Following a recent inspection, St Christopher's is pleased to announce that we have retained our Customer Service Excellence Award.
This is in recognition of the first-rate customer service delivered to the children and young people we work with, our commissioners, foster carers, partner agencies and neighbours.
The Customer Service Excellence Award is only granted to organisations that can demonstrate at least 80% compliance in areas of customer insight, culture, information and access, delivery and timeliness and quality of service.
The latest inspection, which concentrated on service delivery, quality and timeliness, awarded us 100% compliance, putting us at the very top of our sector.
“Following the assessment, St Christopher’s Fellowship were found to have a deep understanding and a commitment to Customer Service Excellence. The commitment was found from Senior Management levels through to operation and front line staff”
CSE report, October 2012.
The assessment particularly praised the following areas:
With 9,000 new foster homes urgently needed, Caroline Scott talks to carers about their experiences.
Maria Catterick, 42, has been a short-term foster carer since 2004. She is single and lives in the Tees Valley
A week after I’d been approved as a foster carer I had my first placement, so it was a bit of a baptism by fire. A social worker turned up with a little girl and thrust some paperwork into my hand. I remember feeling absolutely terrified that this child was now my responsibility.
She was 11 but dressed in age-six clothes and carrying a red handbag with swear words written on it. She wore a little skirt that had never been ironed and her hair was so long you couldn’t see what colour her eyes were. Together we put away the few clothes she came with and I tried to get to know her. She ran away constantly and she was partial to self-harm. She stole the first-aid box and hurt herself badly enough to need all the bandages and plasters. I didn’t sleep well for the first month. But gradually we built up a relationship, and over the year she stayed with me she became the joy of my life.
For more than 20 years I worked with adults and children in the vol-untary sector as a community development officer on short-term youth projects, but foster care seemed to me the place where you could make the most difference to the course of a child’s life. Children who come into care always have low self-esteem, so one of the first things I do is try to find something they’re good at. I have no electronic games in the house, only board games, and I throw them into every club and activity I can find – their behaviour turns around once you fill their lives with exciting things.
I’ve had families of two, three and four siblings. It is a lot of work, but if I’m asked, how can I not keep them together? I’ve had a very beautiful four-and-a-half-pound baby and his teenage mum; I enjoyed helping her towards independence. And I’ve just had a three-year-old with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (if a mother binge drinks during early pregnancy, it can result in lifelong physical, behavioural and learning disabilities in her baby). This little girl was disconnected from the world and herself. When she arrived she ran up and down my sitting-room until her legs gave out.
The agency I work for [Team Fostering] insists that if you’re the main care giver, you mustn’t work outside the home, because the children should be your priority. I look on it as a career. Sometimes I’ve earned very little, but at times I’ve earned more than I used to in the voluntary sector. Occasionally, I need to take a breather between children, so I budget. The children and I don’t often go to the cinema, but it’s just as much fun watching DVDs with a big bowl of popcorn at home.
You need to have a passion for children and an ability to overcome problems. Children push and push, but I’m not someone who easily loses the plot. My job is to help them on their way to a permanent home. If you grow up in an ordinary family, family stories are passed down; so when they leave I write a 'love letter’, setting down all the things we did together, what it was like living with them, how much I gained from them. If they’re babies, I put it on the social worker’s file, so when they’re older they’ll be able to say, 'Yes, I was in the care system, but I had a good life and I was loved.’
My first child left me after a year to join her adoptive family, where she was very happy, but when she was 16 she called, and she’s been in my life ever since. It’s the daftest things she remembers. Bubble baths, cooking together, the car-boot sales where she found the Famous Five books she grew to love. She was challenging but she taught me such a lot. I always sign their letters, 'Love always and forever’. She said, 'I called because I knew you meant it. I always knew I could come back and find you.’
First session on 14 November 2012 will explore recent trends in children care law and practice.
Dorit Braun, currently chief executive of The College of Social Work, has been announced as the chair of the Care Inquiry sessions. The Care Inquiry is a collaboration of specialist charities representing care options for children comprising Adoption UK, British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF), Family Rights Group, the Fostering Network, Research in Practice, TACT, The Together Trust and The Who Cares?
The first formal session will take place on Wednesday 14 November. Making Sense of the Evidence will explore recent trends in the law and practice for children in care in England. The aim is to set the context for the Inquiry, through discussing a 'state of the nation' overview that considers current trends in state intervention and in the care population and how these have changed over time. The Inquiry will also examine the evidence about different routes to finding stable and secure homes for children.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network and chair of the Care Inquiry, said:
"We are delighted that Dorit has agreed to chair the Inquiry sessions – she brings a wealth of experience and is herself passionate about how best to provide better futures for looked-after children.
"This first session gives us the chance to explore what has been happening in the care system over the past 20 years, what has worked, what hasn't, and what lessons we can learn for the future."
Making sense of the evidence - changing trends in state intervention and in the care population, and their impact on permanence takes place in London on Wednesday 14 November. Attendance is by invitation only.
The Care Inquiry will hold two further evidence collating sessions in December and January, with a final report due out by spring 2013.
The aim of the Inquiry, which is supported by the Nuffield Foundation, is to collect and explore the evidence on what actually works for children, in order to make recommendations to central and local government about how to succeed in helping them achieve long-term stability and security.
For more information visit www.pinterest.com/thecareinquiry.
To submit evidence or experiences to the Inquiry, see http://pinterest.com/thecareinquiry/the-care-inquiry-information-and-resources .
Children's minister tells foster carers he will ensure they are financially supported, despite a lack of ringfenced money for carers.
Foster carers should not be deterred by changes to housing benefit, the children's minister, Edward Timpson, has said.
Speaking at the Fostering Network's annual conference in London on Tuesday, Timpson pledged to "keep knocking on the door of the DWP" to ensure that money allocated to support carers with housing costs is ringfenced by local authorities.
Under welfare reform changes that will come into affect in April, housing benefit claimants will receive less money if they are deemed to have an empty room in their house – the so called 'bedroom tax – including bedrooms in foster carers' homes for children they are caring for. Instead, foster carers will have to apply for discretionary housing funding from their council.
Timpson told foster carers and social workers the conference that he wanted to ensure that welfare reforms continued to recognise the contribution of carers. "I ensured that when the [welfare reform] bill was going through that foster carers were not forgotten," he said. "As a result £5m ensued to support them".
But delegates told Timpson that councils have instead been using the money for other areas for housing and called for funds to be ringfenced.
The children's minister – whose own family fostered when he was younger – tried to offer reassurance that the money would be used to ensure that no one was pushed out of caring for financial reasons.
He responded: "I took this issue to Lord Freud and the Department for Work and Pensions so they understand how it's being played out in local authorities.
"I've already made that enquiry and I will continue to have discussions with Lord Freud. It's important that foster carers are not put off and I'm going to keep knocking on the door of the DWP to make some progress."
However, shadow children's minister Lisa Nandy said she was "appalled" that "foster children do not seem to count".
She told the conference that even if the money was ringfenced, it would not be enough. "It seems wrong in principle," she said. "We need to make sure that finances are never a barrier."
The Fostering Network's campaigns manager, Vicki Swain, said that although the DWP has the power to ask councils to ringfence the money for foster carers in its discretional housing funds, she thinks it is "unlikely" they would.
"The coalition has shown since its first comprehensive spending review that it is doing everything it can to remove ringfencing," she explained.
"We think the children's minister should be writing to directors of children's services across the country telling them that this money does exist, and that they need to be placing pressure on their housing departments so that it is fairly spent on foster carers. Otherwise the money is just going to be spent to make up shortfalls elsewhere," she said.
Ahead of the Fostering Network's annual conference, the chief executive explains why they are at the forefront of change.
Providing safe, secure and loving homes for children who cannot live with their own families is what fostering is all about. Foster carers offer children the opportunity to experience family life, to feel secure and to have the stability that can help them flourish.
However, foster care is itself risky for children and carries risks too for foster carers and their families. The very qualities of size, privacy and normality that make fostering the chosen placement for so many children are the same qualities that make for tensions and dilemmas in safeguarding them.
Fostered children are vulnerable if they receive poor standards of care, while foster carers are vulnerable to having allegations of inadequate care or abuse made against them.
It was this joint vulnerability that led to the notion of "safer caring" being developed in the 1990s, an approach which helped foster carers to understand not only how to look after vulnerable children, but also how to protect themselves and their families as they provided this care.
In keeping with the time, what developed was a risk-averse approach to caring for fostered children which led to an increase in guidance, rules and regulations.
Too often these got in the way of giving fostered children the care they really need, making foster carers worried about hugging them, for example, or feeling unable to allow them to use social media along with all their friends.
Unintentionally, this culture of protection has made it difficult for foster carers to provide fostered children with a full experience of family life.
Thankfully, times are changing and it is now recognised that there is a need to moderate this focus on protection and shift the emphasis towards ensuring that children going through care can have a life similar to that of their peers.
The 2011 review of child protection by Professor Eileen Munro called for a more "risk sensible" approach to caring for children.
The Fostering Network is at the forefront of this change. The charity recognises that if outcomes are to improve for children as they grow and leave care, then foster carers must be given more responsibility for day-to-day decisions and must always be given the full information on the children they foster.
Our new approach to safer caring has this at its heart.
Fostered children need foster carers who know when and how it is safe to give them a hug, who can make choices about allowing them to stay overnight with friends and who are confident to take the day to day decisions that parents have to make all the time.
The evolution of safer caring advice for foster carers and social workers comes with the launch of Safer Caring: a new approach, a new book written by Jacky Slade that challenges foster carers and children's services to share responsibility for safer caring, to reduce bureaucracy and to enable fostered children to have a better experience of childhood.
This new book is based on consultation with foster carers and fostering services throughout the UK, is grounded in real practice and experience and is relevant for both new and experienced foster carers.
It is also something that should be read by children's social workers who alongside foster carers play a vital role in the development of a child in care.
A flexible and considered approach to decision-making means that when any decision is made about a child, we must ask whether it is right for the child.
This means that foster carers will be able to help the children in their care experience life more like that of their peers.
There has always been risk, and there will always be risk, because there are no completely safe options.
It has how this risk is managed, used and learned from that it is important. In the words of US theologian William Shedd: "A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for."
Robert Tapsfield is chief executive of the Fostering Network.
The Fostering Network is holding its annual conference Tuesday 13 November.
The focus of today’s report published by the House of Commons Education Select Committee is on the protection of children.
The Committee believes that more children need to be taken into care as birth families are being given too many opportunities to change their behaviour, leading to long term damage to their children.
There are also a number of other important issues that the Committee has identified.
Firstly, they rightly say that society needs to be more positive about the care system. There are too many negative images and stereotypes of care. Going into care can and should be a positive experience. TACT’s own experience is that a stable and secure time in care transforms lives and leads to successful and confident adulthood.
The Committee has also highlighted that much of the focus in care is on younger children and that adolescents can be overlooked or receive insufficient attention. TACT absolutely agrees with the Committee on this. Research published earlier this year by TACT and the University of East Anglia shows that adolescence, particularly if this is the time entering care, is a time of great risk but also great opportunity. Getting it right can help mitigate against years of abuse or neglect.
Finally, and crucially, the Committee talks of children being ‘pushed out of care too young and insufficiently prepared and supported’. TACT could not agree more. Young people leave care insufficiently prepared for independence as a matter of course. Years of hard work and positive experiences are undermined and jeopardised as children are forced into independent living at 18 or often younger.
TACT believes that the whole system of leaving care needs to be reassessed. If the state has intervened in the life of a child to become their parent then the obligations that flow from that should see support based according to need rather than age. We want to see care leavers who need them given priority access to health and other services on an ongoing basis. Any costs invoked will be greatly offset by the societal savings that would follow.
TACT hopes that the new Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP takes the views and recommendations of the Committee seriously. He and his colleagues in Government must react positively to the overwhelming case for greater support for those in and leaving care.
ContactIf you would like more information contact Gareth Crossman, Executive Director of External Affairs on 020 8695 8120 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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