For the first time a person who used to live with St Christopher's has joined our Council of Trustees. Stephen Gell will be sitting alongside our Trustees on the Isle of Man and helping to shape the organisation's future.
Stephen has kept in close contact with staff over the years since transitioning to independent living and knows a lot about the way St Christopher's works.
Head of Aftercare Services Helen Giddings said: "When I was asked to consider a young person to become a Trustee, Stephen instantly sprang to mind. After talking to the Aftercare team we thought he would be great for the role.
"He was absolutely made up when he was asked and we are looking forward to welcoming him to the next meeting."
Stephen replaces Edgar Cowin, who is now retiring after 12 years as a Trustee. He has been a strong advocate for St Christopher's and Looked After Children in this time and will be continue to be a friend to the organisation. As a leaving gift he was presented with a framed poem by our young people about living in our home.
The General Election 2017 is an opportunity for politicians to show their commitment to improving the lives of children in care. We believe that a number of key changes could ensure that the care system truly becomes fit for purpose:
On May 16th 2017, our South Central team opened their doors and welcomed in supporters of CFT to share in the celebration of the grand opening of their new office.
Due to rapid expansion in recent years the south region have now had to move to bigger premises to accommodate the needs of the staff and the sizeable growth of our foster carer base. Since the region initially formed in 2012, we have already had two offices moves both of which were due to the need for bigger spaces. Initially working from one small office in Basingstoke, the region then moved to bigger ground floor premises in Petersfield, before eventually moving to their new home in Waterlooville, in which they now occupy an entire building on the Briars business park. The centre has 2,000sq ft of space across two floors, and we will use the new office for foster carer training, meetings, and holding our panels and participation events. The grand opening was an opportunity for members and supporters of The CFT to come together and celebrate the success of the region and the hard work of its Foster Carers. We had an excellent turn out from Foster Carers, Prospective Foster Carers, Staff members, Trustees, Our Chairman and The CFT President, all of whom shared stories and memories of the organisation.
Speeches and cake cutting from our Chairman and President respectively, were followed by the grand office unveiling and ribbon cutting which was headed up attended by local celebrity, Steve Power. Steve is a well-known radio DJ at southern station Wave 105 Radio and kindly wanted to attend the event to show his support for the work of our charity.
We would like to thank everyone who came to celebrate this historic day with us and would like to thank all the staff who were involved in the seamless organisation of a fantastic day.
If you would like to read more about the event, you can check out this news article from the Portsmouth News here:
If you are, or know anyone interested in Fostering in the South region of England, please get in touch with us to talk to us about how we can help you take the next steps on 0300 111 1945.
Michael from the West Midlands is looking after his first young person as a foster carer. He has shared his experiences from his initial weeks as a carer and the training and support he’s received to get his fostering journey started.
Why did you decide to become a foster carer?
We had seen various documentaries and posters about young people in care and were shocked to see how many still needed foster carers and safe homes. We spoke to some couples local to us who foster with the Local Authority to get an insight into what it would be like. Then we chose St Christopher’s as my cousin has fostered with them for a number of years and recommended we give it a try.
Once we were approved we were so scared but excited at the same time. Sitting waiting for the phone to ring with news of our first young person was nerve-wracking, but we’ve landed on our feet.
Who lives in your household at the moment?
Right now we are looking after an 11 year old boy who is on the autistic spectrum. It’s our first placement so it’s all new to us! We have our moments but mostly it’s great. He is currently waiting for a school place so our priority is to get him back into education. He has met my extended family and now recognises people when we’re out in our local community, so he’s settling in well.
We’ve opened up an ISA account for him and sorted out his weekly pocket money. We’ve also registered him at a GP surgery, dentist and opticians – everything that any parent would do.
We also have a 32 year old son who no longer lives at home. We told about our decision before we started going through the application process. He gets on well with our foster child and they’ve been getting closer as they spend time together.
What is the training and support like?
Everything that I’ve done so far has been good. The first thing we did was some introductory training as part of the application process – it opens your eyes and makes you think about what it will really be like as a carer. We were under no illusions though and knew it would be a challenge as the young people are in care for particular reasons. Since then I’ve done a first aid course and started the new social pedagogy training.
There are also monthly support groups for the foster carers. It’s a mixture of people every month so there is always different people you can talk to about their fostering journeys. They tell you everything straight so you can properly compare your experiences. We’ve mainly spoken to other carers with just one foster child, but I really admire all the carers looking after two, three or four young people.
Do you have any stand out moments from fostering?
Well, we haven’t been doing it very long but my favourite things so far are when we can just go out for the day and have a good laugh together. It’s worthwhile to see him smiling and everyone at St Christopher’s is so supportive and comments on how well we are doing. We’re looking forward to what other experiences come our way!
Are you thinking about fostering? Have a chat with St Christopher's today on 0800 234 6282 or fill in an enquiry form to request a callback.
More than 130 looked-after children from Wales are currently in care placements outside the country.
Figures vary between local authorities, with 16 children from Swansea in care outside of Wales, but none from Carmarthenshire or Denbighshire.
Action for Children said some were being placed "hundreds of miles away", making them feel "disconnected".
The Fostering Network said without more foster carers, some children would end up living a long way from family.
BBC Wales asked all 22 local authorities in Wales how many children and young people they currently have placed in foster care outside the country.
Eighteen councils provided figures, showing at least 131 have been placed outside Wales - either with a foster carer, a relative or friend, or in a home.
Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham councils did not provide figures.
Placement authorities include Southampton, East Sussex, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Doncaster, London, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Herefordshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Jennie Welham, from Action for Children, said she had noticed an increase in children being placed outside Wales in the last 18 months.
Ms Welham, children's services manager for Torfaen's Multi-disciplinary Intervention Service (Mist), said: "As a child, if you're placed out of an area, out of Wales in particular, away from your family, your community, your school, your friends, activities you might have been doing, it's a big deal.
"Children find themselves in a strange environment, a different culture, so it's not only that you might lose your home, you lose everything that goes with it.
"You might have a child who's from a Welsh valleys culture being placed within a suburb in England, in Surrey, and I think that's huge for your identity."
But she added sometimes the placements were for good reasons if, for example, the child would be living with relatives, which she said was "preferable for identity purposes".
The Fostering Network said last week at least 440 foster families were needed across Wales.
And Dr Jael Hill, a consultant clinical psychologist at Torfaen Mist, said the lack of foster carers - particularly for children with specialist needs - was at the heart of why youngsters were ending up out of Wales.
She said many foster carers had "inadequate support from mental health services and therapeutic services to really understand those children's needs".
"What we've learned is meeting these children's needs really does require people to work together across health, education, social care and the voluntary sector and that's sometimes difficult to pull off," Dr Hill said.
"There are projects that do that really well, but it takes a shared vision across the agencies and that willingness to collaborate."
Colin Turner, director of the Fostering Network in Wales, said the charity was urgently calling for more families in Wales to come forward, "especially those able to foster teenagers and groups of brothers and sisters".
And Des Mannion, head of NSPCC Wales, said: "The majority of children who need foster care have suffered from abuse and neglect in their birth families and they are taken into care to protect them from significant harm.
"It is often challenging to find a placement that will meet the child's needs, but moving them outside of their local area often makes it difficult to provide the best possible support to them."
Fostering News: The Fostering Network issues a call for under 35s to consider becoming foster carers
Leading fostering charity The Fostering Network is calling for more under 35s to consider becoming foster carers.
The call comes during the second week of Foster Care Fortnight, as part of the charity’s campaign to help recruit 7,000 new foster families across the UK in the coming year.
Less than five per cent of foster carers are under 35, despite this age group making up about 20 per cent of the UK’s population.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: ‘Older foster carers bring life experience and skills from other work to fostering, and do an amazing job in providing homes for thousands of fostered children. However, given the need for over 7,000 more foster families in 2017, it’s vital that we also reach out to more people under 35 who are heavily under-represented among foster carers. What is important is not age, but rather the skills and qualities to look after fostered children, and we believe there are many people in this younger age bracket who would make fantastic foster carers but may think they’re too young. Younger foster carers will also be in a great position to offer homes to the many children who need to live with a foster family for the long term, often until the age of 21.”
Joelene Hodgson-McKail began fostering at 29 and believes being younger has been beneficial to the care she and her wife Yvonne provide. She says: ‘I thought my age would be a big concern at first and we had lots of discussions with social workers about the age of the children we could care for. However we have found that our youth has worked really well, particularly with teenagers as we’ve been able to relate well to them. Even the basic stuff like knowledge of social media and sharing interests in music for example has helped us to build and establish bonds.
‘When we enquired about foster care there were never really any concerns about age. Prior to fostering, I worked for the Scottish prison service in a position that held a great deal of responsibility and maturity, and I had experience looking after nieces and nephews whose ages range from three to 21. During the assessment process the focus was very much on my experience with children and not the lack of “life experience”.’
At the other end of the age scale, those in their sixties and beyond can also provide loving, stable environment for a child.
Anthony Prewett and his wife Joyce, who are now in their eighties, didn’t start fostering until they reached their sixties, which for them was the perfect time to start after retiring and watching their own children fly the nest. Anthony says: ‘I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the town and its children something of the privileged existence I had led, the love and care my son had received and the support of a large family which I had never experienced before.
‘We think older foster carers bring a wealth of life experience to the task, tend to have a “longer fuse” and be more empathetic and understanding. They usually have more time to devote to the children and are also more active than in the past and can expect to make a worthwhile contribution for many years.
‘It’s great to have the health and vitality to keep up this work a couple of years into my ninth decade!’
If you believe you may have relevant skills and experiences to foster, financial stability and a spare room, then please visit http://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/couldyoufoster for more information.
As English councils warn that social care services for vulnerable children are approaching breaking point in the face of funding shortfalls, Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: ‘For some years now we have been highlighting the impact of austerity on foster care and other services for children in care or on the edge of care. This report from the Local Government Association reiterates that warning in the strongest possible terms and we are extremely concerned.
‘Investment in early intervention services is of vital importance to help families stay together and thrive wherever possible, yet we are hearing time and again of such services being cut back to the bare minimum or scrapped completely. On top of this, when children cannot stay at home they need the best possible care, and yet it appears that progress made in the financial support for foster carers over the last twenty years is being slowly unravelled – and this at a time when more foster carers are needed and an increasing amount is being asked of existing foster carers.
‘The Westminster Government must ensure that local governments are sufficiently funded – not just to meet the minimum legal requirements, but to allow this country’s most vulnerable children every opportunity to flourish. This is sound economic practice as we spend now to prevent greater expenditure in the future; but much more importantly we cannot allow this generation of children to be unfairly impacted by cuts.’
Fostering News: Care through the eyes of a child: ‘Foster carers and social workers are there for every step’
A child in foster care reflects on their experiences and gives guidance on what new foster carers should expect
by a child in foster care
Coming into care can be an extremely emotional time for any young person but it can also be an enjoyable experience; moving placements is also very hard.
Although it can be very tough for any young person in care, the foster carers and social workers are there with you every step of the way.
Personally I have had fun so far – being in care isn’t as tough as people make out.
I have been included in everything my foster carers have done. They have made foster care very pleasant and have included me in various activities, which I have found myself enjoying immensely.
My foster carers have made my life a whole lot easier in terms of me being able to act my age rather than like someone ten times older than me.
Also, they have helped me learn to relax and not put myself under pressure just because I’m not used to the situation.
The children’s co-ordinator has been very supportive with every child in care, including me!
I have had an extremely hard time being in care in the past, but when I was introduced to the agency that my carers foster for I was in awe of how successful they are and how big they are – they have branches all over the country!
My foster carers are very inspiring; they have taught me to be myself and that you can achieve anything if you try.
One of the questions I have been asked many times at school is, ‘Is being in care like Tracy Beaker?’
The answer is ‘No!’ That is a TV show and we are real, not on a TV show, and our life isn’t that chaotic.
So my advice to people coming into care is to be yourself – don’t worry what people say about you just because you are in care, and when people tell you to reach for the sky just think, why are you telling me this when I know there are footprints on the moon?
This piece is an extract from the book ‘Welcome to Fostering’, a new guide to fostering published during Foster Care Fortnight, which runs from May 8 – May 21.
My foster son is honest, clever and funny, but he isn’t always able to express his feelings – so we’re trained to help him
I became a foster carer just over a year ago, aged 23. Working as an area manager in a supported living home for young adults with complex needs, I found that the higher up I went in my profession, the less personal involvement I had, and I really missed the hands-on element of caring. I had a friend who fostered, and I realised that fostering would enable me focus on one child and better meet their needs, as well as offering them a home and family environment.
When my husband and I were first approached about caring for our foster son, we were given a clear and honest account of his behaviour and difficulties – which was exactly what we needed.
His social worker was brilliant. She knew all about his history and circumstances, as well as the challenges that caring for him would present, but she had also really got to know him. She appreciated what a loving child he is and how rewarding caring for him could be. She was upfront with us about his violent behaviour, and we knew he sometimes bites and scratches. Having all that information helped us to decide that with our experience, skills and training, as well as a strong support network, we could offer him the care he needs.
People can have a rigid view of what children with complex needs are like. They don’t understand why a child might “act up”, which can be that they simply aren’t able to articulate what the problem is. They forget to treat these children as individuals.
As well as being parents, foster carers are professionals – we have been trained to look after the children in our care. We are also the people who spend the most time with them. Fostering a child with complex needs means we have to be our son’s advocates and ensure that he is always getting what he needs, because he isn’t able to do this for himself.
Being open-minded is crucial when you care for a child with complex needs. It’s really important to understand that you’re not there to change them but to help facilitate their growth and development. Things that might seem small in another child’s development are much more significant coming from a child with complex needs. My foster son is honest, clever and funny, but he isn’t always able to express his feelings; each developmental milestone is huge for him and incredibly rewarding for us. Caring for him has made more of a difference than I could ever have imagined, and I take so much pride in his achievements.
While fostering a child with complex needs won’t be right for everyone, there are a lot of misconceptions about how hard it is. Every child is different, and some children will always need some form of support. As a foster carer you can offer them crucial life skills and help them learn to manage their own behaviour, as well as offering a loving, supportive and understanding home.
The three-minute film 'Giants' is available at www.fosteringleicestershire.com and tells the story of Jack and Ellie, siblings who want to stay together when they find themselves in foster care.
COUNCILS have come together to produce an emotive film to encourage more people to come forward and foster brothers and sisters.
To mark Foster Care Fortnight (May 8 – 21), Leicestershire County Council has teamed up with 12 other local authorities across the East and West Midlands to launch the short film.
The three-minute film ‘Giants’ is available at www.fosteringleicestershire.com and tells the story of Jack and Ellie, siblings who want to stay together when they find themselves in foster care.
The county council currently has around 500 children in its care, including sibling groups, and works to keep brothers and sisters together wherever possible.
Sharon Cooke, assistant director for children and family services at Leicestershire County Council, said: “This film demonstrates the real and urgent need local authorities have to recruit foster carers, including those who have the extra space to keep siblings together.
“Working together has meant we have a powerful and high quality product, at a low cost, to showcase and raise awareness for the need for more local authority foster carers.
“Foster Care Fortnight is all about raising awareness of how fostering can transform lives, so we hope people will take time to have a look at our film over the next two weeks and find out more about fostering with us.”
Georgina Oreffo, service manager for fostering and adoption at Leicester City Council, said: “This is a great example of how local authorities across the Midlands can work together. We all share the same need to find more foster families who can change the lives of our most vulnerable children.
“‘Giants’ is an extremely moving video that shows just how important it is to keep brothers and sisters together in foster care. We would urge anyone who is interested in becoming a foster carer to contact their local authority to find out more.”
The theme of ‘giants’ was devised to blend the concept of people who help us in society (such as foster carers), and also to highlight the strong bond and relationships that siblings have as they look up to and care for each other, becoming each other’s ‘giant’ in life.
The project was led by Coventry City Council which had won the Film Convert Corporate Film award in 2015 for Alfie’s Journey, another fostering film also made by production company Reel Twenty Five.
For more information about fostering with Leicestershire County Council visit www.fosteringleicestershire.com or call 0116 305 0505.
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