Highest ever number of children in NI’s care system

Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, is calling for 250 more foster families to come forward.
Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, is calling for 250 more foster families to come forward.

Northern Ireland has the highest ever number of children in its care system since records were first kept - over 3,100.

The figures have been revealed by the Fostering Network charity as it launches an appeal for 250 more foster families to help cope with the strain.

Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, said: “We currently have the highest number of children in the care system since records began and the need for people to consider fostering has never been greater. We are calling on people who think they can change a child’s future to come forward this Foster Care Fortnight.”

She added: “Fostering can be life-changing for both the child or young person being fostered and for the family that cares for them.”

There are currently around 2,400 children being cared for by foster families across NI.

However the total number of children in the NI care system is currently 3,109, the total figure having steadily grown since records first began with the introduction of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. At that time only 2,624 children in care were recorded.

Since 2011 the trend has been steadily upward with an increase of 19% from 2011 to 2017 noted and this increase has continued into 2019, the charity said.

“Children are never removed lightly from their birth families and we need to bear in mind that the increase indicates a higher level of awareness among the wide public of the need to keep children safe following high profile cases of child abuse,” a spokeswoman said.

“However, increasing austerity, poor mental health as well as experience of neglect, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse are all factors in the increased number of children.

“What we know is that when we have an increase in the numbers of children in care that we need more foster carers to ensure children are kept with their siblings, close to their wider family and school and are placed with foster carers who have the skills to meet their particular needs.”

The appeal for 250 more foster families comes at the start of the charity’s annual Foster Care Fortnight campaign, from 13-26 May.

Without more foster families, some children may find themselves separated from siblings, living a long way from school or having multiple moves before finding a more permanent home.

The Fostering Network is a charity which works with health trusts across NI to support all foster parents.

See: www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk or call 028 9070 5056.