By Sacha Mizroeff, Executive Producer and Kirsty Cunningham, Series Producer
Several years ago some of our team was involved with a BBC series called ‘Protecting Our Children’, which followed child protection social workers in Bristol.
Over the course of a year we filmed intimate stories and tried to reflect everyone’s point of view in nuanced individual cases. It turned out to be far more challenging and ultimately far more rewarding than any of us could have imagined.
Almost immediately after transmission the discussion started about what could we do next.
It didn’t take long to identify the next stage of the care process as the one we should look at – foster care.
We had filmed with several great foster carers the first time around and never had the opportunity to fully tell their stories. We looked to see what else had been made on television and quickly realised that there has not been an in depth non-judgmental longitudinal look at the day-to-day realities of foster care.
“Arguably far more important”
Three and a half years later, with the full co-operation of some of Dorset’s finest foster carers, Dorset council’s workers, Cafcass Guardians, the family court system and many other associated professionals we’re now ready to broadcast Protecting our Foster Kids.
It’s may be less headline grabbing than the frontline duty desk of child protection social workers, but arguably far more important overall.
Home life is where most of the real work with vulnerable children in care takes place, away from the gaze of the public eye – a great starting place for another series where public perception and the reality of a social situation are at odds with one another.
We learned a great deal about the vast breadth of foster carers’ experiences in the course of production. For example, the differences between a family with birth children of their own who are happy to accept teenage emergency placements in the middle of the night and a foster family that are happy to accept children with special needs over a long term period, are so vast they are hard to quantify.
The range of services offered is far too extensive to ever do justice to them all in one series.
Knowing what to film and what not to film was always challenging, but we utilised a system whereby we, the filmmakers, never made the ultimate choices. We asked the advice of all the professionals and family members and only if all agreed that it was in the child’s best interests did we proceed, and that decision was never final, it was constantly reassessed long into the edit.
The process in this type of filmmaking becomes more important than the finished product.
Over the fifteen months of filming we witnessed untold passion from foster carers and an unswerving desire from them to do right for the young people in care. Time and time again we came across unsung heroes, dedicated to their work because they know they make a difference to a young person’s life.
These productions are the result of astonishing levels of co-operation between many groups of professionals, most of whom are never acknowledged or featured in the final films.
This article provides a chance to thank them.
From the psychologist drafted in to help a struggling foster carer, to the CAMHS worker engaging with a vulnerable teenager, to the health visitor checking in on an infant, to the respite foster carer who saw us once, to the patient court clerk who appreciated our lack of knowledge in the court arena, to the council secretaries letting us into secure buildings, to the community groups and community resource workers that put up with attending meetings.
Also the councillors who let us get on with our work, the IROs who would let us sit in and observe decision making, the family solicitors and council legal teams who explained processes and timescales to us, the head teachers who understood the need for extra safeguarding around broadcast, and the Horizons workers who welcomed us in to their centres at the most emotional of times to film final contacts.
But more than anyone we have to pay gratitude to the foster carers and foster children themselves – both present and past – who were brave enough to talk and share their private and sometimes difficult experiences in an appropriate way.
We dedicate this series to each and every one of you and we hope it reflects a small part of the fostering world accurately.
Protecting our Foster Kids starts on Sunday June 7 at 10pm on BBC Two