“Is today a food day?”: 3 in 5 Welsh fostered children previously experienced food insecurity
With over 7,000 young people currently in care across Wales – a 20% rise in the last decade – efforts are underway to try to recruit hundreds of extra foster families.
The national network of 22 Welsh local authority fostering teams, Foster Wales, has set out to recruit an additional 800 foster families by 2026, to provide safe homes for young people.
Their new campaign, ‘bring something to the table’, shares realistic experiences of foster care, and the significant difference a carer can make to a young person’s life, to encourage more people to consider becoming a local authority foster carer.
As part of the campaign, the organisation has surveyed hundreds of foster carers in Wales, and the findings reveal the long-lasting impact that limited access to regular food and/or mealtimes can have on a young person, as well as the significant difference a foster carer can make to their lives.
3 in 5 foster carers (61%) surveyed had fostered at least one child experiencing food insecurity. Key concerns witnessed by foster carers were:
- The amount of food available; “Our child would go through cupboards to find food. They ate bits from floor if they found any. They would scream if food went into bin. We had several children come in from school and automatically check the fridge as soon as they’d taken off their coats.”
- When their next meal would be; “I had a child who thought if she had breakfast there would not be another meal that day, we had to convince her there would always be another meal.”
- Money worries; “They loved going shopping with me, but they always had to be reassured that we had enough money to pay for the food, which we did.”
Many foster carers also shared the lasting implications of food poverty on young people in their care;
- 40% of foster carers said their foster children did not understand hunger cues; “We had a child who was choking on her food because she ate so fast. We kept reminding her she was okay; we promise we will feed her at the next mealtime, and she could have a snack in between. I’ll always remember the first time she told me she was full and left some food. This told me she finally felt safe and was confident that she would receive food again at the next meal.”
- 1 in 4 foster carers had experienced foster children hiding or hoarding food. “Every single child I have cared for has an issue attached to their relationship with food. We fostered a child who crammed so much food into their mouth they made themselves sick, until they trusted there would always be food that isn’t taken from them. We also had children that frequently took food to eat secretly until they trusted that there would be other meals throughout the day. They struggle to regulate around eating and crave sugar all the time.”
- 16% of foster carers said they had fostered at least one child who displayed anxiety or controlling behaviours around food. “One child we fostered would not eat meals to punish themselves, as food was withheld as a punishment at home.”
“The first time we all sat together as a family, the smile on his face was priceless”
To support young people in care, foster carers highlighted the importance of working with specialists within the local authority such as teachers, social workers, and other foster carers to support young people to overcome these issues.
“It’s lovely to see children who previously did not know how to use cutlery or sit at a table, explore different foods and sit comfortably.”
They were also keen to encourage people to consider becoming local authority carers, highlighting the things we so often take for granted like regular food and mealtimes, make a fundamental difference to a young person’s outcomes in life.
“A few years ago, I had two teens. They thrived on a regular mealtime. They always laid the table and enjoyed sitting around and discussing their day. Most of our early evenings were focused on our family table. My foster child is now 25 and we still talk about how important that time was. We all saw it as a place to offload and very therapeutic.”
Celebrity Chef to provide recipes to help foster carers.
Within the survey foster carers were also asked which meals had proved popular with children in their homes, and how they ensured meals were healthy, cost effective and easy to prepare.
Armed with the knowledge that pasta dishes prove extremely popular amongst young people and carers alike, Foster Wales have teamed up with Celebrity MasterChef winner Wynne Evans, who will put on a special live cookery event for over 100 foster carers at Newport Market.
The event will be attended by Great British Bake-Off contestant and local Gwent foster carer Jon Jenkins, alongside foster carers who inspired the campaign.
Ahead of the event, Wynne spoke of his desire to get involved: “I learned a lot about creating meals under pressure while cooking on Celebrity MasterChef, so I really empathise with foster carers who have to be so versatile in preparing meals for a variety of different needs.
“The importance of having access to regular, nutritious and enjoyable food can’t be underestimated, and I was really moved by the testimonies of the foster carers who dedicate so much of their lives to ensuring stability and support for young people around food – something many of us would take for granted.
“For this reason, it has been a pleasure and an honour to create this special recipe for foster carers in Wales, I can’t wait to hear their amazing stories and be involved in this campaign that shows how everyone has the skills to care – and cook delicious meals – for young people who need it most.”
Alastair Cope, Head of Foster Wales, said: “Our new campaign, bring something to the table, highlights the small but significant things that foster carers can (and do) bring to a young person’s life.
“Sadly, for many children in care, food insecurity is a real and present issue, and the research we have conducted has been vital in helping us better understand the challenges that foster carers face when it comes to mealtimes – but also the innovative methods they’ve used to support children who really need it.
“Foster carers are adept at building on their existing skills and experiences to problem-solve and make a transformational difference in young people’s lives. As local authority foster carers, they can also always rely on an experienced and extensive network of support around them.
“We need more people to have the confidence to come forward and enquire with their local authority. So, we really do encourage people who are thinking about fostering to get in touch today.”
For more information about fostering, or to make an enquiry, visit: https://fosterwales.gov.wales/
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