Independent agency, Eastern Fostering Services are using virtual reality in their fostering training. But why? And how?
In reality, fostering is hard. Foster carers are expected to be able to cope with a range of challenges within their own home. Children come into foster care with all manner of grief, pain and damage and this can manifest itself in many ways.
Virtually anything can happen…
Attachment issues or disorders
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Drug and alcohol misuse
Violence or aggression
Mental health problems
The list goes on. Indeed, foster carers need to be able to cope with whatever fostering throws at them. Many foster carers will say that they are prepared for any eventuality! And it is a good job.
What effect does this have on foster carers?
From time to time, dealing with the daily reality of fostering can leave carers care-worn and overwhelmed. Nonetheless, it is vital for the healing of the child that the carer can continue to have empathy and understanding for the children they are caring for. Therefore, carers need to be able to put themselves into the child’s shoes in order to keep the child at the forefront of their care.
How can foster carers stay empathetic?
The professionals at Eastern Fostering Services are constantly thinking of ways they can support their carers. Moreover, they keep the care of carers central to their objective of making a positive difference in the lives of children.
They understand that supporting their carers in a variety of ways helps build resilience. In turn, this helps build successful fostering.
Virtual reality, the key to successful fostering?
When Eleanor Vanner, Director of Eastern Fostering Services, heard about Cornerstone, she knew she had found something that could help carers understand why some children struggle in foster care.
The team at Cornerstone have developed a series of Virtual Reality films to help carers and professionals to understand the needs of children in or from the care system. The films range from a child in the womb, hearing domestic violence to a baby experiencing neglectful, abusive and inconsistent parenting. In addition, the films provide helpful versus unhelpful responses on the part of carers or professionals.
What benefits do the virtual reality films bring to fostering?
“Because you are IN the film,” says Eleanor Vanner. “You experience first hand what many of our children have lived. And the films really stay with you. You experience the hypervigilance, the dread and the fear – during and following the watching.”
You experience the hypervigilance, the dread and the fear.
Eastern Fostering Services are now offering the Virtual Reality films as part of the training programme for foster carers. Moreover, they have begun using it as part of the Skills to Foster Training which is part of the fostering assessment.
“It is vital,” says Eleanor. “That carers are able to understand what our children have experienced and how this has affected them.”
As a result of watching the films, new and old carers alike can bring that frightened child to the front of their minds.
Because of the upsetting nature of the films, carers are offered one to one support before and afterwards to help them process what they have experienced.
“The films really stayed with me and I found myself thinking about the images even weeks later. This is all happening second hand to me. So, what must it be like for my child, who lived this first hand? It has really helped me to walk in my child’s shoes,” says foster carer, Lucy.
Want to know more? Contact Eastern Fostering Services at firstname.lastname@example.org
Every child deserves to have a safe base and to grow up in a loving, supporting environment which nurtures their confidence and self-esteem. But in the UK alone, a new child is bought into care needing a foster family every 20 minutes.
In the UK, the number of children waiting to be fostered is rapidly growing. In March 2019, 54,870 out of the 75,420 children in care away from home were living with foster families in England, but fostering services need approximately 7,220 more families to open up their homes to children in need.
Could you help?
East Anglian-based Eastern Fostering Services (EFS) is currently looking for families, couples and individuals to foster in the region. The small team makes great efforts to create the best possible matches by getting to know each child and carers and providing high-quality support around the clock every day.
EFS aims to find excellent carers and support them in providing secure and nurturing homes for some of the most vulnerable children in society. Carers are given training, development and a competitive fostering allowance, with Ofsted describing them as ‘very well supported, respected and valued.’
To become a foster carer, you just need to be over the age of 21 and have a spare room for the child to occupy – that’s it! There are no other limitations; many carers have disabilities or health conditions of their own, are single, do not own their own home or work full time.
EFS’s fostering development manager Lucy Stevens says: “Successful foster carers need to be resilient. Children need their foster parents to be warm and nurturing, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent, but most importantly, to have a genuine motivation and passion to make a difference to the lives of children.
“The challenges of fostering are diverse and can range from managing challenging behaviour, to addressing emotional distress and working with birth families,” Lucy adds.
“We carefully match children with foster parents – the length of the placements will vary depending on the plan for the individual child. On average, our planned long-term fostering placements last 18 months,” she says. “Currently, however we have many children who have been with our carers between two and five years.”
EFS provides an allowance for foster families. It’s important to note that this allowance enables carers to provide for the children in their care. The amount each family receives depends on the specific needs of the children and the referring local authority pay structure. In general foster carers can expect to receive £350 to £495 per week.
Lucy adds: “Children in foster care have all experienced loss and trauma to some degree. Healing takes time and is hard won, but carers need to be able to see the glimmers of this in action and take heart from it. Seeing a child flourish at home and at school are often signs that the carers are making a huge difference to a child – it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.”
Julie Lemessurier is a foster parent from EFS who shared what it’s like and how the experience changed everyday life for her and her family.
“I wanted to be a foster parent for 27 years, so I guess you could say that it was a life-long wish. One of the most rewarding factors about being a foster parent is knowing you’re giving a child a chance in life by providing them with a family and someone to fight their corner; you could say that it’s an ever-learning roundabout which is always changing, challenging and rewarding. Over time, children learn to be brave, content and comfortable as a member of the family, while developing a sense of belonging. By fostering, my family has given children security, lots of love and a safe place to grow. They always have someone there for them, a place to belong and support to build their confidence.
“I am currently raising two foster boys with the help of my husband and birth children. I am proud to know that I am making a difference to a child’s life, and it has been amazing to see my family grow together. My husband and I have loved seeing our birth children develop and adapt while helping to raise our foster children, which has given them real strength and compassion. Our birth children say that it has helped them become more family orientated and that they have enjoyed building a strong framework which provides a supportive and secure environment for our foster children. Our family life may not be as chilled as it could be but it’s so rewarding; fostering has humbled us. Every child deserves safety, love, warmth and to be part of a family – providing this by fostering will transform the life of a child, and every family member involved. It really is an enjoyable, mind-blowing and rewarding experience.”
I am already a foster carer but am not happy with my fostering provider
Foster carers need a lot of support from their fostering provider in order to confidently and successfully carry out the enormous task we ask of them. As a fostering agency, we do not pursue existing foster carers, however we are sometimes approached by carers who are looking to transfer foster agencies.
By far the most common reason people tell us they want to transfer foster agencies is that they do not feel well supported by their current provider. In these circumstances, we feel it is really important that foster carers make the right choices about who to transfer to. In addition to this, foster carers need to know what they can expect and what the obligations of the fostering providers are.
Transfer of foster agencies: The process at a glance
Do your research – find out who your local providers are
Meet prospective foster agencies and ask to speak to some of their carers
Communicate your intention to transfer to your existing agency
Attend transfer of foster agency protocol meeting
Agree a transfer completion date with your new agency
Transfer should be completed between 1 and 3 months depending on whether or not you are caring for children currently and in line with the timings that have been agreed according to your notice period.
How do I choose which fostering provider to go to?
If you are feeling poorly supported by your current fostering provider, you need reassurance that the new agency will provide the best service. Therefore, we have given you tips to help you get it right if you want to transfer foster agencies:
Make a list of the fostering providers in your area. The Fostering Network has a facility that will enable you to see local providers
Contact each agency and make initial phone or email contact
If you like the sound of them from this first contact, arrange a face to face visit
Note down what is important to you as a foster carer and ask the agency how they will respond to your needs
Ask them if they can put you in touch with one or more of their carers so that you can ask them their experiences of the agency
What do I tell my current fostering provider?
Once you have made the decision to transfer foster agencies, you need to write to them to inform them of your intention to transfer. It is worth noting that you are not handing your notice in at this stage.
You are not allowed to be a registered carer with more than one fostering provider at the same time. Equally if you resign before you have transferred, you risk being deregistered as a foster carer. Therefore, we make sure we correctly advise you along the way. Usually we will give you a panel date and advise you to hand your notice in to coincide with the panel paperwork all being signed off.
Eastern Fostering Services will advise you of each step you need to take and when. We will provide you with the correct legal wording and ensure your protection. Moreover we will ensure that we do things according to protocol.
The Fostering Network have produced a comprehensive guide to the Transfer Protocol which we would suggest you read.
What responsibilities do agencies have towards me and the child I’m fostering?
If you have a child in placement with you, you can transfer foster agency without losing your child(ren). A protocol meeting will take place to agree timescales and any practical actions that need to take place. Present will be you, the Local Authority, your current fostering provider and the provider to whom you are transferring. The Local Authority will want to know that the agency you are moving to will be able to support you and that they will not compromise the care of the child.
The provider you will be moving from has a responsibility to share your information with your chosen provider. We will ask them for your original form F and other documentation submitted at the time of your approval with them. In addition to this, we will ask for your annual reviews.
Your new provider has a responsibility to ensure the continuity of care for the child. Additionally, they will need to ensure that they meet the timeframes you have agreed.
What about my fostering allowance?
Your new fostering provider will do their best to match the payment you have been receiving for the child you are fostering. This is because the Local Authority will not change the amount they are paying for your care of the child. You might discuss this at the protocol meeting. However, the detail you will cover in conversation between you and your new fostering provider.
How long will it take to transfer?
The time it takes to transfer will depend on how quickly your current agency provides information to the new agency and whether you have children in placement with you. Typically, however, we would expect to complete the process in between 1 to 3 months.
Rather than starting the fostering assessment from scratch, we will do an update. This will focus on what has happened since your original approval. It will take into account any major changes to your life circumstances and your experiences of fostering.
What do carers who have transferred to us have to say?
“We transferred to Eastern Fostering Services because we felt our old agency wasn’t advocating for us or the children we care for. We didn’t take the decision lightly and tried to make it work with our old agency. Sadly, to no avail. We are so glad that we made the decision to move. Eastern Fostering Services have given us such great support and have not been afraid to fight our corner in difficult discussions. They have taken the time to understand our needs and those of the children we foster.”
They have taken the time to understand our needs and those of the children we foster
“Our agency shut one of their local offices but still expected us to travel a long distance for training. Our support fell away and we were left feeling isolated and unsupported. Since moving to Eastern Fostering Services, we have felt part of a close community of carers and have been supported in many tricky situations. We have successfully cared for some lovely children and are looking forward to welcoming more children very soon.”
we have felt part of a close community of carers and have been supported in many tricky situations
Once your fostering assessment is complete and the report known as the Form F has been submitted, you will get a date to appear at panel. You are now well on your way to becoming a foster carer.
We always maintain that fostering applicants should not be brought to panel if there is any doubt around their ability and motivation to foster.
For many prospective foster carers, the fostering panel can be a daunting prospect. However, the panel at Eastern Fostering Services are all keen to approve foster carers. As a result, they are there to ensure you are well prepared and that there are no glaring reasons as to why you should not be approved.
We always maintain that fostering applicants should not be brought to panel if there is any doubt around their ability and motivation to foster. The fostering assessment is robust and thorough and the Form F report should leave no stone uncovered and should fully cover any areas for future development and have addressed them appropriately.
Don’t worry, not all of the panel will be present! Usually there will be 6 people on the panel and you will be accompanied and supported by your fostering assessor, with whom you will have already built a good relationship.
What will they want to know?
In advance of the panel, the panel members will read through your Form F. Before you go in to the room, the panel will have spent some time talking about the assessment and will agree what questions they want to ask. Normally this is one each but sometimes there may be fewer questions.
Typically, the panel want to understand your motivation to foster. They may also ask you about the other important people in your life such as birth children or close family. In addition to this, the panel members may want to give you a few scenarios to respond to, “what would you do if…”
Remember, the panel are on your side. One of our panel members recently said, “I love approving new foster carers. It always give me such joy to see the start of the journey and to watch as foster carers make a real difference to children.”
For a foster carer’s view on the panel experience, you can read this blog written by one of our carers.
Good to go!
Once the fostering panel have made their decision, they will call you back in to the room and will let you know their decision. They will give you full reasons for your approval, what they like about you and what they feel your strengths are.
Once the paperwork is all signed off, you will be an approved foster carer and will be ready to be considered for children. Then the fun really begins!
If you would like to know more about fostering, call us on 01206 299775 or email us at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook or visit our website.
Once you have completed your application form and we have carried out the necessary checks, we will begin your fostering assessment.
A fostering assessor will be assigned to you and your family. All of our assessors are friendly, keen to put you at your ease and experienced in producing fostering assessment reports.
The job of your assessor is to provide a detailed report on you, your partner and your family. This report will look at your life experiences, motivation, strengths and qualities . It should also flag up training opportunities. In addition to this, the report will give your fostering provider pointers on how best to support you.
What will my assessor want to know?
The assessor will produce a final report, ubiquitously known as the Form F. If you want to have a thorough look at what the report contains, you can see a sample here. However, this blog summarises it nicely for you!
Your assessor will focus on the main body of the report. Through a series of face to face visits, conversations and informal interviews he/she will cover a range of topics.
Your early life experiences
A big part of who you are today stems from the experiences you had as a child. Your early experiences shape you, your views and often give you motivation in life. We do not expect our carers to have idyllic childhoods. In fact, we often find that carers who have had difficult times in life are able to empathise with our children and young people. Difficult situations and circumstances often help us to build resilience; something foster carers need in buckets! That said, if you had a wonderful childhood, this can also serve as motivation in wanting to share this with others.
Your adult life including relationships and employment
Your assessor will talk to you about the other experiences you’ve had throughout your life. This will include your experiences of significant romantic relationships, what you learned from them and how they have shaped who you are today. We’re interested in all the facets that make up who you are, including your professional life. The assessor will seek to demonstrate what transferrable attributes you will be bringing to fostering.
..we often find that carers who have had difficult times in life are able to empathise with our children and young people..
Your personality and current relationship
Who are you as a person? What are your strengths? What is important to you? The fostering assessment will paint a detailed picture of who you are and what motivates you. If you are in a long term relationship, the assessment will be detailed for both of you. Therefore you will both meet with the assessor together and separately.
When it comes to your relationship, we’ll want to understand how you work as a team. What are your complimentary strengths and qualities? Why does your relationship work? How do you expect to share the fostering, practically and emotionally?
Birth children and support network
If you have children, they will form an important part of the fostering assessment. We will want to ensure that their feelings and views are taken into account, even if they are fully grown and living away from home. It may be that they envisage being part of your support network. Perhaps they are still living at home? Either way, we will need to ensure that they are fully included in the support package that we put together for you.
Foster carers do need good support from friends and family and we will want to ensure that your support network is robust and reliable.
Your capacity and motivation to foster
The assessor will be looking for evidence to support your application. Fostering involves a variety of areas in which you will need to develop skills. How can you demonstrate warmth, empathy, encouragement. What are your attitudes towards diversity (race, gender, sexuality, religion)? How can you demonstrate that you will support a child in their education? What skills might you have in advocacy? How will you support contact with the birth family? How might you work with other professionals?
Your assessor will ask you a variety of questions to help include all the strengths and competencies you will bring to fostering. By their nature, the questions will require you to dig deep but you should NOT feel judged or interrogated.
What do our carers say about the fostering assessment?
We were a bit anxious that it would be intrusive but the process allowed real soul searching and was actually very liberating!
Our assessor was friendly, open and we never felt judged. We built a good relationship and trusted her to represent us faithfully in the Form F.
What happens after the Form F is written?
Once the assessor has finished the fostering assessment, you will be ready for panel! This will be the subject of our next blog. Stay tuned!
Want to find out more?
We have regular events and coffee mornings which offer you the opportunity to meet us and ask your questions. You can also meet some of our foster carers. Our next event is in Ipswich on 23rd September. Check out our Facebook page for more details. Alternatively, call us on 01206 299775 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
How do I proceed with the Fostering Application after the home visit?
Last week we shared a blog about the home visit. Once you have had your home visit and you, your family and the fostering provider are keen to go ahead with your fostering application, you are ready for the next stage of the process. The fostering application form.
What information does the fostering application form require?
We need quite a bit of information from you in order to proceed with your fostering application. The assessment will consist of information gathering both behind the scenes and directly from you in the form of face to face meetings. The application form helps us to start both of these processes.
Behind the scenes
There are some checks that we will need to carry out with Local Authorities, the Police and Due Diligence Services (DBS). In the application form, we ask you to list previous addresses so that we can contact the Local Authorities. This enables us to check facts and to gather a narrative of your history.
We also ask for references, both personal and professional, where appropriate. If you do not yet want us to approach your professional referees, you can state this and we can leave it until a later date once things have progressed further. The aim of references is to build a picture of your skills and personal qualities and is a useful way for us to get to know you better.
Many excellent foster carers manage long term health conditions and might also have a history of mental health conditions.
We’ll need to know about your general health and will ask for details of any health conditions on your fostering application form. Moreover, we will write to your GP and request them to carry out a health check. The GP then completes a report which will help us to assess your physical and mental fitness to foster. Please do not be worried about this. Many excellent foster carers manage long term health conditions and might also have a history of mental health conditions. These medical issues in themselves will not stop you from fostering but will allow us to assess what additional support you might need.
We will ask you for details of any previous long-term partners. We know that sometimes approaching previous partners can be difficult and we will talk to you about this. For some people there are valid reasons not to approach ex-partners and we will always take your views into account and discuss it with you.
The face to face
The fostering application form will ask you some more general questions which help us to get a feel for your family, lifestyle and home situation. In addition to this we will ask some initial questions about your motivation to foster. Why do you want to foster? Why now? How long have you been thinking about it?
You will provide details of any birth children, living away from home or in the family home. Your children will form an important part of the fostering assessment. We will need to understand their views, feelings and expectations. Where birth children are adult and living away from home, we would want to contact them to speak to them about you and their views on what you might be like as a foster carer. Younger birth children, living at home, will be spoken to by a social worker as part of the assessment process. In addition to this, their feelings, needs and circumstances will be assessed so that we can ensure the best possible package of support for the whole family.
Once we have received your fostering application form, we will commence all the background checks. Additionally, we will assign you an assessor. This assessor will be responsible for producing your report, known as the Form F.
This document will form the subject of our next blog, so do keep an eye out for it.
Once you have done your research and have decided you want to become a foster carer, you can arrange a home visit.
An important part of your journey to become a foster carer is to ensure you are well informed. To this end, the home visit is an excellent opportunity to ask any questions you have about fostering and becoming a foster carer.
I want to become a foster carer.What questions should I ask?
Deciding to become a foster carer can open up all sorts of questions and worries. Therefore it is important that the fostering service you are speaking to are open and responsive to your questions. You can find a list of the most commonly asked fostering questions on the Eastern Fostering Services website.
When visiting you at home, the Fostering provider should give you ample time to ask the questions you need to ask about how to become a foster carer and what happens afterwards. It is a good idea to ring round fostering providers in your local area first and get a feel for them. You can find a list of fostering providers on the Fostering Network website.
What will they want to know about me?
As well as giving you the opportunity to ask your questions, the fostering provider will want to check a few things too. It can be a bit nerve wracking, having strangers in your home and you may feel a little exposed.
Any good fostering provider will not expect your house to be a show home..
Don’t worry! We want to see the real you!
Often people can feel under pressure to have the perfect home and for everything to be immaculate. Any good fostering provider will not expect your house to be a show home! They are not there to judge you or to make you feel under scrutiny. There are a few simple things they will be looking for:
The spare room for fostering
Everybody who wants to become a foster carer needs to have a spare room set aside for fostering. However, this room does not need to be palatial! It is simply useful for the fostering provider to understand what age child might best suit the room.
Understanding the fostering needs of you and your family
When it comes to fostering, it is important that the fostering provider knows you and your family well. The reason for this is to enable good matching. The home visit allows us to get a good feel for you, your family, your lifestyle and what is important to you. It is about ensuring that your fostering journey is a positive one for you and your family.
Why do you want to become a foster carer?
This is one of the most important questions of all. It is important that a fostering agency understands your motivation as this too will inform the matching process. What do you want out of fostering? How will you keep yourself motivated? What do you think you have to offer? These are all important questions to ask yourself before contacting fostering providers.
If we all want to go ahead after the home visit, what’s next?
If you wish to apply to become a foster carer, you will need to complete an application form. This is the subject of our next blog, so keep your eyes peeled!
If you have any questions about fostering, you can contact Eastern Fostering Services at email@example.com or on 01206 299775 or you can look us up on Facebook.
Thinking of becoming a foster carer? How do you find out which fostering providers to approach?
As with anything in life, when it comes to becoming a foster carer, you should do your research. As a foster carer, you will need excellent support so you should look for local fostering providers who offer quality, 24 hour support. Smaller agencies are often better placed to offer quality, tailored support.
The Fostering Network have a tool on their website that allows you to search for local fostering providers. Moreover the internet is an excellent source of information. However, you need to know what you are looking for when deciding which fostering provider might best suit you and your individual needs.
I want to become a foster carer, shall I approach a fostering agency or the Local Authority?
Deciding who you want to foster with is a personal choice. The Local Authority prefer to place children with their in-house foster carers and will give them priority. Therefore you might get a greater choice of children. Increasingly, however, due to the shortage in foster carers, fostering agencies also receive a high number of requests.
The main difference between fostering agencies and Local Authorities is in the quality and level of support you will receive. In particular, smaller agencies such as Eastern Fostering Services will know you, your family and the children you foster very well. This means that when you need to call for help, you will speak to a team member who knows your situation – no need for lengthy explanations!
I have found some fostering providers – what now?
Ask yourself, are these people you could work with?
You can contact fostering providers by phone, email or web enquiry form. Indeed some fostering providers can be found on Facebook. Simply get in touch with them and ask them for more information.
Fostering providers should offer you the chance to talk either over the phone or face to face.
Here is a quick suggestion of what you might ask them:
What support do you offer carers?
Can you tell me about your matching process?
How does the assessment process work?
What positive outcomes do you achieve for children?
What training and development do you offer?
Which children do you need carers for?
In turn, Fostering providers might ask you:
Why do you want to foster?
Are there birth children living at home?
Do you have a spare room available for fostering?
Have you got experience working with children or vulnerable adults?
What type of child (age, gender etc.) do you feel would suit
What do you do for a living?
Can you drive?
Do you have a criminal record?
A more in-depth conversation is now needed.
When you have decided which fostering provider(s) might be the best fit for you, you can request a home visit. This is a great opportunity for you to ask any other questions. In addition you can get an even better feel for the fostering provider. Ask yourself, are these people you could work with?
To get the best out of your home visit, keep your eyes open for our next blog: Becoming a Foster carer, step 2 – the home visit. You can access all our blogs from our homepage.
On Tuesday 27th August, the BBC covered a news story relating to fostering, and in particular, to the role of independent fostering agencies in fostering. Radio 4’s Today programme devoted a large swathe of their air time to the subject and a written article can be found on the BBC News website.
Eastern Fostering Services, as a small, independent fostering agency, were disappointed to find that the independent providers were yet again vilified as cash counting mercenaries who are only working in the fostering sector for financial gain. Such broad-based assumption feeds in to the negative associations that are held in relation to fostering more widely.
The bigger picture
We believe that there is a way for Local Authorities and independent fostering agencies to work together in the best interests of the children. Sadly, there are systemic failures that make this incredibly difficult for the small agencies such as Eastern Fostering Services.
It is fairly typical for Local Authority commissioning to weight their tender invitations to independent fostering agencies towards cost rather than quality. A common 70% onus on cost versus 30% on quality of care provision means that both measures are naturally driven down.
There have been innumerable conferences, consultations and collaborations focussing on more ‘intelligent’ commissioning but in over 20 years of our experience in the sector, little has changed. Local Authorities continue to have unmet needs and the tension between the public and private sector continues, translating to a poorer service for vulnerable children.
We well understand the enormous financial pressures that Local Authorities are subject to but whilst a view persists that the independent sector are a threat rather than an opportunity, unhelpful myths and misapprehensions will continue to fester further debilitating the system.
What do the experts say about independent fostering agencies?
As was correctly pointed out in the media, the Nairey report concluded that although independent agencies were slightly more expensive (we would note this is an average and does not reflect the huge price range that exists in the sector), the difference in cost is negligible versus the quality of outcomes for children who are living in foster care.
We were disappointed that this information was very much an afterthought rather than the presiding point and we are left yet again trying to justify our position as child-centred practitioners, rather than financial opportunists. Such a portrayal is damaging to our working relationships with Local Authorities and other professionals, to the public perception of fostering more generally and ultimately for the children to whom we have all made a commitment to serve.
Along with our carers, who are supported to provide long-term, stable placements, we are an important constant for these children.
Anecdotally as a small fostering agency, we are increasingly one of the few constants in the children’s lives. Many children experience changes in social worker on a frighteningly regular basis and often the agency social workers support and advocate for the children and carers and provide a safe base for exceptional care to be carried out by our foster carers. Along with our carers, who are supported to provide long-term, stable placements, we are an important constant for these children.
Is there hope?
Many small independent fostering agencies work tirelessly to promote the well-being of the children in their care, challenging poor decisions and speaking up for those most vulnerable children when their voices are not being heard. Equally, we work creatively to find solutions to problems that might impede the very best care, often supporting and bolstering Local Authority resources.
In short, we want to work with other professionals to put the needs of children first. We believe that dialogue, cooperation and a change in the cultural perception of independent fostering agencies would really help unlock creativity, efficiency and ultimately better outcomes for the children.
When fostering children, how do we ensure we keep children
at the heart of everything we do?
Many foster carers are highly driven to provide child-centric care to the children they are fostering. This takes many forms from therapeutic fostering, advocacy, support in education and providing boundaries. And let’s not forget good old fashioned love and nurturing. All foster carers however need to work within the system and its associated requirements and constraints. It is within this arena that many foster carers see the child-centred approach turn on its heels and disappear.
Is a child centred approach to fostering children always adopted in meetings with professionals?
many foster carers see the child-centred approach turn on its heels and disappear.
Fostering involves meeting and liaising with the professionals who are responsible for fulfilling statutory obligations towards children. This is obviously an important part of the overall fostering picture. Professionals need to ensure that the needs of children are met in every area that forms a part of their care. And rightly so.
Fostering professionals perform a good deal of this box ticking during the Child in Care Review meeting (misguidedly acronymed to CIC). During this meeting a range of professionals and other individuals will be present. Often the child, the foster carer, birth parents, social workers, teachers or other advocates might sit together for all or part of the meeting. The aim of the CIC is to establish progress of the child in a number of areas. In addition to this professionals make plans for the future which will be reviewed at subsequent meetings. At their worst, they are an excruciatingly boring exercise in box ticking which means little or nothing to the child. In fact they can bear little relation to what is truly important to them. At their best they can be an opportunity for the children’s views to be heard and acted upon.
Anecdotally, children who are present for all or some of this meeting can struggle with the monotony of examining everything with a fine-toothed comb. They can feel scrutinised and vulnerable. One Eastern Fostering Services carer reports, “Our child would stay for the entire meeting. Whilst he was always keen to give his views on certain things, this took a relatively small part of the meeting. About mid-way through, his eyes would glaze over and I don’t think he once left a CIC review without a crushing headache. I suppose he and I saw it as a necessary evil.”
So how do we get it right for the children we’re fostering?
When fostering children, carers can feel it’s like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. Indeed when she is good she is very, very good and when she is bad she is horrid. Of course, all foster carers have some horror stories to tell. Furthermore, when things don’t work, we are quick to hear about it in the media or from colleagues. But sometimes the professionals do get it right and when they do, they get it very, very right.
The PATH to good fostering is not paved with gold.
It would be grossly unfair to suggest that the fostering journey is furnished with anything but good intentions; both on the part of foster carers and the myriad professionals responsible for the holistic care of children. However, whilst it is difficult to make statutory box ticking child-centric, children’s views can be heard. Suffolk Virtual School has developed excellent child-centred ways for their social workers, schools’ staff and foster carers to hear and act upon children’s views. The process that they use is called PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope). This was a process originally designed by Inclusive Solutions who trained Suffolk’s Psychology and Therapeutic Service to deliver the process to children and young people in conjunction with Virtual Schools.
“Two years on, it’s having an amazing impact,” says Dr Imogen Howarth of Health, Wellbeing and Children’s services, Suffolk. “Their latest Ofsted Inspection showcased dozens of PATHs across the county with Children and Young People’s services and schools being able to explain their PATH contents and how the children and young people’s views captured in the process were being translated into real world practice.”
How does PATH work?
PATH is a process that creates a vision of a positive future for the child which is shared with those who are important to them. This might be foster carers, birth family, social workers, therapists and teachers. It is completely child-centred and therefore is focussed on the young person and their very personal dreams for the future.
The session is delivered by
a facilitator who guides people through each stage of outlining the dream and
what needs to happen to make it a reality.
The first stage is to set out the dream. The child or young person is asked to verbalise their hopes and dreams for the future. There are no limitations or constraints during this part of the process and a good deal of time is spent in understanding the dream so that it can inform the rest of the PATH.
It was all about the child. There was so much positive feedback to build her esteem and you could see that she felt heard, loved and empowered.
The next part of the process involves some good old fashioned time travel as the group journey to a year from the present and articulate all the positives that will have been achieved in that year. Thereafter the child is brought back to the present to express how they feel about what is happening now.
The child will then
identify some key individuals who they will need on their path. This list will
invariably include all those who the child considers important to them and
others who will be important in the realisation of their dream.
Goals and aspirations require strength and perseverance. The next stage of the process is to encourage the child to think about what they will need to stay strong. This might be the learning of new skills or the support of their carer. It might involve buy in and enthusiasm from the birth family or additional support from school.
Finally the child decides on their next steps. These steps might be large or small but aim to give very practical means for the child to make progress in the actualisation of their hopes and dreams.
Where does the PATH lead the child?
At the end of the session that was geared around the child our carers support, a beautiful piece of art had been produced. This masterpiece pictorially laid out the dreams and the path that would be taken. It was peppered with positive words and phrases that described all the attributes of the child and laid out a hopeful vision for the future. This art work takes pride of place on the child’s bedroom wall as a constant reminder of what the future might look like and a map of how to get there. No glazed eyes, no crushing headache, just the hope of what the future could look like and the very real possibility that she can make it happen.
“This was an amazing process to be part of,” says Samuel Perryman, Supervising Social Worker at Eastern Fostering Services. “It was all about the child. There was so much positive feedback to build her esteem and you could see that she felt heard, loved and empowered.”
No glazed eyes, no crushing headache, just the hope of what the future could look like and the very real possibility that she can make it happen.
For more information on PATH and the part it can play in supporting the positive fostering of children, click here.