in Cumbria who receive ongoing help and support as they leave children’s services and prepare to make the transition to independent living.
Our foster carers are an integral part of this support, with 95 per cent of young people who are fostered in the county choosing to remain with their carers when they turn 18, as part of our ‘staying put’ arrangements that enable care leavers to remain with their former foster carers if they are in further education, training or employment.
Barrow’s Liam Murphy, 17, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has lived with foster carer Alexandra Finnie since he was 10 and will stay with her while he pursues his dream of becoming a professional musician.
His foster carer Alex said: “When Liam came to live with me it was thought that his autism was so severe that he would never manage mainstream school and now he is at Kendal College studying music.
“He is a wonderfully polite young man and always strives to do his best. He has come a long way from the quiet, shy boy who wore his disability like a badge. I am so proud of him.”
With Alex’s support, Liam has overcome many obstacles to get where he is today. He said: “I’d lived with 19 carers by the time I was four but being with Alex has helped me a lot. She’s always here for me and I couldn’t ask for a more amazing foster carer.
“After I finish college I am hoping to join a band and work on a cruise ship; to sail across the world and meet new people. That’s my dream and that’s Alex’s dream for me.”
Alistair Kirk, 22, is another Cumbrian care leaver with big dreams. He is one of 21 Cumbrian care leavers currently at university, completing the final year of a politics degree at Aberystwyth University.
The talented student had an uprooted childhood and moved around several foster homes before making his home in Barrow with foster mum Brenda Nelson.
He said: “From early on in life I never knew what home was but when I moved in with Brenda I no longer had the looming threat of being moved anymore.”
With a secure home life Alistair thrived in his studies, eventually going to Barrow Sixth Form where he discovered a passion for politics during his A-Level studies and where he also won the prestigious Golden Apples Learner of the Year Award.
He also passed an entrance exam to gain a scholarship to Aberystwyth University, where he’s now in his final year and has recently applied to do his Masters. He still returns to Brenda’s in the holidays and knows “there is always a place for me with her”.
He added: “I don’t hide the fact I was in care from my friends at university; this is what made me the person I am today and I feel the need to promote that. My ambition is to show other fostered children they can do it – they are as good, if not better, than everyone else!”
Cllr Anne Burns, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “National Care Leavers’ Week is an ideal opportunity for us to shine a light, not just on the remarkable achievements of our care leavers, but on the essential role that our foster carers play in helping young people across Cumbria to pursue their dreams and achieve their potential.
“From continuing to offer them a stable home whilst they train, study or seek employment, to helping them make a transition to independent living; the support our foster carers offer is invaluable to young people leaving the care system.”
If you think you have what it takes to foster and make a difference to the lives of children of all ages, then why not become part of Cumbria’s biggest family? For more information visit cumbria.gov.uk/fostering, call 0303 333 1216 or attend an information event.