EMPTY nesters are leading the way in providing homes for foster children.

The term is used for parents whose children have grown up and flown the nest.

But rather than leaving the nest empty, more and more parents are using the space to provide a safe haven for children in need.

Figures released by Essex County Council reveal people aged over 50 make up 69 per cent of the total number of foster carers who take on children through Essex County Council.

The figure for mid Essex is sligtly lower, at 67 per cent.

Across Colchester and Tendring, the ratio is even higher with 73 per cent of county council foster carers being aged over 50.

Now the council is hoping more people over 50 will join the ranks and use their wealth of experience to care for vulnerable children.

Lorna Broadhead, 52, from Colchester, is a county council foster carer.

She said she derives enormous pleasure from seeing her foster children blossom in her care.

Lorna has two daughters of her own and three grandchildren and lives with her husband, Tony.

She has been fostering for 14 years after giving up a job in accounts and now specialises in looking after teenagers.

She said: “We used to live in London and I’d always wanted to foster.

“When we moved to Colchester, we had a spare bedroom and I knew I would be leaving accounts to foster instead.”

She became a childminder and fostered alongside that.

Lorna said: “Gradually, I stopped the childminding because fostering was overtaking, as planned.”

She started fostering children slightly younger than her own and as her children grew so did the age of the foster children.

Her daughters have long since left home but her house is still full. Lorna said: “Now I prefer having teenagers.

“I like the interaction with them. I get a lot from it and they are great company.

“It’s nice to see them developing; growing in confidence.

“Each child is different. It can be hard but it is very rewarding, too, seeing them blossom. It is nice being part of that.”

About 750 children are in foster care in Essex and this number has been increasing for the past two years.

Children can go into foster care for a number of reasons and for varying lengths of time.

Sometimes it is because of a family illness, relationship problems, family breakdown or a situation where their welfare is threatened.

Some children will have experienced neglect and physical or emotional abuse.

But more foster carers are desperately needed.

County council children and families boss Louise McKinlay, Essex County Council Cabinet member for children and families, said: “The over 50s have a lot to offer children.

“It’s no surprise that such a large percentage of these valuable foster carers are in that age bracket as they have seen their children leave home and have the room.

“We need more people like them to contact us to find out more about making a difference to a child’s life.”