25 years of East Sussex Foster Care Association: “Every child deserves to be loved”

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In 2018 East Sussex Foster Care Association celebrated its 25th year of supporting looked-after children and their foster families with a range of fundraising projects and has welcomed a new famous face as its patron.

East Sussex foster Care Association (ESFCA) is a local independent charity serving the needs of foster carers, their families and the children who are placed in their care by the local authority.

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There are approximately 620 children in care within East Sussex at any one time with ages ranging from birth to 25 years old.

The charity’s chairperson is 53-year-old Eastbourne mum Susanne Beesley, who has been a foster carer for 27 years and has a family of adopted, fostered and birth children.

She said, “Like every child, looked-after children need and deserve to feel loved cared for and supported and children entering the care system are no exception. At the very least these children and young people will be feeling the effects of emotional trauma. Many will have experienced some kind of neglect or abuse in its many guises and are very likely to be dealing with the aftermath of witnessing domestic violence.

“Unsurprisingly, these children often also feel a sense of abandonment and carry the burden of a low self-esteem which makes fitting in with their more fortunate peer group a struggle.”

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ESRCA is an independent group of foster carers and has around eight trustees. It is independent of East Sussex County Council but is works in partnership with the local authority and is supported buy them.

Since its induction in 1993 the ESFCA have worked hard to raise funds to ensure that looked after children are supported to recover from past trauma and develop every talent, attitude, quality and characteristic needed to reach their potential, succeed in life and build an incredible future.

In order to achieve these goals and support children in care, ESFCA has a range of projects.

Susanne explained the Black Sack Project, which helps children when they are first taken in to care.

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She said, “When a child is taken in to care it is often in an emergency situation and, as you can image, their clothes and all their belongings are all put in black bin liners. This can be degrading and undignified for the children so we came up with the black sack project which is a very simple idea. We provide suitcases for social workers to give to the children for their belongings when they take them in to care.

“It is simple but it makes a difference.”

The charity also runs a scheme called Sibling Sunshine, which allows looked after children who have been separated from their brothers and sisters to have a day out together.

Susanne said, “These days out are sometimes the only contact they will have, so it is very important. It gives the children an opportunity to have fun together and build all those memories they would normally do if they were living together at home.”

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From residential PGLs to days out at Chessington World of Adventures and Legoland, the charity offers looked after children fun. Social workers are also invited to the events and days out, so that the children can get to know those in charge of their care much better.

ESFCA also provides advocacy and advice for foster carers and support for the children of foster families.

Susanne said, “One of the biggest things we do is support the children who foster. They are key to the success of fostering. It is all very well if mum and dad are keen to foster but their children need to be on board too because if they don’t buy in to the situation it doesn’t work.”

As a result, the charity speaks to the children and about their thoughts and ideas and they too enjoy days out and weekends at PGL.

Susanne says none of the charity’s work would be possible without their community partners. This year ESFCA is Sainsbury’s Charity of the Year and they were charity of the year for Eastbourne’s Arndale Centre for two years previously.

They also work with their patrons, children’s author Jacqueline Wilson and professional ice-skater Jane Torvill. Jacqueline has signed books to be used in tombolas for the cause. The popular children’s writer, who lives in Alfriston, also held a book signing event at Much Ado Books in the village. The bookshop donated all the profits from the sale of her books to the charity.

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Susanne says Jacqueline Wilson became the charity’s patron after a chance meeting at a springtime fundraiser.

Susanne said, “We were selling refreshments at the annual Bluebell Walk when we met her. She came and chatted with us and we asked her if she would be our patron. It was all agreed there and then. We later found out she knew we were there and had come along to speak to us.”

The relationship has gone from strength to strength and both Jacqueline Wilson and Jane Torvill help to raise the profile of the charity.