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Latest community news from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

Every child deserves a secure and loving home...somewhere to thrive and grow and gain the confidence to pursue their dreams.

Sadly, for all too many, the reality is very different.

Every year thousands of children finish up in care

For some it is a temporary measure while a family crisis is sorted out, but others will never be able to return home.

Today, almost 55,000 foster families across the UK offer security, warmth and understanding to young people in care.

But more are desperately needed. This month, Fostering Fortnight saw a countrywide campaign to persuade new recruits to come forward.

And if anyone knows how vital their work is, it is social worker Carla Russell.

Carla was in foster care from the age of 12, and her experiences also taught her the crucial importance of finding the right people to do the job.

She endured traumatic times before being placed with a family who turned her life around.

They supported her to complete her schooling and go to university.

It meant she could achieve her dearest wish to become a social worker and use her insight to help children struggling with the same challenges she faced.

Now, aged 23, she is a supervising social worker for an agency that is doing its utmost to ease the shortage of foster carers in the east of England.

Little Acorns Fostering is in the midst of a recruiting drive.

And they are inviting anyone who feels they have what it takes, including those who may have considered fostering but are unsure about taking the first step, to call them for an informal, no-strings chat.

The agency was founded in 2013 by Cheryl and Mick Jillions.

Cheryl was a social worker in fostering for 30 years and takes a leading role in setting up placements. Mick deals with the finance and IT .

Their team is small – only eight people – but that is an important part of their ethos.

Fostering team leader Nicol Robinson says: “Cheryl was keen to set up a family-run company which could provide more direct contact.

“Everyone here knows all the carers and young people really well. Keeping it small makes that possible.

“We work really closely as a team supporting the children who come into care. Foster families also need support to be able to carry out their role which is demanding but also very rewarding.

“One of us will be on call 24/7, so there is always someone at the end of the phone if they have a problem.”

Like other fostering agencies, Little Acorns is notified of children in care by local authorities in the hope they can match them with a family.

The demand is never ending. At the moment they are getting around eight referrals a day.

“We have 15 foster families on our books at the moment and really want to recruit more,” said Nicol. “We would be happy to double or treble in size, but do not want to get too big.

There is no such thing as a typical foster home. Carers can be families with children, single people, or same sex couples.

The only conditions are being over 21, and having a spare bedroom.

There is no upper age limit but applicants have to pass a medical to make sure they are fit to look after a child.

Having said that, the procedure is rigorous, designed to weed out anyone who is half-hearted. It has to be, says Nicol, because fostering is a big and life-changing commitment.

Would-be carers have an assessment to see if they are suitable. Then the application goes to an independent panel, and checks are made with the police and social services.

All new carers have training that covers topics such as safeguarding, legislation, and strategies to manage behaviour.

“Some people do drop out, but that is part of it – the process has to test commitment,” adds Nicol, who joined Little Acorns in 2014.

Her previous career includes working with a youth offending team, and practice teaching at universities. Carla was one of her students, and she recommended her to Cheryl.

Watching children blossom in foster care is one of the joys of the job. “Seeing things turn out well is the best part – the children we have seen grow and thrive through living with foster carers, going to school, feeling safe and comfortable,” she says.

First time fosterers will normally be given a short-term placement to start with. “They get lots of training and support, and we are in daily contact at first.

Little Acorns is based in a secluded barn conversion in the tiny village of Great Wratting near Haverhill.

Nicol says the rural setting makes a wonderfully calm place for carers and children to visit.

They hold support groups for carers, foster children, and also hosts contact visits for foster children and their birth parents.

For more on foster caring contact Nicol Robinson on 01440 732010.

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