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15 May 2017, 07:20 | Updated: 15 May 2017, 07:22
Selfless foster families in Essex are hoping to encourage more people to consider fostering this Foster Care Fortnight.
Essex County Council's foster carers provide safe and loving homes for hundreds of children each year, but with a number retiring and demand continuing to be high, up to about 100 new foster families are likely to be needed this year.
To help raise awareness of the need and inspire the next generation, existing foster carers in Essex are telling their stories this Foster Care Fortnight - an annual campaign by the Fostering Network, which runs from Monday, 8 May until Sunday, 21 May.
Among them are Ray and Sue Unwin, who started fostering two years ago as a way of giving something back to society.
Semi-retired builder and property developer Ray said: "Seeing the children grow and develop is very special. It's heart-warming to think where they were when they arrived and then look at where they are now.
"If you're looking for something that's rewarding and helping put people on the right path then there's nothing better than fostering."
Essex foster carers are also sharing their photos of the #bearincare to raise awareness of the difference fostering makes to children's lives.
Inspired by The Elf on the Shelf craze, foster carers and social workers will take photographs of the bear out and about across the county and share them on social media.
In doing so, they also hope to raise more than £1,000 for Essex Foster Care Association, which helps support foster carers in Essex.
It also comes as Essex County Council's fostering service launched its mascot during a teddy bears' picnic for foster carers yesterday (Sunday, 7 May).
Councillor David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: "Foster Care Fortnight is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the massive difference fostering can make to children's lives.
"We have some wonderful foster carers in Essex and I am pleased so many of them are helping us to encourage more families to consider fostering.
"I would encourage anyone who is interested to come along to one of our information events this month or get in touch via the website."
A high proportion of children who come into care are aged ten and over so there is also a particular need for foster carers who can provide homes for older children, as well as those who can accommodate sibling groups and children with disabilities.
Prospective foster carers must have a spare bedroom, be financially stable and available before and after school and during the school holidays.
As well as the chance to make a difference to the lives of young people in Essex, you will receive local training and support and a competitive financial package.
To find out more about the exciting opportunities to foster through Essex County Council, come along to one of the following upcoming information events:
" Tuesday, 16 May (7pm - 9pm) - Latton Bush Centre, Southern Way, Harlow, CM19 7BL
" Saturday, 20 May (1pm - 3pm) - Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
" Saturday, 27 May (1pm - 3pm) - Essex House, 200 The Crescent, Colchester Business Park, Colchester, CO4 9YQ
Alternatively, look out for the team at Leisure World in Colchester on Saturday, 13 May, Basildon Sporting Village on Saturday, 20 May, or Harwich and Dovercourt RUFC on Monday, 24 May.
To find out more or make an enquiry, please visit www.essexadoptionandfostering.co.uk/fostering