Community Foster Care is proud to announce that Dame Janet Trotter is the charity’s new patron.
Dame Janet, Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire and former Chair of the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
She has always been a strong supporter of young people who face disadvantages and met many of Community Foster Care’s foster carers when she presented the charity’s annual awards in 2016.
“It is an honour to have been invited to become patron of Community Foster Care. All children need love and support as they grow up but there are many children locally who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their natural parents,” she said.
“Fostering takes special skills and qualities and I have been impressed by both the high quality care offered by the families who foster and also by the many young people who respond to a new family environment.
“I look forward as patron to contributing more regularly to this special organisation.”
Chair of Community Foster Care and its sister organisation, Community Family Care, Judge Charles Wade, said: “We are honoured to have Dame Janet as our patron. Her empathy and understanding, coupled with the depth of her experience in so many walks of life, make her support invaluable.
”Children end up in care through no fault of their own and face challenges which most of us can’t imagine. They need strong ambassadors to fight their corner every step of the way.”
At Team Fostering, we organise annual holidays across the North East, Yorkshire and East Midlands. Some of these took place last month and we've received some fantastic feedback...
The annual holidays are ran to bring all children and foster carers together for a highly enjoyable week. They're a great opportunity for carers to get to know other carers, and more importantly for children and young people to make new friends and socialise. We work hard to ensure that there are lots of things to do, and to offer the opportunity for children and young people to try out new things. This is just part of the Education and Support Service that we offer to all foster carers and looked after children with Team.
During May half term, those in our North East areas enjoyed a trip to Flamingo Land, while those in our Yorkshire and East Midlands areas visited Cumbria for a jam-packed holiday including horse riding and a trip to Maze Farm Park.
We're thrilled with some of the feedback we've received so far. Here are some highlights:
"The meet and great icebreaker game worked well, and forced us out of our comfort zones!"
"A well organised holiday with great communication and welcome packs"
"The whole trip was thoroughly enjoyable. Was great to get to know the other carers and children!"
"I didn't want to go to sleep [on the last night] as I knew the holiday would be over when I woke up"
When Laurie Gregory, an ex-Deputy Director of Social Services, decided to start an independent foster care organisation – he wanted to do something different.
Laurie was a foster carer himself for many years, so he had a full 360 degree understanding of the sector. Starting a ‘for profit’ agency was not an option, but he wanted to go further than simply establishing a not-for-profit organisation.
He then contacted Co-operatives UK, and plans for The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) began to fall into place.
“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."
The Foster Care Co-operative 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 ‘transparent’ and responsive to change – particularly at a policy level. It has also created a culture of greater democracy.
Simply put, FCC have given its staff who work directly with children the power to make positive change within the organisation for the good of those children.
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.
It is Co-operatives Fortnight from 17th June - 1st July - an opportunity for organisations to highlight how co-operating, working together, makes a difference #coopstories
Men are underrepresented in foster care and there are children and teenagers who really need strong father figures to help them grow.
My name is Asrat, I’m a male foster carer. When I became a carer I told my youngest brother about it and he said to me, when he thinks of fostering, older women or elderly retired couples come to his mind, but he never thought younger single men would be interested or involved.
I think these sorts of views are expressed because it’s mistakenly believed that women are best suited to handle the challenges of fostering and naturally more caring than men. I believe men are equally capable of handling challenges and can be caring as well.
As a male foster carer since 2013, I have had challenging times which I have managed well and have also been providing very good care to my young person in care.
“Rewards and challenges are part and parcel of fostering”
I used to work at my local council before I became a foster carer. That is where I got involved with the council’s fostering office working with unaccompanied asylum seekers from different parts of the world. I came to know about fostering there and had a chance to work with some social workers. It was fulfilling and satisfying being able to help others. I decided to be a full time foster carer and opened my doors to a child to give him a warm and friendly home. Fostering is rewarding when I see the positive differences I have made in a child’s life after he had stayed with me. And it can also be challenging when a child, for different reasons doesn’t want to engage with me and refuses to be helped.
“My supervising social worker is a phone call away for any query I may have.”
Rewards and challenges are part and parcel of fostering. Fostering in my opinion is a noble profession because it involves shaping a child’s life into becoming a productive and successful citizen. It requires resilience and lots of patience. Thankfully I have my agency’s full support whenever I need it. I have been getting relevant training and my supervising social worker is a phone call away for any query I may have.
All in all, my fostering journey since 2013 has taught me some valuable lessons. I have learned to be more patient and understanding. If there are any men out there wondering about fostering, I encourage you to consider it seriously, you will not be disappointed.
Member News: TACT - “I can remember the exact day we decided to stop talking about fostering and start doing it”
My wife Sue and I had talked about fostering for many years before taking it up seven years ago. Neither of us were raised by our birth parents, I was adopted as a baby and was very lucky to become part of a very loving family. Sadly for Sue, she had a very chaotic childhood, and was in and out of foster care for most of her early years.
We have always thought we would like to help young children probably for different reasons. I felt that I would like to give something back because I felt I had been so lucky in my childhood and Sue felt that she would like to provide the sort of care and love that her early years were so short of.
Looking back, I can remember the exact day when Sue and I decided to stop talking about fostering and start doing it. We were sat in a very empty and quiet house on the morning of the funeral of my step-father and we were talking about how the old house was always so full of life and noise, with all the children and family gathering there, but now with mum in a nursing home and the old boy having gone, it was a bit sad. We both said how lovely it would be to hear the laughter and noise of youngsters again and at that point we saw an advert in a local paper for TACT and that is how it all began.
The application process and panel meeting came as no shock or problem, the team at TACT had told us exactly what to expect and were there to help us through every stage.
When the time came to welcome our first placement we were very excited, but it has to be said we were also nervous. We learned that the young lady about to join us had been at numerous placements in the last year or so and could be described as having somewhat challenging behaviour. But after several years of school, police and court visits and appearances she came out the other end and into independence with a reasonable set of GCSE’s and a slightly less angry approach to life.
She now lives with her boyfriend and we miss her enormously. The bond between her and Sue is still very strong and we are now Grandma and Granddad to her two-year-old little girl. We have an enormous feeling of pride for her. Admittedly fostering has been very challenging at times, but when you are handed a little baby and hear the words “go to granddad”, there are simply no words!
We currently have two little men as a work in progress. One is a teenager and has been with us for six years and one a ten year old lad joined us three years ago. Both of them are long term placements and came from very chaotic backgrounds. They can at times be rather challenging, but we wouldn’t be without them.
There is just on more member of our extended family, a young lady who came to stay with us for a respite break some four years ago and has visited most years since then and still stays in touch regularly.
Sue and I are a good fostering team. While she works as a part-time hair stylist at a local hairdressing salon and I am the stay at home ‘lead carer’, we very much play an equal part in caring for the boys. We have an excellent support network in TACT and our two grown up sons who are back-up carers when needed.
Fostering is pretty much as we imagined it would be, we both have a way of planning our lives around the boys.
Probably our best advice to offer new foster carers would be to learn as much about attachment disorders as they can, and possibly more importantly, talk to people who are already fostering. Oh and hope for the best but plan for the worse.
Steve and Sue
TACT Foster Carers
A children's social worker writes about the key areas a new children's minister should address
Following the shock end to Edward Timpson’s time in parliament, the new children’s minister has yet to be confirmed, but there are reports it will be Robert Goodwill, who was previously an immigration minister. While most of the social work world waits in great anticipation for this announcement, it has made me consider what we could hope for with new personnel.
The implementation of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 faced a great deal of criticism. One particular area that gained much opposition was the ‘power to innovate’ clause. Through successful campaigning and well-publicised condemnation of the clause by many industry leaders and academics, it was withdrawn.
The u-turn by the government on this particular aspect of the act indicates that somewhere in Whitehall, policy makers are listening to experts and high-standing professionals.
However, the Children and Social Work Act followed a one-dimensional path in terms of how policy for child protection social work is made. Examples include the government’s decision to develop the accreditation scheme and its proposal for a new regulatory body: Social Work England.
My dream is to extend the listening skills of policy makers towards those who work on the frontline and the families who receive our services.
With this aspiration in mind, I have set out points I feel the next children’s minister should address.
1. Recruitment and retention.
At present, the government’s focus appears to be upon finding bright new graduates to bolster a dwindling workforce.
I believe that the government is missing a trick by not finding new initiatives to celebrate and support over-stretched social workers.
I think that employment law could be used to shift the ‘blame culture’ from the individual frontline workers to the employers.
The Local Government Association’s Standards for Employers and Supervision Framework sets out clear expectations for social work employers in terms of providing a safe environment with manageable caseloads and an ability for social workers to escalate their concerns if they are being provided with too much work.
However, there does not appear to be any consequences set out within legislation to protect workers if they are not treated in an appropriate or safe manner. At present, social workers can feel disempowered when they feel that their practice environment is not safe and compromises their ability to provide a consistently high standard of work.
There is options for social workers to explore the grievance process within their local authority. However, this process is often adjudicated by senior managers who have a vested interested in believing that their working systems are effective. Therefore, there are times when valid concerns about working pressures and unit systems are diminished and not heard.
I believe that as a consequence of many large organisations’ inability to respect and listen to frontline workers ,many social workers leave their positions and contribute to the recruitment and retention crisis. Social workers often do not want to leave their jobs but feel exhausted and powerless to change their working environment.
If the framework could become mandatory and realistic consequences were put in place for employers, I believe that working conditions would improve and thereby social workers would be more likely to remain in their jobs.
2. Adoption is not a panacea for all children who cannot remain with their birth parents.
The past two governments have spoken favourably about adoption as a permanence plan for children. Adoption can be a positive option for children. However, it does not come without risks.
The previous government’s rhetoric appeared to diminish some of the very live issues children who have been adopted face. Even when placed for adoption from a young age, there is a strong likelihood that a child will question why they cannot not live with their birth family in addition to the intrinsic connection that they feel.
With the increasing availability of social media, the dilemma of contact with birth families has become a situation that requires much greater review.
The short-term care plans that are often completed by local authorities frequently fail to take into account the changing world of instant information.
I believe that urgent research is required in this area and how care plans can reflect the inevitability of children finding a means to answer questions and seek contact with their birth family.
It is natural for adopted children to want to know who their birth families are. If we ignore the impact of social media, we are setting up a generation of adopted children to fail. It is not good enough to view that ‘no direct contact’ is in the child’s best interest or even enforceable.
In addition, the current arrangements for the assessment of alternative family members is not in line with assessments for adopters. On average, adopters are provided with a much longer period of assessment and significantly more training than kinship carers or special guardians.
The fact that a family connection exists does not reduce the significant task that these carers are taking on, either immediately after orders are made or during the lifelong commitment to caring for children that are not their birth children.
The landscape through legislation and case law regarding adoption has become increasingly confused and inconsistent. I believe that the whole issue of adoption and kinship care requires a detailed review to assess how the support and assessment times of kinship careers can be aligned with that of adopters.
3. The family court system is imploding.
Over the past 10 years there has been a noticeable rise in applications to the court to consider the long-term permanence arrangements for children.
I believe that the government needs to consider why this escalation in care cases has taken place. It appears that the increased level correlates with difficult and notable cases where children have died due to the negligence of a number of professionals. Many would say that child protection social workers have become risk adverse.
If this is the case, I believe it is crucial that a review takes place to look at implementing a system that works with risk, with increased funding and better resources
The second point is intrinsically linked with the first: is there something to be said about reduced budgets that children services receive and their ability to intervene with the right level of support at a time when change can be affected?
Anecdotally, I have witnessed the impact of reduced funding on frontline services and the general welfare state. In a country where it can be difficult to feed your family or heat your house, caring for your children in an adequate environment can been extremely difficult.
In addition, some of the more nurturing initiatives such as Sure Start and intensive family support have been reduced on a widespread basis to cope with funding cuts.
I know that there is not a ‘magic money tree’. However, without the interventions at the very start of the process being present, how can we expect the cycle to be broken?
Sometimes people make mistakes, sometimes people want to be loved by the wrong person, sometimes people are alone, sometimes people have had poor parenting models with no knowledge of how to care for a child and sometimes people are emotionally low. Without the cement in the paving crack, how do we stop the chasm becoming a sinkhole?
Funding cuts matter because without early intervention, families will not have the support or guidance to make the situation better. In these circumstances adoption – the most draconian option – becomes much more likely.
The third point relates to timing. The 26-week timescale was introduced to reduce drift and delay for children. However, there are times when it has become increasingly difficult for cases to be completed within this timeframe due to complicated factors that arise.
There are occasions when more time should be afforded to a case but due to the strict timeline it is not permitted.
I do not want to go back to a time where court proceedings drift for years. This served nobody, least of all children.
However, there should be more freedom for judges and less emphasis on statistics by the government to ensure that a case can be considered on an individual basis rather than a generic rule of thumb.
4. The courts
The fourth factor relates to the availability of the courts: there needs to be enough resources in place to manage a child’s needs. Sometimes cases can be delayed because there is simply not enough court time to list a final hearing within an appropriate timeframe. The court’s availability should never be a reason to delay the planning for a child’s future.
The fifth factor to consider is the impact of legal funding in relation to private law matters that can sometimes escalate into the public law arena. Sometimes, if appropriate legal support was in place, the situation could be resolved prior to the situation escalating.
The sixth factor to consider is the actual capacity of child protection social workers. The courts need and require social workers to work in a timely and forensic manner. However, with increased caseloads and growing demands, many local authority social workers find it impossible to work in a manner that is fit for the court environment and complete the influx of work that accompanies the 26 weeks timescales.
I am sure that there are many other issues that social workers would like to discuss with you. I feel there should be a working party of frontline practitioners and service users, to finally help the government understand the realities of child protection social work.
Sophie Ayers is an independent social worker who works in children’s services. She tweets @sophieayers1982 and vlogs at weneedtotalkaboutsocialwork.
Community Foster Care has welcomed Vivian Gibson to its Cumbria office.
The Placement Support Worker joins our team in Peart Road, Workington after 14 years as a family worker with Cumbria County Council.
Five of those years were spent with the looked-after children team. She was also a foster carer for two years.
“I’m enjoying being part of the CFC team and getting to know the carers and the children personally. This agency has always been well-regarded by carers for the level of support it provides – and that’s so important,” said Vivian, 46, who has lived in Workington for more than 20 years and has three grown-up children.
Registered Manager for CFC, Emma Weaver, welcomed Vivian to the team. “Her experience with the local authority and as a foster carer is invaluable and we know she’ll be a great asset,” she said.
Community Foster Care, a charity and independent agency, provides foster carers for children all over Cumbria.
Foster carers come from all walks of life and can be male or female, single, married or divorced. They must be over 25 and in generally good health.
Fostering News: Couple who adopted four children with severe medical needs have their tiny bungalow replaced with a five-bedroom house built in just NINE days by the DIY SOS team
A same sex couple labelled 'superheroes' after they adopted four vulnerable children with severe medical needs saw their bungalow replaced with a state-of-the-art five-bedroom home in a heart-warming TV show.
Garry and Kyle Ratcliffe, from Sheppey, Kent, adopted Haydn, 13, who has cerebral palsy; Bella, 11, who has Down's Syndrome; Curtis, six, who is severely epileptic, blind and has cerebral palsy, and Bella's sister Phoebe, six, who is physically healthy but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The family had been living in a cramped three-bedroom bungalow, full to the brim of medical supplies and room for little else.
Nick Knowles and the DIY SOS team come to their rescue by knocking down the tiny house and building a completely new five-bedroom home from scratch in just nine days - something they have never done before.
Over 100 volunteers plus Nick Knowles and his DIY SOS team pitched up to take on the almighty challenge, which was filmed in 2016.
They built the family a much-needed home, complete with state-of-the-art medical technology, including cameras to monitor the children, within the extremely ambitious time frame.
Nick Knowles admitted it was a 'nerve-wracking' build, with added pressure of making it a forever home which the children could really thrive in.
Garry, a headteacher of two schools and Kyle a stay-at-home father said the reason behind their multiple adoptions was because they were determined to give the children a better start in life - but felt they were failing because of their small house.
Curtis was forced to sleep in a cot in the living room, with his sister Phoebe beside him on the couch, while Haydn had a small bedroom and Bella stayed in a makeshift set-up in the boot room.
One of their close friends and counsellor, Jenny Whittle, who has supported them through the multiple adoptions gushed over the deserving couple.
'They are superheroes. It’s very much a way of life for them, I never hear them complain.
'Garry and Kyle see the child they don’t see the label. They are a fabulous family and I’ve been privileged to work with them all these years.'
The pair, who met ten years ago and wanted to start a family began to foster before going on to adopt and say they immediately 'fell in love' when Haydn turned up on their doorstep and never looked back.
Garry and Kyle then went on to adopt Curtis as a 12-month-old, who had been given just months to live, but is now six, and then adopted Bella and Phoebe soon after.
'There was a risk the girls would be split up,' Garry revealed.
'It’s quite a ruthless market, you know a catalogue of “oh I like that one” or “she’s got Down’s, we don’t want a child like that”.
'Bella could have been dumped in care for the rest of her life. No matter what her own circumstances we could not have let them be adopted separately.'
The family spend the majority of their time outdoors and only when they retreat inside is their routine upset.
Garry added that only having one toilet between the six of them causes problems when Curtis and Haydn require medical treatment.
He worried: 'We adopted four vulnerable kids because we wanted to give them the best life we possibly can.
'And we’re not doing that at the moment, we need some space and dignity for all of those kids.'
The almighty challenge is finished in time - with the help of 1,530 cups of teas and a talented roof dog that can climb ladders - thanks to kindness and generosity of the local community.
Builders, electricians, roofers, plumbers, painters, decorators all pitched in to get the house fit for the children.
Garry and Kyle were left speechless after the big reveal, barely holding back tears as they offered thanks to their friends and the DIY SOS team.
Haydn, Curtis, Bella and Phoebe each get their own custom-built rooms and their fathers get their own sanctuary to rest in when the children are asleep.
There's space enough between the hallways for wheelchair access and specially fitted bathrooms for the needs of Curtis and Haydn.
'I cant believe how much thought has gone into it,' a gobsmacked Kyle told the volunteers.
'It’s enabling our kids to be more than they are, which is really important.'
Garry adds: 'You have futureproofed our lives for us really. Thank you.'
The preparation for adult life is a marathon not a sprint and for most people the process begins pre-school.
For fostered children however, the experience can be very different.
Depending upon the age that a young person becomes looked after, their journey may be truncated and life skills, out of necessity, can sometimes be hastily undertaken.
The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) life skills training programme has been created to supplement a Pathway Plan, which is a care plan provided by a local authority detailing the services and support required by young people aged 16 to 21 years. It is a structured and interactive resource to enable FCC’s foster carers to work with their young people according to their age and understanding.
This programme, a year in the making, has been developed using the experiences of young people and FCC foster carers using resources, including local authority programmes that have a proven track record and are user friendly.
An integral part of the programme is a tangible acknowledgement of the young person’s progress in their skills development.
The programme is issued one module at a time and a certificate of achievement presented to mark the progress and understanding shown by the young person.
Throughout the programme the user is encouraged to gather information for themselves using links and QR codes that are provided in the pack.
At the end of each section additional information and exercises are provided according to the individual’s needs and capabilities. For example, the person who needs more help with money management will receive additional resources about that. It is very much a collaboration between foster carer and child, and promotes ownership of the young person’s development. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ checkbox programme.
The whole package is designed to easily evolve and develop according to the needs of the person using it – along with future changes to legislation.
FCC’s Director of Childcare, Anne Bard, said: “The programme is an innovative and interactive way of working with young people to enhance and hone their skills ready for independence.”
A big thank you to our Transitions and Leaving Care Adviser, Pete Johnson, for his time in developing this piece of work. Also another big thank you to our Director of Childcare, Anne Bard, for devising this programme.k here to edit.
Fostering News: Companies profiting from foster care is 'a scandal' says leading Liverpool City councillor
A leading Liverpool councillor is calling for the profit to be taken out of foster care to enable millions of pounds to be reinvested in the care of some of the city’s most vulnerable children.
Councillor Barry Kushner, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Liverpool City Council, describes the current system of funding foster care as a scandal - saying that public money is boosting the pay packets of shareholders of private foster care agencies.
The number of children who need foster care is going up, and it has become a ‘growth market’ according to the Financial Times, while research carried out by not for profit research group Corporate Watch found that foster care has become a very lucrative business.
A lack of foster carers means that Liverpool City Council needs to pay private foster care agencies to ensure it fulfils its obligations to children needing a loving foster family.
The issue is being highlighted as part of a major campaign by the city council, and backed by the ECHO, to recruit more foster carers directly - rather than depending on private companies, many of which are owned by equity capital companies.
£20m - the 'too high' price of caring for Liverpool's kids in need
“There are 780 children in foster care in Liverpool and the cost is around £20m to Liverpool City Council,” said Councillor Kushner.
“Over the years the council has become increasingly dependent on private companies who provide this care for a profit.
“In 2016/17 there were around 290 children fostered by private companies, which accounts for £15m of the £20m we spend on fostering.
"As these private companies charge twice what a local authority pays its own registered carers, that is more than £5m that could be invested by the Council into children’s care.
“I’m not doubting the quality of the care provided by private companies, it’s the high costs that I'm keen to highlight.
“Directors enjoy very generous pay packets, while, according to Corporate Watch, some companies are siphoning profits out through tax havens in the Channel Islands and the Caribbean.”
A rise in the numbers of looked after children and young people and a lack of foster carers has prompted the campaign, which is backed by a number of famous names including Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher and actress Miriam Margolyes, whose mum came from Liverpool.
It aims to help transform the lives of children in the city who are most in need.
Increased demand means that more children are having to live in residential homes or are being placed with carers outside Liverpool, while some sibling groups are being split up.
Councillor Kushner is now urging foster carers who are currently with private companies to consider becoming a carer for the city council.
“In Liverpool, we are fortunate to be able to offer lots of help and support to our foster carers, including a 12-month rolling training programme. And every foster carer has a dedicated social worker,” he said.
Added Cllr Kushner: “Foster carers also receive lots of peer support from other carers and we hold events specifically to celebrate our foster carers and the children they care for and to bring them together, including family fun days and foster care awards.”
“Securing a stable home environment for foster children is vital if they are to have the best chances in life and realise their ambitions.”
“Whether you are older, single or never had children, you can foster."
"Foster carers just need to be able to provide a solid and reliable foundation for children and young people to find theirs.
“It is so vitally important for children and young people to live in a loving, stable environment, particularly after experiencing the upheaval and, sometimes, trauma of being placed in care.”
Liverpool City Council currently has around 1,100 looked after children and young people, with half of them being fostered and the others living in residential home settings.
The ages of children waiting to be placed in a compatible foster family range from babies up to 18 and foster carers are required to look after a child for anything from a few weeks to providing a loving home for many years. Foster parents are particularly needed for older children and sibling groups.
Anyone interested in finding out more can call 0151 515 0000 or check out www.fostering.liverpool.gov.uk
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