We said a fond farewell to our CEO, Ian ‘The Colonel’ Brazier last week!
Ian retired after a celebratory lunch at FCC headquarters in Malvern, attended by staff and foster carers. We even managed to source the correct marching music from his days in the army!
Ian helmed the FCC ship for 9 years. In that time he solidified FCC as an ethical, transparent, not-for-profit organisation. Always cheerful and upbeat, Ian was always a problem solver, and built morale with his infectious optimism. His knowledge of business and contracts ensured that FCC marched on (excuse the pun), achieving many accolades, including an Inspiring Co-operative of the Year award.
Ian always knew how to get the very best from his staff – and he encouraged input from all staff members every step of the way, without exception. Ian never micro-managed – he just managed well. One of his most endearing qualities was the praise he heaped on individuals who had done a particularly good job. There was never any doubt that this man was proud of FCC, and this pride was truly infectious.
As Executive Director, Ian was truly inspirational. One day he would be attending Local Authority meetings, the next he would be participating in an activity day for our carers and their children. He didn’t behave like an Executive Director – and that was the key to his success.
Ian has left an indelible mark here at The Foster Care Co-operative, and will be truly missed by everyone.
Thank you Ian, for everything!
The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) – a national foster care organisation – are very pleased to announce that the wonderful Neil Morrissey will be the ‘voice of FCC’ – for its national radio commercials over the coming year, and possibly beyond.
Neil recorded his voice at Global Radio’s Leicester Square studio in London earlier in July. The recording session was attended by Dan Rosewarne, who handles all the marketing for FCC.
The radio commercial is actually a poem, written from the point of view of an adult that used to be in care. Neil was genuinely moved by the poem, and commented that the FCC were ‘doing a great job’.
Neil himself was in foster care as a child, and was very generous and open to share a little of his experiences whilst at the recording session.
The ads will be aired nationally in September to promote FCC as a not-for-profit, unique and transparent fostering organisation. The agency will be promoting its foster carer recruitment events using the commercials.
Steve Field, FCC’s Director of Child Care for England, said: “We are delighted that Neil Morrissey is the ‘voice of FCC’ for our foster carer recruitment campaigns. Neil has a real understanding of the fostering task, being a care leaver himself – and his passion for raising awareness about the national need for foster carers makes him a great ambassador for the fostering sector.”
The Foster Care Co-operative have previously won a radio commercial award, presented by the Wireless Group. The commercial, entitled ‘Unseen’, featured three different actor voices, charting the emotional journey of a fostered young person all the way to adulthood. The message being that with the support of foster carers, children and young people can turn their own lives around.
FCC’s not-for-profit and co-operative status mean that they do not advertise for commercial gain. All surplus income after expenses are ploughed straight back into providing more training and support for their foster carers.
Deciding to become a foster carer is a major decision. There’s no question it can make a big difference to a child who is unable to live with their parents at a point in time. But while the rewards are clear, it can be a daunting prospect if you don’t know anyone who has experience of fostering children.
More than 65,000 children live with foster families across the UK and the Fostering Network charity estimates that services in England need to recruit a further 6,800 foster families in the next 12 months to meet the need for placements. With that in mind, seven foster carers have shared what they think you should know if you’re considering it - both the good and bad - for Foster Care Fortnight.
You have to always be curious. If you apply to become a foster carer, you will be asked to complete a DBS (criminal record) check, health assessment and attend group preparation sessions with other people who are applying. As well as assessing your suitability to be a foster carer these sessions also give you a chance to find out more about whether fostering is right for you and can be a great source of insight.
Sue and Tony, from Gloucestershire, who have been foster carers for eight years with The Foster Care Co-operative were advised in a training session to “always be curious”. This has been their mantra ever since and it has helped them through some testing times when they’ve needed to consider the motives behind children’s behaviour. “These children have not had the benefit of the same upbringing [as we did],” they say. “So, there are reasons they do the things they do and react the way they react.”
Being foster carers can be challenging, and they say “unfortunately situations can sometimes not turn out well. This can be very sad and make you question if you could have done things differently.” But rather than beat themselves up about it, they remind themselves to be curious about why things didn’t work out.
“We have been in ‘that place’; several times and have felt disappointed in ourselves,” they explain. “We have come to the conclusion that we have all the skills and tolerance levels - maybe ours weren’t right in this instance but we know that someone else will have the skills needed to support that person.”
The whole family has to be “in” to make it work. You may be keen to foster a child, but if you already have kids then it is incredibly important to make sure the whole family fully understands the process and is happy with the choice. Paula, from Bristol, who has been fostering for 11 years with The Foster Care Co-operative, says she did a lot of research with her whole family to prepare them for the challenges ahead before they embarked on fostering.
Once they had made the decision to go ahead, they changed everything in the house from that day on. “Everyone had to adapt to new house rules and we did this before having a placement so it was a natural thing and wasn’t seen as implemented because of the placement,” she says.
Sometimes adults need fostering too. When you think of fostering you may just think about welcoming children into your home, but sometimes parents can be fostered too. Paula specialises in Parent And Child Together (PACT) placements where a young parent, usually a mother and baby, comes to stay with you at a time when they need extra support. The aim of these placements is to help a parent who is having difficulties develop the skills and confidence necessary to keep their family together.
Foster carers come from all walks of life. Lee Jameson, an LGBT advocate, wants people to know that you don’t need to be a heterosexual couple of a certain age to foster children. He and his partner have been fostering since 2014. “We are two men but that has not bothered the kids one bit,” he wrote in a blog hosted on HuffPost UK. “What you see is what you get with us. Foster carers come from all walks of life - it is not the old grandma foster carer strolling round the house like Miss Hannigan, it is different nowadays. It doesn’t matter if you have partner or if you are single – you can make a difference.”
Having a support network is crucial. Shagufta ‘Goofy’ Nasir, who has been fostering since 2012, has written in a blog hosted on HuffPost UK about how she and her partner chose to foster through an agency - Foster Care Associates Scotland (FCAS) - as they wanted support throughout the process (an alternative is to go through your local authority). “The level of support on offer varies quite a lot between fostering agencies, so it’s important to do your research beforehand,” she says. “There are always going to be a handful of challenges, and the right support is vital at those times. I’ve made lifelong friends through fostering support networks.”
You experience many milestones money cannot buy. Martin Barrow, from Sussex, who blogs about his experiences as a foster carer on HuffPost UK, says one of the biggest joys about being a foster carer is experiencing the joys of being a parent - first steps, first day at school, riding a bike, passing a driving test, graduating from university - over and over again. “These are the memories that every parent treasures, and that foster carers get to enjoy, in a different way, with each and every placement,” he says. “As foster carers, we witness milestones almost every day, which nourish and energise our commitment to foster care. Just as we celebrate the top marks at school, and the next gymnastics badge, we celebrate the dry beds, the days without tantrums and the gentle healing of skin as the urge to self-harm abates.”
Don’t underestimate how mentally exhausting it can be, but the reward of your foster child becoming an integral part of your family is worth it. Despite maybe not knowing how long a foster child may stay, foster carers ensure that the child is always treated as part of their family. “We all do chores, we all share in outings and holidays, and we all do it together,” says Paula. “This can be achieved with some great planning. It is very tiring and mentally exhausting, but also very rewarding. Seeing your placement succeed is the biggest thrill you can get, just little steps mean a lot.”
Dave and Mary, who have been foster carers for 12 years with The Foster Care Co-operative, agreed, adding: “Watching the children arrive all shy and nervous - then spending time with them, building confidence and self-esteem and watching them grow and progress has made us feel that we have really accomplished something.”
For information on becoming a foster carer in the UK, visit the government website.
Member News: The Foster Care Co-operative "A model of how to be authentic as a non-profit: values, purpose and the work of the Foster Care Co-operative"
I had the pleasure recently to visit the Foster Care Co-operative, whose head office is based in Malvern, and which is a vibrant and successful non-profit brimming with purpose and values.
The co-op was set up in 1999 by Laurie Gregory after 30 years working with local authorities as a senior social worker and finishing as a Deputy Director of Children’s Services. Over that time, he also had personal experience of fostering, looking after a child with disabilities for 13 years. He saw the need to offer an alternative to private and venture capital funded agencies as foster care was increasingly outsourced to the market.
“I instinctively did not wish to start a ‘for profit’ company and, after meetings with my Chamber of Commerce and invaluable advice from Co-operatives UK, I chose the model of a multi-stakeholder co-op” he explained. “We have grown slowly by bringing new people to fostering.”
The staff are unionised with the GMB, and it is a stable and happy team; it was a pleasure to meet. There is a sense of dignity across the work, in the central team, across the foster carers and in their contact with the children who are looked after.
More widely, foster care is in difficult times. The contracting model of the outsourced market focuses less on the issue – the development of young people – and more on the management of the issue. With pressures on budgets, one of the challenges that commissioners face is matching cost and quality. The shift to look for the lowest cost, scoring less for quality can then generate other costs and unintended consequences, including worse outcomes for looked after children (an added challenge is the tendency of local authority commissioners to take an annualised view of budgets rather than look further out, planning more effectively over the years that a child might be with a foster carer).
“I have been to meetings where commissioners talk of unit costs, or annual unit costs. Call them children please, I say” comments the co-op’s Director, Ian Brazier.
In the current market, with a cut down model, national agencies are dominant – structured and financed through loans via Luxembourg to cut taxes, with taxable profits lost in the repayment of loans to the same owners. It was to understand the costs of a quality service that has been at the heart of a recent government stocktake of fostering (in England) – the Foster Care Co-operative was one of a handful of agencies to share data on an open book basis, to help them do that.
The co-op has contracts with 54 local authorities, but it refuses to bid for contracts that are set up to deliver a quality that is lower than the values of the co-op would countenance.
An example is the dedicated resource the coop employs to support foster carers with education and schooling for the children. One young person said: “The support my brother received from our carers has resulted in him going to university. After visiting him there, I think going to university is something I would like to experience too.”
The two outstanding indicators of the co-op’s success are the length of time spent with a carer and the outcomes in terms of what children go on to do when they reach adulthood. The average for a placement nationally is just four to six months. With the Foster Care Co-operative, the average is three and a half years. And every child that has left the co-op in recent years has gone on into work or education.
While foster care has to be seen as a later stage of support for children, stepping in where families can’t cope, the power of co-operation still makes a difference. The co-op is collaborating with other non-profits in the sector, working on the basis of shared values, and has launched a successful training programme in a joint venture with increasing take-up, to spread good practice. It is also piloting, with the local university, a programme to bring in foster carers with disabilities into the sector – a great potential example of asset-based social care.
The Foster Care Co-operative is an authentic non-profit, led by values and shaped by the participation of those involved across what is a vital service for young people in need.
Every year, Co-operatives UK welcome nominations for Co-operative of the Year.
As the only not-for-profit co-operative operating in foster care in the UK, we thought we would go for the Inspiring Co-operative of the Year award.
You can vote for us here. Simply click on the Inspiring Co-operative of the Year category, and give a few reasons as to why you are voting.
Nominations close on 29th April.
Thank you for your support!
Fostering has been in the news a lot recently. We could mention the recent stories concerning the ‘cost’ of placing children with independent fostering agencies to be wildly more expensive than if the child is placed with in-house local authority carers.
Other stories have tarred all independent fostering agencies with the same brush, unfortunately labelling them as organisations who make huge profits from the misery of children.
The Foster Care Co-operative is an independent not-for-profit fostering agency. It is unique in the UK due to its co-operative status – giving staff, carers and children a voice in the organisation. We are a member of the Fairer Fostering Partnership that brings together ethical, not-for-profit fostering organisations. We operate simply to run the service – so any surplus income is reinvested to provide more support and training for our carers. We are a transparent, honest and fully child focussed fostering agency.
We thought we would put together a list of myths vs. facts, at least from our own approach to providing foster care. Most are concerned with the perceived barriers to fostering, but there are some about the sector – that will hopefully dispel any general misconceptions.
Myth: I need qualifications to foster.
Fact: you don’t actually require any qualifications, as full training called ‘Skills to Foster’ will be provided. This training will take place part the way through your assessment to become a foster carer. Then, if you are approved, you will have the opportunity to undertake further training to widen your skill set.
Myth: I can’t foster as a single person.
Fact: you can be married, single, living together, in a civil partnership or divorced.
Myth: I have to own my own house to foster.
Fact: you can rent or own – just as long as your home is safe, welcoming and comfortable.
Myth: I can’t foster as I have a regular job.
Fact: you can foster and work – but a certain amount of flexibility would be helpful as school or nursery runs may have to be undertaken.
Myth: The Foster Care Co-operative is not-for-profit, so I won’t be paid as a carer.
Fact: we pay a professional carer fee. Any surplus income after expenses is ploughed straight back into providing more support and training for our carers.
Myth: I have my own children, so I can’t foster.
Fact: Many carers have their own children – we carefully match a child to your household. Having your own children gives you valuable childcare experience that could be useful when a child is placed with you.
Myth: I heard that LGBT people can’t foster.
Fact: anyone can potentially become a carer, regardless of sexual orientation. Fostering should be inclusive and diverse.
Myth: I need childcare experience to foster.
Fact: although childcare experience would be beneficial, full training called ‘Skills to Foster’ is provided. You may actually have a certain amount of experience looking after or interacting with a friend’s child!
Myth: I’m 60, I’m too old to foster!
Fact: age is just a number! A health assessment, that all potential foster carers have to take as part of the application process, will help determine if you are physically able to foster.
Myth: I can’t foster children with different religious beliefs to my own
Fact: differing religious beliefs should not be a barrier - as long as you respect a child’s beliefs if they are different to yours. The most important thing is providing a safe and caring home environment.
Myth: all independent fostering agencies profit from foster care.
Fact: some agencies do profit from foster care, but there are a number of charity and not-for-profit agencies that constantly reinvest and don’t make a commercial profit – including The Foster Care Co-operative!
Myth: it’s more expensive to place a child with an independent agency than within a local authority.
Fact: some independent agencies charge more than others, but the cost to place a child has to include the running costs of the organisation such as staffing, insurance and premises costs. Local authorities still have to pay these overheads, but when cost comparisons are made, they aren’t included – making the cost to place children with local authority carers seem a lot cheaper.
Myth: I think I am too young to foster.
Fact: You can actually apply to be a foster carer when you are 21 :-)
Myth: I can’t foster because I have pets.
Fact: A lot of children love pets, so other than any known allergies or fears, pets can be a good thing!
Myth: I can't foster as I have a disability.
Fact: As long as you are able to care for a child, a disability shouldn’t preclude you from fostering. The Foster Care Co-operative are currently participating in some research aimed at breaking down possible barriers that may stop disabled people from considering or becoming foster carers.
Myth: I can’t foster as I live in a flat.
Fact: The type of building you live in is irrelevant, as long as you have a spare bedroom and the flat is generally suitable for a child this shouldn’t be a barrier to fostering.
We hope that this has put the record straight in many areas concerned with the fostering task. You can talk to us about any of the above points by calling 0800 0856 380, or you can contact us here.
If you are interested in fostering, and want to receive an application pack with no commitment, you can complete our short preliminary form which is here.
The Foster Care Co-operative was visited by Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, on Thursday 1st February. He was specifically looking at successful and innovative organisations operating as co-operatives. He spent the time meeting the team and hearing about what they bring to the organisation.
Ed also visited Malvern Book Co-operative and Jamboree Co-operative whilst in the area.
Ed Mayo said: “For nearly twenty years the Foster Care Co-operative has shown what a difference it makes when an organisation is run by the people most involved, the foster carers and staff. The wider social care sector is gradually waking up to the importance of participation, something that the Foster Care Co-operative has pioneered for almost two decades. There is so much that can be learnt from this inspiring organisation.”
Ed Mayo (far left) with staff from The Foster Care Co-operative
The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) was founded in 1999. Since then, the co-operative model has proved hugely beneficial. As there is no involvement from distant shareholders or investors, FCC’s members on the ‘shop floor’ have always been consulted and listened to. This has made the organisation totally ‘transparent’ and responsive to change – particularly at a policy level. It has also created a culture of greater democracy.
Simply put, FCC has given its staff who work directly with children the power to make positive change within the organisation for the good of those children. A perfect example of the co-operative model.
FCC’s founder, Laurie Gregory, was a Deputy Director within a local authority and a foster carer himself when he started FCC.
“Quite apart from the morality of it, I wanted to give more children the chance of family life,” Laurie said. “I instinctively did not wish to start a 'for profit' company and after meetings with my Chamber of Commerce and invaluable advice from Co-operatives UK, I chose the model of multi-stakeholder and common ownership and registered the company. We have grown slowly by bringing new people to fostering."
FCC remains the only not-for-profit fostering agency operating as a co-operative in the UK. It has grown steadily and organically and now has teams situated throughout England and Wales, with offices in Malvern, Cardiff and Manchester. Generally, FCC’s status as a co-operative has made the organisation more attractive to new staff and foster carers alike – perfectly complimenting their not-for-profit approach.
There are nearly 7,000 organisations in the UK operating under a co-operative structure in lots of different sectors, giving their members the power and the passion to make a positive impact, along with a voice that will be heard.
Ed Mayo is the author of the book ‘Values: how to bring values to life in your business’, published by Greenleaf. You can also find out more about co-operative organisations here: https://www.uk.coop/
The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) will be working with Shaping Our Lives and the University of Worcester on some groundbreaking research - looking at what barriers potentially stop disabled people from becoming foster carers, and how these barriers could be overcome.
Gail Granger, one of FCC’s social workers based in the Midlands, is lending her experience to the project in order to provide an ‘industry perspective’ and an ‘employer’s voice’. This will support Dr Peter Unwin, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Worcester, and the research he has initiated.
The research, entitled ‘Mutual Benefits: the potential of disabled people as foster carers’, will be funded by a grant from the DRILL programme (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) – which is a £5 million research programme funded by the National Lottery.
It is very important that the fostering task should be as inclusive as possible. Not only does this enable more people to become carers, but it also provides diverse carer-to-child matching options when looking to provide children with a home. In theory, the better the match, the more stable the placement should be.
Other than some very wide criteria and a full assessment and checking process, the main requirement for becoming a foster carer is to be able to care for children in your home. If this criteria can be met, there shouldn’t be any reason why a person can’t become a carer – no matter what disability they may have.
Ian Brazier, executive director of FCC, said: ‘Matching the needs of every child we look after is the fundamental requirement for successful fostering. Every child is different and the diversity of their needs can only be properly matched if we have a wide diversity of carers willing to take on this challenging but rewarding task.’
FCC are very much looking forward to the results of this research, along with how any barriers to disabled people becoming foster carers can be overcome. They are also extremely proud of Gail for lending her expertise to this ground-breaking piece of research.
You can read more about the research here.
Thousands of new foster carers are required each year in order to care for vulnerable children. If you are thinking about becoming a foster carer or you have some questions about fostering eligibility, you can call FCC on 0800 0856 538 or message them here.
Every year, The Fostering Network - one of the UK’s leading fostering charities - launches a campaign called ‘Sons and Daughters Month’. The campaign celebrates the role of ‘birth children’ in the fostering household.
When people apply to become foster carers, an assessment is undertaken called a Form F. This can take many months to complete because it involves a detailed evaluation of the applicant’s life – quite rightly because fostering is providing care to very vulnerable children. When those applicants have children of their own, part of this assessment is to check that the ‘birth children’ themselves are comfortable with the potential fostering arrangements. After all, fostering is something that the whole family unit undertakes, and is quite unique in that respect.
An agreement from birth children that they are willing to accept other children into their household is a necessary step in order for their parents to potentially become carers. What it doesn’t do, obviously, is show how amazing and welcoming these children truly are. Sons and Daughters Month is both an acknowledgement and a thank you to all the fantastic birth children of foster carers who, in their own way, contribute to the fostering task.
FCC’s Director of Child Care for England, Steve Field, said: “Birth children play a vital role in welcoming fostered children into the household. FCC is delighted to celebrate the positive impact and dedication birth children show and we are extremely thankful that they are a part of our fostered children lives, sometimes going on to become foster carers themselves.”
Kim Perkins, FCC’s Director of Child Care for Wales, said: "At the FCC, we always remain conscious that children and young people are placed within a fostering household and that all members of that household are key components of their fostering experience. Unfortunately, the important role played by the sons and daughters of foster carers isn't always recognised so we welcome the opportunity to celebrate them during 'Sons and Daughters' month".
FCC’s message to the birth children of foster carers is: thank you for accepting a new child into your home. Thank you for playing with them, talking to them, bonding with them, making them laugh, listening to them, helping them and sharing your parent’s time with them. Without you, your parents wouldn’t be able to make a real difference to children’s lives. This is something that you should be truly proud of.
Dave & Mary's Story...
Dave & Mary have been foster carers for The Foster Care Co-operative for twelve years, and live in Birmingham. They have fostered many children on a long term basis. Dave is also a trainer for the Skills To Foster course that The Foster Care Co-operative run for all new carers.
"When our youngest son was born visually impaired, my wife and I contemplated seeking some respite care. Whilst exploring this we discovered that there was a need for other children to be cared for. We initially registered with a Local Authority to provide weekend respite care for physically disabled young people.
Prior to retiring from the Police I had made plans to travel for an extended period of time, so we decided that we would suspend the fostering for a while to get the travelling out of our system - and on return to go for longer term foster placements.
We then moved to The Foster Care Co-operative. We were impressed with the ethos of the company: surplus income going straight back into the care of the children. We were also really impressed by their founder, Laurie Gregory – particularly his energy and vision for what he wanted for young people.
Coming from the police into foster care, I found that there were lots of transferrable skills. I knew I was adaptable as most officers are - but my analytical, communication and advocacy skills have always been useful. Also a sense of loyalty and commitment to good moral values are without doubt skills already honed in a tough profession.
The elements I find most rewarding about being a carer is trying to build relationships with young people who haven’t necessarily had the best start in life. Watching them arrive all shy and nervous - then spending time with them, building confidence and self-esteem and watching them grow and progress. Seeing them move into independent living has made us feel that we have really accomplished something - and that the young person is now better equipped to deal with what life will throw at them.
It’s not always easy; sometimes a young person’s behaviour can be a problem, but more than that it’s trying to find what’s behind it, why it occurs and how can we help the young person to turn their life around.
If you’re thinking of becoming a carer, I would say talk to other carers, do your research and attend a recruiting event. Discuss with your family what they think as at the end of the day it’s the family that fosters not the individual - everyone becomes involved and my boys and extended family are just as much a part of our fostering journey as we are."
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