FOUR years ago this month, the Scottish Government granted same sex couples equal rights to straight married couples for adoption and fostering; and Tracey and Jenny, a couple from Skye, became one of the first gay couples in the country to foster.
Since then, they have provided a safe and loving home to children at a vulnerable – and often frightening – point in their lives. A child or young person goes into foster care when they cannot live with their own family due to temporary problems, which could range from drug and alcohol abuse to ill-health. There are currently over 5,000 children and young people in foster care in Scotland.
As much as caring for these children and young people is a rewarding experience for Tracey and Jenny, they are also playing a vital and necessary role in modern society. I believe they are heroes and the difference they make to the lives of the children and young people they support is undeniable. Yet research by Action for Children Scotland has found that a third (34 per cent) of Scots believe that if you are gay you cannot foster children.
There is currently a shortfall of 850 foster carers in Scotland, a figure that is expected to rise as current carers leave the profession and more children and young people come into the system. At Action for Children Scotland we are very worried that people who have the potential to be great carers are not coming forward because they do not realise they have what it takes to foster.
We conducted research to find out what people know about fostering, and the findings, revealed this week, highlight deep-set misconceptions around who can foster and what this entails:
Over half (52 per cent) of people in Scotland think that if you are over 55 you will not be approved as a carer.
Nearly a third (31 per cent) believes you need to remain in full time employment and are unaware that carers are given financial support.
One third (34 per cent) of people are under the assumption that if you are gay you can’t foster.
Eight per cent of people living in Scotland believe that if you are a man you can’t be the main foster carer.
And 28 per cent of people believe if you live in rented accommodation you can’t foster.
These views are all inaccurate. At Action for Children Scotland, our priority is to find safe and loving foster homes – these homes might be rented; and the carer might not work full-time, or be single men, or be gay. The most important thing is that support, security and love are provided to vulnerable children and young people. Worryingly, 99 per cent of people in Scotland do not know the true extent of how many children are currently in care.
Between this and misconceptions preventing potential carers from coming forward, I believe we are on course for a crisis. There is an urgent need to challenge and correct the myths that surround fostering – it would be a huge loss for us to miss out on dedicated and valued carers like Tracey and Jenny simply because people think they don’t have what it takes, when they really do.
In response to this, we have launched a Fostering Myth Busting Academy. Available on our website, this programme of information aims to help people understand fostering better and empower them to take that first step to opening up their home to a child in need. It is estimated that it takes four years for someone to go from thinking they would like to foster to actually picking up the phone and making their initial enquiry.
While becoming a foster carer is not a decision to be taken lightly, people should not be dissuaded because of misconceptions or a fear of rejection.
• Carol Iddon is director of children’s services at Action for Children Scotland. For more information on how to become a foster carer and to take part in Action for Children’s Fostering Academy visit