Herts County Council appeals for foster carers
An extra 50 children have been taken into care by Herts County Council since the first Covid-19 lockdown began,
The authority is currently responsible for 1,000 youngsters and needs to recruit an additional 60 foster carers annually to provide them all with homes.
Jenny Coles, Hertfordshire County Council's director of children's services, said: "Our foster carers are all ordinary people, but they do an extraordinary thing. I'd like to say a big thank you to our foster carers for everything they're doing for their foster children in these challenging times."
The authority currently has 366 foster carers and has seen a 23.5% increase in the number of people enquiring about joining them during lockdown.
Jenny said: "Now more than ever, we need people to adopt or 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."
The pandemic has also posed extra challenges for those taking up the role. While in normal circumstances, foster parents would have welcomed their charges with outdoor trips, activities and socialising, the lockdown has meant much more time spent at home.
Sarah Smith, began the fostering application process just before the pandemic began last year. The childminder had to overcome the hurdles of remote learning, meetings and visits but her hard work paid off last September when she welcomed her first foster child, four-year-old Matthew.
For Sarah, 37, the pandemic gave her the chance to bond with Matthew and come up with imaginative ways to entertain him during the many hours they spent together at home. But the journey has not been without its challenges, including the decision to keep him away from school during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.
She said: "I've always wanted to foster ever since I was little - my sister says she can remember when I was about eight years of age and we both had our dolls. She would say, 'this is my baby,' and I would say, 'this is my foster baby'.
"My grandad on my dad's side of the family was in foster care, and then on my mum's side, her mum and dad fostered, so that may have had an influence."
She said: "Keeping him away from school wasn't a choice I took lightly, it was about making him feel secure, building up his self-esteem and making sure he wasn't affected by all these changes.
"When he first came to me, he was only stringing three words together and now he is writing his name, knows all the alphabet and is starting to read. Now, everyone mostly understands what he is saying as his speech has massively improved.
"I've had loads of issues to work through with Matthew, he couldn't regulate his emotions, so had massive tantrums. It helped having reward charts in place which helped him understand the boundaries. He loves Mr Bean, so he'll have a picture of Mr Bean on there! Or he loves Postman Pat or Spiderman – he always gets to choose.
"I reduced the number of children I mind since looking after Matthew and now look after just five children, helped by one assistant. Having a separate childminding playroom is like having a second school for Matthew and it has brought him on massively. At first, he played only solitary but now he's like a social butterfly."
Recalling a pivotal moment when all the hard work and challenges of the past year were rewarded, Sarah said: "I remember during the last lockdown, Matthew running to me and literally just jumping into my arms and hugging me and I thought 'this is what you read about when you learn about fostering'. I didn't think it would be a reality, but it actually was, it really made me well up, I realised he had made that attachment I'd always dreamt about."