Suffolk County Council urgently needs to recruit more LINK foster carers for children with additional needs and disabilities. LINK foster carers serve as a lifeline for parents and carers of children with disabilities, providing essential breaks in their caregiving responsibilities.
Unlike some other types of foster care, LINK care is a voluntary arrangement, often suggested to families as a means of supporting the family unit. It is designed to be a long-term commitment, with the goal of the LINK carer becoming an extension of the family. They resemble a reliable family friend, trusted and equipped with the skills to offer practical short break care to these children. Some of the most successful LINK arrangements in Suffolk have lasted well into the child's teenage years.
LINK care offers flexibility, ranging from a few hours per month on a weekend to several nights per month. It provides children with disabilities the chance to explore new environments and form close relationships with trusted adults and their families. It also gives parents a much-needed break from their caregiving responsibilities, allowing them to get a good night's sleep, have a night away, or spend quality time with their other children.
Shelagh is one of our LINK foster carers who embodies the heartwarming essence of the LINK programme. In her own words, Shelagh reflects on her experience;
"I went to a fostering information event and LINK was mentioned so I asked what it was. I thought that it was a good way to start if I wanted to foster and I have never looked back since.
“It was a year before I was matched with *Alfie. We met at Christmas time when he was 2 and a half and I’ve been looking after him for 12 years now. It’s been amazing!
“It’s not like LINK now, it’s like he’s my little nephew. He’s part of the family. I was there when he first started walking, I’ve been to his school and watched him in his Christmas play."
For Alfie's mum, having Shelagh has been an incredibly valuable experience. “LINK has enabled Alfie to spend time with another trusted adult other than just me and his dad. We don’t really have any local family, so it is good for Alfie to spend time with others and feel secure."
The advantages of LINK care are not limited to Alfie alone. It also provides respite for Alfie's parents, as his mum explains, "He is a really good child but his needs are demanding so the respite we get from LINK is essential – although we can’t help missing him when he’s gone!"
"Shelagh has long been considered part of our family. We trust and know that if there were any problems, Shelagh would pick up the phone to let us know and vice versa."
LINK carers are particularly in demand for Suffolk's younger cohort of disabled children, typically between the ages of 3-8 years old. There is also a gap in the availability of those who use or are willing to learn British Sign Language to provide short break care for deaf children in Suffolk.
If you believe that you could become a LINK carer and make a positive difference in the lives of children, please do not hesitate to get in touch. The needs of children requiring LINK care can be diverse and varied, which is why LINK carers must possess qualities of kindness and empathy. They should be willing to learn about disabilities and open to training that equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to provide compassionate care to these children.
To find out more about this rewarding journey and how you can become a Link carer, we encourage you to visit our website www.fosterandadopt.suffolk.gov.uk/link-care, get in contact with us at email@example.com or call 01473 264800. Your commitment can truly make a lasting impact on the lives of children in need.
Column by Councillor Stephen Burroughes, Deputy Cabinet Member for Children & Young Peoples Services with responsibility for Fostering and Adoption