Home Office accused of still ignoring offers to house children from camps in the UK
Pressure is building on the Home Office to fulfil its promise to give sanctuary to child refugees as it emerged that foster agencies across the UK have offered dozens of places that remain unused.
Estimates suggest there are hundreds of places available for vulnerable unaccompanied minors in addition to the 1,400 offers from local councils that the Home Office is accused of ignoring.
Britain’s largest fostering and adoption charity, Tact Care, said that fostering agencies had told the Home Office they had significant capacity to house child refugees. Tact Care alone had 25 spaces that could be used immediately.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact Care, said: “The Home Office could easily accommodate its obligations to offer sanctuary to vulnerable minors. Its response has nothing to do with capacity, it’s essentially an ideological decision they are making. It’s not one based on child welfare or our ability to do it as a country, it’s that they don’t want to do it. We’ve told the Home Office but they are not interested.”
Pressure is also mounting on cabinet ministers who backed a scheme to welcome unaccompanied minors to take a “moral stance” after some protections for children were dropped from the Brexit bill.
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, was one of the Tories to rebel in support of a plan drawn up by the Labour peer Lord Dubs in 2016, which committed the UK to accept almost 500 unaccompanied child refugees. Lord Dubs was one of 10,000 children rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport in 1939.
A separate commitment to allow child refugees stranded in Europe to reunite with families in Britain after Brexit was dropped by Boris Johnson.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, called on ministers and Tory MPs to reverse the “moral disgrace” of removing the protection for children.
“At the election, Johnson promised to maintain the UK’s reputation as a ‘beacon of freedom and human rights’.” he said. “However, at the first hurdle, he showed his true colours: tearing up protection for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Charities are stepping in after growing frustrated with the Home Office’s slowness in transferring child refugees to the UK. The Dubs amendment of May 2016 followed a public outcry about the plight of children stranded in Europe. Campaigners had hoped that as many as 3,000 children would benefit, but ministers set a limit of 480. The Home Office refuses to specify how many of these children have since been transferred to Britain.
Now a project, funded by a Jewish philanthropist, will find family-based placements for children who arrive under the Dubs scheme and ensure that councils have money upfront to provide a home.
The project, launched in Bristol, Wiltshire and the London borough of Lewisham, and run by a Christian charity called Home for Good, is seeking an initial 20 homes.
The charity said the situation was so poor that it had identified children processed by the UN refugee agency in European camps who were still waiting for places to become available. Emily Christou, head of advocacy at Home for Good, said: “We heard that the 480 still seems to be way off. We knew there was public goodwill out there and we knew that local authorities are saying they’ll take more.”
The scheme’s first meeting between a family and a social worker took place last week. The next step will be winning approval from a local authority panel and receiving an allowance to cover the costs of opening their home.
Jennifer Nadel, co-director of the campaign group Compassion in Politics, said: “It is scandalous and heartbreaking that the UK isn’t honouring its moral and legal obligation to these refugee children. We are the fifth largest economy in the world; we have families and local authorities willing to welcome these children with open arms. The problem is the lack of political will.”
The Home Office says it is committed to the Dubs scheme and that safeguarding vulnerable children will remain a priority after Brexit.
Fostered children are being prevented from staying in touch with some of the most important people in their lives, according to a new report from the UK’s leading fostering charity.
Not Forgotten: The importance of keeping in touch with former foster carers, published today by The Fostering Network, reveals that despite the recognition of the importance of relationships in the lives of children in foster care, more than half of foster carers feel they have no support in maintaining relationships with the children and young people who have moved on from their care; and one in four have been actively prevented from keeping in touch, most frequently by the local authority/trust, fostering service or adoptive parents.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for local authorities and trusts to support and encourage contact between children and their former foster carers and other significant people in their lives.
Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: ‘It’s especially important to prioritise relationships in foster care because it is common for fostered children to move homes, for example to other foster carers, adoptive families or wider family members, or to return home. But our report shows that all too often their contact with the former foster family – who they may have lived with for many years – is cut off immediately.
‘Relationships are the golden threads that run through children’s lives. A support network of people who know a child well helps them to feel loved, develop a strong sense of self and maintain healthy relationships in the future.
'An approach that too often, without reason, ends children’s important relationships is one that is not fit for purpose.’
The report highlights that the outdated theory – stating that bonds between children and their carers can only be formed one at a time, and that children should therefore break ties with their former foster family in order to bond with others – is still being used to make decisions about ongoing relationships. Research now suggests that such an approach is damaging and that having a close bond with an adult makes it easier for a child to form future bonds which aids their development and improves their wellbeing.
The report also emphasises that stable ongoing relationships are particularly crucial for children in care who may have faced instability. Tommy’s foster carer, featured in the report, was prevented from seeing him when he moved to another foster family which she says has ‘irreparably damaged’ their relationship. She says: ‘It breaks my heart that I’m being stopped from giving this little boy experiences and showing him that he is still loved.’
Williams said: ‘Having these relationships severed can leave children and young people with a sense of loss and compound previous instances of perceived rejection.
‘Ending these relationships also affects the fostering family, who may have lived with the children for many months or years. As well as feeling loss, foster carers and their families may also experience profound guilt that the child feels abandoned or forgotten by them.
‘This is why we are calling for it to become the expectation that the relationship between children and their former foster families, as well as other significant people in the lives of children, will be supported and encouraged.’
The Not Forgotten report is part of The Fostering Network’s Keep Connected campaign.
Fostering News: Understand or undermine? In the evolution of foster ‘parent’ vs foster ‘carer’...where are we right now?
And what does it matter?
Some don’t care.
I really do. I think it matters a lot.
The debate rages on, yet seems to me to be underpinned by everyone wanting the same thing - the argument, both for and against ‘parent’ or ‘carer’ rests, for everyone, on which is most respectful of the skilled, sophisticated work that people who foster do, uniquely in their own homes.
That latter point is significant; of all the people who engage with the challenges that our children face - teachers, social workers, police officers, therapists etc - only the people who foster, do that work in their own homes.
I was recently struck almost speechless by a very nice chap who came to enquire about fostering. He was heading towards early retirement, having been a Clinical Nurse in a CAMHS team for many years. He was thinking of fostering, once retired, and was hoping to have ‘the easy ones’ placed.
Moment, of jaw on chest.
Did he think that all those kids in care he’d seen over the years were living somewhere other than foster homes? Or perhaps that, once back in those foster homes, their life traumas and challenges were put to one side?
Every practitioner, other than fostering folk, sees our kids intermittently, for perhaps an hour or so at a time, and consider that they are doing important work with challenging young people.
How, then, does it happen that the practitioners who spend hour after hour, evening after evening, weekend after weekend alongside those same young people, are perceived to be doing work that is less skilled, less sophisticated and less important?
Which brings me back to the question of parent vs carer....time to declare our position, and to mark a spot in the evolutionary timeline...we’re for foster parent, not because we’re harking back to an old identity, but because the task - the unique task - is one of professional parenting, which is therefore a unique identity - a type of professional practitioner like no other.
To be a foster parent decades ago, pre-1970s - or a ‘house parent’ in residential settings - was to be a low paid, low skilled someone who made beds and cooked meals and washed clothes...you know...the sort of thing women did, that never mattered to anyone (eyebrow raised, polemically) so wasn’t paid well, if at all. Kids, eh, not a proper job, obvs.
Then there was a bit of a revolution, and folk who fostered began to get paid better, and began to gain some traction to be taken seriously.
Part of that campaign, was a distancing, away from that identity of low paid, low skilled ‘just a parent’, with the introduction of ‘carer’, to reflect a greater, more professional status.
But here’s the thing - ‘carer’, these days, is used for someone who pops into the homes of old or disabled folk, in a uniform or tabard, to help with essential tasks that have become difficult, then they leave, after sometimes only a few minutes. Or it describes other family members who care for relatives out of love and duty, helping with those same essential tasks, often informally.
As noble and marvellous as those positions are, neither are parenting, and children who cannot live with their own families, or whose parents cannot perform the parenting task adequately, need new families, and people who can parent them.
And yet, of course, foster parents work within a highly regulated, highly scrutinised environment - they’re not just parents - they are professional parents.
Their challenge, is for the child to feel that they are a new, loving parent - in an ordinary family home - whilst their colleagues feel confident in them as a fellow professional, with all the required vigilance and safeguarding, and thinking on their feet...in their own, ordinary, family homes.
Good ol’ Nadhim got it, passing through as Children’s Minister:
“I like to call them parents because I think what they are actually doing is parenting.... I think what foster parents do is incredible; the ones that I have spoken to see themselves as parents.”
There is a retort that children themselves do not want just another professional in their life. That’s right - they want, they crave, a good parent.
And to be that person - stepping in to do the parenting - means working within a professional framework, meeting professional expectations, and having additional skills and qualities that most parents do not need.
The concept of professional parenting ain’t complicated, if you truly understand and value the work, and we posit, strongly, that proper recognition for foster parents needs to be embedded in proper understanding of what they do. Inadequate understanding leads to unacceptable diminishing and undermining - eroding of confidence and potency - and why would we do that to our children.
'Fosteringmum’ does a lovely job of describing her experience, worth a read beyond these couple of excerpts, and I’m leaving her with the final word:
“No one questions whether my husband as a management consultant and a father can be both professional and parent – nor my father (a civil engineer and a parent and grandparent), nor my brother (a doctor and a father), nor my cousin (a teacher and a mother). Why should it be any different for me as a foster carer? I am both professional and parent – that is who I am, who I choose to be. Who has the right to tell me I am not?
I can tell you that I give just as much attention to my professional development and how I conduct myself in my foster carer role as I did in my previous job – there are standards I must achieve, communications and reports I need to draft clearly and concisely, training I must complete and processes and procedures with which I should comply....
...AND THEN, as a foster mum, I do all those things that I did as a birth parent with my own children – I take my little one to Baby Ballet class and Baby swimming, I hold her close when she has her vaccinations, I potty-train, I teach her to use a knife and fork, recognise colours, count to ten. I sing with her, I take her to the zoo, I stack wooden blocks over and over again so she can delight in pushing them over, I lie on my stomach on the floor and push cars around. I braid her hair and I kiss her tummy when I change her nappy. And yes, I love her.
And I do all these things knowing that one day (possibly soon) I will let her go to her forever family. I do them in the knowledge that I do not have parental responsibility for her. I do them whilst facilitating her contact with her birth family and protecting myself against the possibility of a complaint or allegation....I am me and I am her mum – her FOSTER mum.
I am a professional foster parent.”
Practical and emotional support from communities of foster carers to boost their resilience
Foster families will benefit from projects offering short breaks, mentoring, emergency sleepovers and social activities with other families to help create stability as they adjust to their new lives together.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (Thursday 3 October) launched fostering projects in 10 new locations, helping hundreds more foster families with practical and emotional support and advice, helping them tackle the day-to-day challenges of taking in a vulnerable young person from care and create a stable environment for them to live in.
The ‘Mockingbird Family Model’, delivered by The Fostering Network, brings foster families together in groups, centred around one experienced foster carer who lives nearby to act as a mentor. This builds a network on which they can rely in difficult moments, in the same way that families who are together from birth often rely on the support of extended family, friends or neighbours, and helping them cope with challenging behaviour or problems caused by trauma before they escalate.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
"Foster parents give stability to children who have often experienced nothing but trauma and chaos at home, giving them opportunities that most of us take for granted. The unique circumstances they face in becoming a new family means they need daily support from people who understand the challenges, offering them much-needed advice and respite when they feel isolated or alone.
Expanding the Mockingbird Family Model into new areas builds on a programme we know has real value to foster families, helping them to form vital communities so that parents can rely on one another through tough times and vulnerable children get the safe, supportive home life they deserve."
The expansion to 10 new areas, part of the Department for Education’s Supporting Families; Investing in Practice programme, acts to keep families together safely and provides a community environment that understands and shares their experiences. It comes as findings from the Mockingbird programme show that foster families assisted through the programme built stronger relationships and became more resilient.
Alongside this additional help for foster families, the Department for Education has also today launched new projects in 18 council areas to support vulnerable children coping with chaotic home lives as a result of their parents’ problems with mental health, domestic violence or addiction. Announced in April and backed by £84 million secured in last year’s Autumn Budget, these projects reaffirm the core principle of the Children Act 1989 that where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.
Kevin Williams, Chief Executive at The Fostering Network, said:
"We’re delighted that the government is showing confidence in the Mockingbird programme and the difference it is making in the lives of fostered children and young people, as well as the foster families caring for them. This extra funding will allow us to bring the benefits of Mockingbird’s extended family model to many more foster families across England and to get further insight into the impact of the programme."
The expansion of Mockingbird Family Model builds on investment worth nearly £500,000 in seven regions to explore new approaches to fostering, helping local authorities understand and meet the needs of children in their area. The funding will help with recruitment and support in the seven fostering partnerships, making sure they are enough foster families, in the right place and at the right time, to offer children the best possible home to meet their needs.
Michael Sanders, Executive Director of What Works for Children’s Social Care, said:
"I’m really excited to be part of this project, which will see a large expansion of the Mockingbird model to 10 new areas, while continuing to build on an already promising evidence base that will help local authorities and young people into the future."
Mockingbird will be expanded into Sheffield, East Cheshire, Wakefield, Warrington, South Tyneside, Barnsley, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Stoke-on-Trent.
More and more people in their 20s and early 30s are becoming foster carers. Here, younger Guardian readers explain why
Growing up in a fostering family, Natalie Wainwright always planned to become a foster parent. But she didn’t think she’d be doing it in her 20s.
Wainwright, who lives in Sussex, is at 23 one of the UK’s youngest foster carers – well below the average age of 45 to 54. After working full-time as a teacher for a year, she chose to go part-time, believing she could have more of an impact as a foster carer as she felt drawn towards looking after vulnerable children.
Wainwright says people are often surprised at her decision, thinking she should favour the relative freedom of her early 20s over looking after children. But she says she still enjoys meeting friends, listening to music and reading books on the beach – only now she’s doing this with her seven-year-old foster child.
“I sometimes wonder about what I would be doing if I wasn’t fostering, but missing out is not a worry for me,” she says. “There are so many experiences I’ve had because I’m fostering.”
Concern over her age has mainly come from older generations. “It’s been older people questioning my decision,” she says. “More people appreciated it of my generation. I think millennials are quite open in general; they’re not sticking to how things have always been done.”
Wainwright is one of a growing number of millennials choosing to foster or adopt children.
She was driven to do this as growing up in a household with looked-after children, she “came to understand very quickly that children in the care system have stories characterised by pain”.
She adds: “It was difficult to grapple with these things as a child, trying to understand the behaviour of the new sibling I had gained. But I realise now that those experiences cultivated a deeper sense of empathy and resilience in me.”
Connie Robertson-Gurie, 27, was driven by altruistic reasons to become a foster parent at the age of 24, after her eyes were opened to the challenges facing vulnerable children when volunteering abroad for a charity during her gap year. On returning, she and her partner realised “what a dire state we were already in at home”, with more than 70,000 children in care in England and Wales.
“The [care] system is broken,” Robertson-Gurie says. “People have now realised that we need to do something a little bit sooner and we need to be helping these children as children, rather than repair them as broken adults.”
For Robertson-Gurie, it’s up to young adults to do something. Foster care in the UK is facing a “looming crisis” because of a lack of government funding and support, the charity Fostering Network warned earlier this year. The sector is already facing a deficit of more than 8,000 carers, meaning children and young people can be put in “risky” and inappropriate accommodation.
A spokesperson for the charity called for increased recruitment of foster carers from all sections of society to reflect the children and young people coming into care in need of a foster family. Some 164 respondents to a Fostering Network survey in 2018 were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 106 in 2016.
Tact, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, has seen a three-fold increase in millennials applying to foster this year, from 10 approved in the 23 to mid-30s age group in 2018, to 36 applicants undergoing assessment now.
“Our younger foster carers tell us that they see fostering as a tangible way of giving back to their community and making a positive difference. Tact has long recognised the skills and abilities that younger adults can bring to fostering,” says chief executive Andy Elvin.
“One couple who began fostering with Tact at just 22 had a teenager as their first placement, and they all agreed it worked really great because the smaller age gap meant they could relate well to each other, and that created a more trusting and open channel of communication.”
Age and perceived inexperience don’t have to hold people back. Legally, people over the age of 18 can become foster carers, and while the assessment process is understandably rigorous, people can consider fostering as long as they are in stable accommodation with a spare room, and enough financial security.
“I was honest with my social worker about how I felt inexperienced,” Wainwright adds, “but she said in some ways it’s better I hadn’t been a parent because a lot of the time people have to relearn a way of parenting, because it’s a different, more therapeutic approach.”
Krish Kandiah, a foster carer who runs the fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, has called for a “radically different approach” to recruitment. He wants people of all ages and demographics to consider it, in order to reflect the varying needs and culture of looked-after children.
When the Guardian asked readers if they had considered adoption or fostering as a millennial, Rebecca, 23, told us she was driven by ethical and environmental concerns to foster or adopt over having birth children. “I have always wanted to become an adoptive parent – [my family] fostered my sister when she was a few months old, and adopted her when she was two.
“Over the last few years I have begun to educate myself on the ecological climate crisis that we are facing, and have made a number of changes in my own life to reflect that – going vegan, package-free, giving up fast fashion.
“I’m not sure if I can reconcile that with the knowledge that I would be bringing an extra human into the world who would consume resources, and also that I would be bringing a child into the world who will have to deal with the consequences of our over-consumption.”
Robertson-Gurie adds: “The world is changing and we need more now in terms of the younger generation stepping up. Millennials think we’re eco-warriors and can change the world. We like to think we’re doing our bit to repair what the generation before us has left behind, and [fostering] gives you the perfect opportunity to do that. We have the future in our hands. We can make a change and I think that’s the most appealing part about fostering.”
Do you work with children and young people who want to change public services, or give voice to the experiences of other children and young people?
We're looking for young people aged 13 - 21 to lead the next phase of the ChildFair State Inquiry: research and development of a new vision for the welfare state by children and young people themselves, with support from a sounding board of policy experts.
This team of Young Leaders will be supported by the brilliant Leaders Unlocked to design and deliver the research project, engaging a total of around 2,500 children and young people from the communities they live in.
They'll be able to challenge issues in areas like education, housing and public spaces, and come up with creative proposals for putting children's needs at the heart of local and national policy and practice.
The team will:
No formal experience is required! We'd like to hear from children and young people from as wide a range of backgrounds and life experiences as possible, and Leaders Unlocked staff can discuss with you what each young person's needs are and how we can support them to participate.
All reasonable expenses relating to the project will be covered for young people. We will also cover the costs of chaperone travel for under-18s and participants with a need for additional support.
If you work in a setting where you feel it would be more appropriate to host a research session by the Young Leaders once they've designed their plan, or otherwise discuss a more tailored activity to enable children and young people you work with to contribute their views, we would also love to hear from you.
This will be a huge journey for everyone involved – for the young people who want to start shaping the state they live in; for the professionals who will hear what children want from their schools, hospitals, streets and housing developments; and for the welfare state, which is strangled by marketisation, managerialism and austerity and desperately needs a new direction.
- Read the full description of the work and the role here, and download materials you can circulate to practitioners and young people themselves.
The deadline for applications is Friday 27th September.
Contact Chloë with any questions about the overall project, or Anna with questions about the Young Leader role.
One woman shares what you need to know if you're considering fostering, too.
Foster carers can fall into a stereotype: middle-aged couples, perhaps retired, perhaps with kids of their own, who are looking to nurture another child.
And the stereotype isn’t untrue. Statistics show the average age of people willing to foster is 45-55. New applicants are, generally, those whose kids have left home – and who have made the decision to dedicate the next chapter of their lives to taking in some of society’s most vulnerable children.
But there’s a type of foster carer who rarely gets mentioned. She’s young, single and in the prime of her life and career. One such woman spoke candidly to HuffPost UK about taking on this role and how rewarding it has been for her.
Veronica, a mother of one from east London, decided to foster more than 10 years ago. Now 46, she has fostered four children long-term and many more for shorter periods. Here she tells her story.
Veronica says: I didn’t fit the stereotype of a ‘typical’ foster carer. I was a single parent who worked full-time – and still went out and socialised. My son and I had a great relationship when he was growing up, but when he left for university at 18, my house was suddenly very quiet. Gone was the hustle and bustle of family life, disputes about housework, music blaring and his friends coming over. In their place was a sense of tranquillity and calmness.
At first I loved it. I was 36, single and had the freedom to come and go as I pleased. But the novelty soon wore off and I felt like I needed to fill a void. It was only then that I really started to think about fostering.
I’d always been interested in it, but thought it was something I’d consider when I was older. The urge to take the plunge and go for it spiralled and, after few months, I decided to look into it properly.
The Process Took Around Five Months
I contacted my local authority to find out whether, as a single woman who worked full-time, I would even be eligible. Invited to interview, they questioned me about my interest in fostering, my skillset and my family history.
I didn’t know what to expect – but I was told soon after that they’d happily welcome me as a carer. I was over the moon. I was allocated a social worker to work closely with me and overall, the process took around five months.
From the onset, I always knew my preference would be to foster older children. I had recently gone through those years with my son, so my mindset was still in that phase of parenting. And I felt I could give more to a teenager. They’re often seen as the age group who are ‘difficult’ to place – problematic, or the ones that cannot be moulded. But I was ready for the challenge.
Even though my son had left home, he was involved from the start. He was interviewed as part of the recruitment process – and was happy to welcome a child into our family when he was visiting from uni.
I Worried I Wouldn’t Be Able To Handle It
My first placement was nerve-wracking. At the last minute, I found myself worrying I wouldn’t be able to handle challenging behaviour in my house – I’d heard horror stories about what happens when fostering goes wrong.
The first young person who came to live with me was 17. English was her second language, so a lot of our relationship was built around teaching her about different cultures. I got her into education to build on her language skills, and the placement went really well. She felt “safe and secure” with me, she said.
I learned very quickly that children of that age have complex needs – anything from serious trust issues to being wary of authority. I was told beforehand that many had witnessed the breakdown of their family, or had victims of serious mental, physical or sexual trauma. With each child, the situation has to be handled sensitively.
Some of the children – especially those from an eastern European background – had never met a black person before, let alone a black person who was born and raised in the UK (me). It was great to dispel the negative stereotypes a lot of these young people held about people of colour.
All the while, my birth son would play an active role. When he was home, he would take it upon himself to make time for the foster children, talk to them and this turned out to be very productive and beneficial to all of us.
I Can’t Deny There Were Struggles
One of the hardest things about fostering is getting too attached – and I learned this the hard way. One teenager was placed with me for 14 months, and it took a long time to build up a bond. She was young and had been through a lot, so found it very hard to trust people. But it just worked, and she stayed with me right up until she was 18.
For her birthday we threw her a small party and she was so happy. As an adult, we both knew she was on the next journey in her life and, a few months after her birthday, she was given her own place.
It was difficult to see her go, it really was, but I was so proud of how far she had come – and what she had achieved in such a short space of time. After she left, it dawned on me how close we got and forced me to make the decision, from then on, to only take on short-term placements. I still see her from time to time, and she always tells me that she has very good memories of her time with me.
Going forward, I knew I had to be wary of getting too attached. I started to tell each foster child I was there to prepare them for their future – it was my way of ensuring they didn’t get too attached, and it protected me emotionally as well.
You Remember The Laughs And Tears
It’s been a journey – and it still is. But I don’t regret a thing. Becoming a foster carer is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I’ve met and nurtured some amazing young people, preparing them for the next chapter in their lives. I’ve established great relationships with them, too.
In the past few years, I’ve started doing much shorter placements. The longest a teenager is placed with me now is about two weeks – and these are emergency placements only. I’ll get a phone call asking if I can take on a child and often the child will arrive with nothing – just the clothes on their back and a sheet of paper with their details.
There are always essentials in my house now: toothbrushes, underwear, and nightclothes. The next working day we will go shopping for a list of things they need. I make them feel safe and secure until we have the placement meeting and, once that has gone ahead, the teenager will be placed with a long-term foster family within a week.
It’s been 10 years since I made the decision to become a foster carer to teens: and I look back now and remember both the laughs and the tears. Changing perceptions and teaching young people about acceptance is a positive and powerful thing – and one of the things I am most proud of when it comes to fostering.
As told to Michelle Martin.
If you are interested in Foster Caring, contact your local council or a fostering agency in your area for more information.
Stella, a Southwark foster carer shares her experiences of opening her home to vulnerable children
Stella has been fostering for nearly 18 years and has looked after over 60 children. Here she shares an insight into what it takes to open your home to a vulnerable children.
“If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me about the children I’ve cared for, over 60 children, I can tell you each ones date of birth and why they came to me. I can tell you that, but ask me what I had for breakfast and I can’t remember! That’s how they are to me. I always want to know what they are doing and how they are, even after they leave me. This Christmas we had over 20 of our children back. This time they came back with their partners and their children. Seeing them now and remembering them how they were- that’s the reward.
“Over the years I’ve cared for unaccompanied minors. When they arrive they can’t speak English and then later I’ll hear them calling 'Auntie, auntie I’m going out!' I cannot explain the feeling to hear that! When they first arrive I’ll buy a good dictionary and we used the phone to translate what each of us was saying. My grandma used to say, ‘Food is the heart of the child!’. It brought us together because we are in the kitchen together and we learnt things from them too. By listening to the child about what the type of food they want to eat for example it helps them feel more settled.
“One night a one boy showed me his home in the Middle East and how it had been destroyed. It took a long time for him to trust me and show me this. He told me about how his home and family were gone and everything he had been through since. When he arrived he was very anxious and kept saying he had a headache. We took him to the doctors but the headache medication didn’t work. I could see how on edge he was, on the bus he would always stand by the door ready to get off. I spoke to a Southwark social worker and was referred to Care Link. We had a very nice person who worked with his to get him the help he needed. People said to me ‘why do you keep him?’ but we developed a relationship with him, we couldn’t tell him to go. This experience helped me feel more confident in opening my door to someone else with mental health problems.
“I always say, fostering is not just a young person or a child coming into your home and you providing a roof and a safe environment: its love. Especially with teenagers, they need someone to love them. You show them this tiny bit of love will help a teenager go a long way.
“The best thing about fostering is seeing the child thrive in their own way, not comparing them to anyone else. To see them out there, being independent and coping with life- that’s the reward.”
The Together Trust’s very own Wendy Coomer has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday 2019 Honours List.
Wendy has volunteered for over 22 years in various governance roles, supporting the Together Trust in its vision to see people thrive because they are valued within their communities. During this time, she was chairman of the board of trustees for five years until 2018. Wendy has been awarded her MBE for services to young people in Cheshire.
Wendy first became involved with the Together Trust as a manager in one of the charity’s special schools in Stockport. In 2012, she was chairman of Bridge College’s governing body when it moved to state of the art facilities in East Manchester, and was a crucial part of the team who lead the campaign to move the charity’s specialist further education college to Manchester. Today Bridge College supports over 80 young people with profound learning difficulties and complex health needs.
“Her support has been crucial over the years and Wendy has been a loyal advocate for the young people we support. Her Honour is well deserved.” Mark Lee, Chief Executive
Although Wendy has now retired from the board of trustees, she continues to support the work of the Together Trust as a volunteer member of its fostering panel and supporting people subgroup.
Chief Executive, Mark Lee, commented: “Wendy has made an enormous and valued contribution to the Together Trust and we are delighted that this hard work and commitment has been formally recognised.
“Her support has been crucial over the years and Wendy has been a loyal advocate for the young people we support. Her Honour is well deserved.”
"This has always been important to me and I hope to continue supporting and volunteering at the Together Trust for many years to come.” Wendy Coomer
Wendy said, “I am surprised, delighted and honoured to receive this MBE. It has been a privilege to work with a fantastic group of staff, volunteers and young people over many years. The team at the Together Trust continue to support me thus enabling me to champion care and independence for people with disabilities, complex needs, autism and their families.
"This has always been important to me and I hope to continue supporting and volunteering at the Together Trust for many years to come.”
Fostering News: Foster carers are used to the insults, but it’s rewarding to take in children who are hungry and neglected
The girl I have in placement is suffering from chronic low self-esteem and in her worst moments crumples on the floor in a heap, which is very distressing to see. Today I spend three hours in the garden talking to her, going over everything she thinks about herself and disproving it. There are tears and snot everywhere. This used to happen three or four times a day, but now it’s just twice a week. Since being with me for almost a year, her school attendance has gone up from 50% to 100%, and doing better academically has raised her self-esteem.
I spend the morning comforting another foster care worker who is concerned for the wellbeing of two children who were recently taken out of her care. She took them to see their family and then got a call saying they weren’t coming back to her again. She tells me she asked the social worker how they would cope without their belongings, which had all been left at her house, and the social worker replied that she hadn’t really thought about it.
I help another foster carer bleach marks made by a permanent marker off her bathroom walls.
My placement is in tears when I pick her up from school, so I spend most of the evening trying to help her deal with some very complex trauma. I get a call late at night from the local authority saying there is a teenager who has beaten up members of his family and they have refused to let him stay at home tonight. I wait for them to bring him to my house but I get a call a few hours later saying he has refused to go into foster care.
I meet up with a support group for foster care workers that we have set up. We all feel unsupported by our local authority. They don’t pick up the phone, so we can’t get hold of our support workers when we need them. When we do get to speak to someone, they are often young and inexperienced, and have not had the adequate training.
I don’t blame the people who work in local authorities, they have suffered huge cuts. Because of this we are, for the most part, alone with children who have complex needs.
I’m so tired. A boy was dropped off at my house at 1am. He arrived with absolutely nothing so after tucking him in, I went to the 24-hour supermarket to buy him a school uniform. He wakes up at 5am wanting to put the TV on. I give him a long wash as it’s obvious he hasn’t had a shower or bath for some time.
As I arrive with him at the school gates, friends of his parents shout abuse at me. One of the mothers screams in my face, telling me that the child was safe with his father. As I walk back to my car, they hurl insults at me.
I arrange to pick him up slightly earlier from school, so he doesn’t witness that abuse. I’m used to the insults, it’s something you learn to cope with.
My new foster child slept well last night, so I did as well. Children are little sponges and soak up their new environment – he wants to know and do everything. This is the really rewarding part of my job: taking in children who are hungry and neglected, cleaning them up, buying them uniforms and sending them to school happy. Seeing him smiling this morning makes it all worth it.
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