PODIUM: Children's needs are at the heart of every decision we make

Coun Anne Burns, Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services

Coun Anne Burns, Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services

First published in Opinion

Coun Anne Burns, Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, pays tribute to the county’s social workers, foster carers and adopters

All children deserve to grow up in a safe and caring home; hardly a controversial way to start.

In fact it’s something I’d like to think everyone in Cumbria could agree with without a second thought.

But the sad fact is that for far too many children this simply isn’t the case.

Right now I am a ‘corporate parent’ to more than 670 children ‘looked after’ by Cumbria County Council, an increase of almost 100 over this time last year.

Take a minute to think about that number; 670 children and young people, from newborn babies to teenagers, for whom it is not safe for them to live at home with their parents. It is quite shocking.

Now, for some of them, being ‘in care’ is a short-term experience while their families deal with issues that mean they can’t care for them properly - for example because they are dealing with a serious illness. For the majority, though, the issues are more serious, such as physical, emotional, or in some cases sexual abuse and, most commonly, neglect.

None of this is the child’s fault.

I take my hat off to the council’s social workers who, on a daily basis, are working with families, supporting them to ensure they meet their children’s needs but whom ultimately may have to make the decision to bring a child into care.

It’s an incredibly difficult and skilled job, often done in very pressurised circumstances.

The upshot of all this is that as a council we have to be able to provide all these children and young people the safe and caring home that they’ve been missing.

That’s why our army of foster carers are so important. We have almost 200 fostering households across the county and more join every year. Some of our longest-serving carers have been with us for 30 years and cared for literally hundreds of children over that time.

I always enjoy meeting our foster carers; to me they are ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing.

I’d like to share what one young person recently said about their foster carer that I think really sums up their importance: “My foster mum has been there when I needed her. Whatever it was she was able to help me and make things better. She has made me feel like part of her family. I’m proud to call her my foster mum.”

Many children who come into care will return home if their parents become able to provide the care they need, but for some going home would not be in their interests, and in those case we start looking for adoptive families.

In Cumbria right now we have 77 children waiting to be adopted. Contrary to many people’s expectations the vast majority of them are under five years old, indeed seven are under one.

Recently we’ve been running a major publicity campaign to try to find these all of these babies new families. So far we’ve had a great response but some questions keep coming up: am I too old? Do I have to be married? Can I adopt if I’m gay?

From our point of view we don’t care – the question we ask is ‘what can you offer a child?’ The child’s needs are at the heart of every decision we make.

So if you’ve been considering adoption ask yourself: can I provide a child with a safe and loving home? If the answer is yes, get in touch.

I started this piece saying that all children deserve to grow up in a safe and caring home. In Cumbria it is our social workers, our foster carers and our adopters that help make that happen. We owe them all a debt of thanks.

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