A Sunderland mum who is celebrating a year as a foster carer has urged others to join her as part of an awareness campaign.
Joanne MacDonald is speaking out ahead of Foster Care Fortnight, which starts on Mondayand runs until May 21.
The 50-year-old has been fostering for just over a year and has opened up about her experience, in a bid to persuade more people to take up the challenge.
There is currently a shortage of 475 foster carers in the North East alone, and more than 9,000 across the country.
Joanne took the plunge after leaving her job as an assistant teacher at a primary school to care for her elderly mother.
It was during this time that she began to notice leaflets and posters calling for more foster carers, and signed up with fostering agency Five Rivers.
We’re desperate in Sunderland for more foster carers – there are so many children and young people who need a helping hand from someone who can give them a home and a family environmentJoanne MacDonald, foster carer
She is now foster parent to a 16-year-old girl, who has become part of the family.
The teenager has developed a close bond with Joanne’s biological daughter, 14-year-old Emily, and the girls refer to each other as foster sisters.
They regularly attend a girls’ group hosted by Five Rivers, and Emily has made friends with another foster child through their shared love of Harry Potter.
While Joanne was caring for her mother, her foster daughter regularly accompanied her, eventually becoming actively involved with her care.
It soon became apparent that she had a natural rapport with members of the elderly community, and enjoyed socialising with elderly members of Joanne’s church.
As a result, she is now preparing for the final exams that will allow her to pursue a qualification in social care at college.
Joanne said: “My foster daughter’s work in social care for the elderly has become a real positive in her life, and she loves it. It’s so nice to think that it was my mum who set her off on the path that will hopefully lead to a long-term career for her.
“There are real challenges in foster care, but you work through them one by one.
“Whenever the foster child achieves something, it’s a real reward for the foster carer.”
Joanne added: “We’re desperate in Sunderland for more foster carers – there are so many children and young people who need a helping hand from someone who can give them a home and a family environment.”