Shared families

    When it comes to creating sustainable and secure foster
    placements one thing is certain: supporting the children and young
    people in the families who foster is key. “Children who foster are
    crucial to a placement. If we don’t address their role in the
    placement it’s possible that it could break down”, says Tanya
    Rogerson, senior social worker, North Tyneside Council.

    Since 1995, North Tyneside Council’s fostering team have been
    supporting children in foster families through the Children Who
    Foster support group.

    The support group, winner of the supporting children and
    families in fostering and adoption category at last year’s
    Community Care Awards, gives children and young people space to
    explore their feelings about sharing their parents, their homes and
    their families with foster children. It also offers them a safe
    place to address any issues they might have. Paula Gibbons,
    fostering team manager at North Tyneside, says: “The young people
    say: ‘nobody else understands what it’s like to foster’.”

    She points out that while “foster carers are well supported and
    fostered children have support workers, a social worker and
    advocacy – the children who foster have no one and yet they are
    expected to share their families 24/7”. She says: “We’re trying to
    redress the balance.”

    Gibbons says: “The children and young people in the families who
    foster were largely ignored by social workers before – visits would
    be done during the day when they were at school or they’d be sent
    out of the room”. She adds: “The children and young people who
    attend the support group are now more assertive. They stay and they
    want to be part of what’s going on.”

    Children who foster need to be equipped to cope with various
    situations that might arise. Rogerson says: “A fostered child will
    often share their stories with the children who fosterÉand
    they need to know how to deal with what they hear. We decided that
    the group wasn’t going to turn into a youth club – there are other
    facilities for that.”

    To other people thinking of setting up a similar group their
    advice is: “Be clear that it is work and fun and instead of
    worrying and talking about it – just do it.”

    A year ago the support group developed training for children and
    young people whose parents or grandparents are undertaking the
    initial foster carer training course. This is important because it
    recognises the role children who foster play and encourages the
    development of their role. It helps the children of potential
    foster families to think about the impact that fostering will have
    on their lives. An important aspect of this work is to help
    children and their families make informed decisions about whether
    or not to foster.  Hearing honest accounts from the real experts is
    crucial to this.

    Better placement outcomes have been observed for children who
    have been placed with foster families who are realistic about the
    impact it will have on them.

    The young people who volunteered to do the training drew on
    their own experiences of fostering. “They felt truly valued,” says
    Rogerson. “Since winning the award there’s no shortage of
    volunteers!” she adds.

    The young people could hardly contain their excitement at
    winning and Gibbons describes the award as being “the pinnacle of
    my career”. She says: “The day was fantastic – it was like winning
    the Oscars.”

    The prize money will be used to employ a drama teacher to work
    with the support group to develop their skills and confidence in
    facilitating the training sessions.

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