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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