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High Wych couple Alan and Dawn Ashworth spearhead Hertfordshire County Council's foster care campaign

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A High Wych husband and wife are helping to highlight Hertfordshire County Council’s desperate need for more foster families.

Alan and Dawn Ashworth have been giving a home to children in need for the past decade. They have provided a long-term haven for five youngsters and drop-in care for up to 30 more.

They are currently looking after a brother and sister, aged 11 and 9, and were joined in a video for the county's new foster carers recruitment campaign by the first boy they helped, Luke, who is now 22.

The couple began fostering when Alan was confined to a wheelchair, their own sons left home and a house move meant they had more room. Dawn had worked with children for 25 years and said: “It seemed the natural way to go.”

They said their experience had been good fun and they have built strong, supportive links with other families in the fostering community.

Dawn said: “Fostering is challenging. It’s never going to be a smooth ride all the way, but there’s support at the end of a phone – there’s always someone to help you.”

However, the benefits their care has brought to youngsters like Luke reinforces their commitment.

Luke, who lives in his own flat in Stevenage and visits Alan and Dawn several times a month, said: “When I’m here I’m happy.”

After recalling how the couple had helped him resume his education and gain qualifications, he said: “This is my second home that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

The county council desperately needs more people like Dawn and Alan to help. There are over 900 children and young people in care in Hertfordshire and many live with foster carers. Each month, the authority receives an average of 55 requests for new placements.

The new #RecruitingNow campaign is targeting residents who may have been affected by a change in circumstances owing to coronavirus. It may be they now work from home and have more flexibility in their day, or are reassessing next steps and what they want to do in life.

The campaign aims to dispel some of the myths that surround foster care in the hope that it will encourage more people to come forward and offer the security, stability and support of a loving home.

For example, some people think they cannot be a carer because they are too old, single, have a disability or are from a minority community. In reality, foster carers come from lots of different backgrounds and age groups.

Cllr Teresa Heritage, the county council's cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “Our foster carers are all ordinary people but they do an extraordinary thing.

"Now, more than ever, we need people to foster a child. The coronavirus pandemic may have changed life as we know it for the time being, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for foster carers.

“Changes in working arrangements or circumstances due to coronavirus could mean that people who had been thinking about fostering for a while are now in a position to seriously consider this as a career. We hope that if this is the case they will get in touch as we’d love to welcome them to the team.”

Foster carers receive a weekly payment for their skills plus a weekly allowance for each child they look after. New and experienced foster carers can receive between £315 and £468 a week for each child they care for.

To become a foster carer in Hertfordshire, you must be over 21 and have at least one spare room at home. To find out more, visit www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/fosternow.

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