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Western Trust Social Worker Charlene O'Connor from the Trust's Fostering Service is pictured centre along with Sharon Donaghy (left) and Ciara McCormick (right) from the Eglinton Road Runners at the start of the Waterside Half marathon
Western Trust Social Worker Charlene O'Connor from the Trust's Fostering Service is pictured centre along with Sharon Donaghy (left) and Ciara McCormick (right) from the Eglinton Road Runners at the start of the Waterside Half marathon

Last weekend, Western Trust Social Worker Charlene O’Connor ran in the Waterside Half Marathon to highlight the shortage of foster carers in the North West. Running the half-marathon wasn’t part of Charlene’s job description!

Her job involves working with the children and young people desperately in need of a secure home environment, and the people who come forward to offer their homes as foster placements. Currently, however, the trust are experiencing a shortage of foster carers. They’re asking members of the public to come forward and find out more about what Charlene says is a hugely rewarding experience.

“We’re really in need of people to come forward at the moment, particularly when it comes to taking in teenagers. We continuously need a lot of carers and that’s something we really want to highlight at the moment. That’s why I decided to do the half marathon.

“We’re particulary keen to highlight the difference foster care can make to teenagers in helping them reach their full potential.”

Charlene believes many people don’t put themselves forward as foster carers because they believe they might not be suitable due to other commitments. However, the experienced social worker encouraged everyone who thinks they have what it takes to offer the kind of care required, to come forward and find out more.

“We just want people to enquire and not rule themselves out. There is a full support team available to carers and their families and we don’t want people to think, for example, that they might not be suitable just because they work full-time, because there are situations where people foster school age children and that can work around someone’s job.

“The important thing is that children are given an environment where they can feel safe and secure and that the carers in that environment can offer that care with the support of professionals from the trust. We really want to hear from people who think they can provide the kind of security that children and young people need when they’ve come through traumatic situations.”

With eleven years of experience in the sector, Charlene has seen first hand the lifechanging effect that fostering can have.

“It’s just amazing,” she says.

“I’ve seen children who come in and are fostered and continue to be a part of that family. They’re able to get get over that loss of not being with their birth family and experience the safety and security of being part of another family.

“I’ve seen young people who are fostered who go on to do well in school and get on well with their peers and many of them move onto third level education. It’s amazing what can be achieved. I feel privileged to be able to support the people who put themselves forward as carers.”

Charlene also highlighted the different types of foster caring situations which exist.

“Families can give respite on occasional weekends and there are also times when emergency short term foster care is needed and then also of course there are the long-term foster situations,”

She went on to speak about how the Trust endeavours always, where possible, to place siblings together when it comes to foster care.

“We have seen an increase in siblings entering into the system and we try our hardest to keep these siblings together when they’re being fostered but we need more foster carers to be able to do that. We just want people to make the call, and ask the questions. Even if it’s something they want to do but they feel they might not be suitable, we want them to come forward and let us give them the information that they need.

“We’re looking for people to foster children of all ages from young children to school age and right up and we always try and match the children around the families and their circumstances,”

The Trust held an awards ceremony this week for people from across the North West who had been foster caring for 25 years or more.

“It’s brilliant to see people who’ve been doing it for so long and the amount they’ve gained from it,” says Charlene.

“They’ve fostered children who’ve grown up and are still a part of their families and it’s great for foster carers who are just entering the system to hear about these positive experiences.”