Foster carers teaching young mums how to parent

Rather than referring struggling young parents to residential units to have their parenting assessed, family courts are beginning to refer them to parent and baby foster placements. Natalie Valios reports on one agency venturing into this area.

Courts are increasingly recommending parent and baby placements

Independent fostering agency Park Foster Care has been helping young parents – usually mothers – to develop their parenting skills by placing them, and their children, with specially trained foster carers. The aim is to keep the family together and stop the children from going into care.

The Cheshire-based organisation has been running the programme for about 18 months. Although two placements collapsed within the first month – with the mothers returning to their partners and leaving their babies in foster care – the latest two have been very successful.

The team learnt from the first two placements and altered the programme model to, initially, focus more on meeting the mother’s needs.

Both placements involve young mothers with two children. Six foster carers are trained, and have the room in their homes, to work in this way. During the process they have a supervising social worker who supports them while the mother has an assessing social worker.

The programme consists of a 12-week assessment: the first stage involves building relationships primarily between the foster carer and the parent and this, in turn, supports the parent to develop their relationship with their children. After developing the relationship they can move into the next stage: developing parenting skills.

Building relationships

Registered manager Philippa Kelly says: “Until foster carers build a relationship with the mum they cannot teach them how to parent because anything they say will be seen as criticism rather than a caring comment.”

The final stage tests the knowledge and skills the mother has gained. After successfully completing the parenting assessment, the parent is supported to live independently through Park Foster Care’s community outreach programme.

Supervising social worker Geraldine Buckley, who carries out the parenting assessments and community assessments, says: “It is one thing being able to parent well in a foster home, but doing it on your own is a huge leap.

“At the beginning of their placements both mums said they wanted to return home afterwards, but by the end of the programme they wanted to stay in this area because they had built up relationships in the community and with their foster carers.”

Stability and consistency

Both young mothers were helped to find a house, furniture, and manage their housing benefit. At first, the outreach programme provides two support workers who can support parents for up to eight hours per day. Their foster carer also remains in regular contact and support is gradually reduced as progress is made.

One mum has been granted a supervision order by the courts “just to keep an eye on things”, Buckley says. “That was eight months ago and she is doing well. The other mum took a bit longer because of her mental health problems, but she is applying for a supervision order at the moment.

The scheme has not been without challenges. For the foster carers, having another adult living in their home can be difficult, as well as watching low level neglect occur on occasion. “The development of the relationship with the parent in the first month is crucial but at times very difficult and stressful,” Kelly says.

Social workers may experience challenges because local authorities are not always sure about the remit of a parent and child placement, Kelly says.

“They do not always have clear expectations and guidelines, so this can leave the parent, foster carer and agency working blind.

“We believe that through the development of our programme we are supporting local authority social workers to have, from the start, clear time scales and a model to work to, which assesses progress at regular stages,” she explains.

Buckley used to be a family court guardian and would send young mothers for residential assessments, but says there was “never a successful outcome”. “I think that’s because there wasn’t the stability and consistency that this 24/7 model gives,” she says.

Kelly adds: “The fostering placement shows them how a family operates in normal parameters and how to deal with things like arguments without resorting to swearing or violence. We hope we are giving them aspirations that they can do something different.”

Related articles

Guide to the April 2011 changes to fostering regulation and activity

Social work guide to foster care placements

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