UNITING Wimmera says the need for foster parents in the region is greater than it has ever been.
Out of home care manager Phillip Yew said the organisation needed foster carers for respite care, emergency, short-term and long-term placements.
"We measure the level of demand by how many requests we get from the government to place young people in foster care," he said.
"Typically, every one to two days we'll get a request, and 70 per cent of the time we have to say no because our foster care beds are full.
"The demand for placements is growing each year, and the amount of recruitment we can do is not meeting that. We increased our foster care numbers from 29 effective placements to 40 in 2018, but 11 carers compared to potentially 50 to 60 children needing a placement still doesn't match that need.
"The recruitment process takes about six to 12 months because of the training and assessments that need to be done. It means there is a bit of a lag in the system, so we need to recruit to meet current and future needs."
Mr Yew said each carer could look after up to four children, and could put in a preference about the age of the children they supported. He said it was harder to find carers for children aged 11 to 15.
"The children in that age group are potentially perceived as having more entrenched challenges," he said.
"What I find is because they're so independent and more grown, they can really help add to the life of a foster care family."
Mr Yew said if a young person could not find out of home care in the Wimmera, they had to be sent to other parts of Victoria.
"They have to go to Ballarat or Melbourne or even Gippsland," he said. "What that means for the young person is they go into a situation that is totally foreign to them - they may have to uproot their whole life."
Mr Yew said people interested in becoming foster carers could call 5362 4000 or visit www.vt.uniting.org/foster-care
He said residents could also help foster children without becoming carers.
"They really need a community around them to encourage them to grow and develop. If you know of a child in foster care just be really supporting of them," he said.
"There are more formal ways like becoming mentors, which we also need more of. Mentors help young people to know there are adults that are in their corner and that can help them get through anything."
Mr Yew said Uniting Wimmera connected young people to the Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network's MATES Mentoring program and school-based programs.
One of Uniting Wimmera's foster carers, Leslie, has been a carer for six years. She said she felt well supported.
"I've had 10 children, most of them babies," she said.
"I go in with no bias whatsoever. They are parents who are needing a break from their children - a lot of times they have been through rough childhoods themselves - and I'm there to help if I can and hopefully get them back to a family unit. When they come into my care, I make sure the children have love."
Leslie said the longest period she had a foster child in her care was two-and-a-half years.
"When they get to 12 months old, mostly they go back to their parents or onto a forever family," she said.
"I had a little boy who left last year and I bump into him and his mum sometimes and they're really happy to see me."
- If you have concerns about vulnerable children, contact Child FIRST on 1800 195 114, the Child Protection Helpline on 13 21 11, or the police child abuse unit on 5382 9241; for family violence counselling, contact 1800 RESPECT.
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