Supporting people to overcome the most traumatic experiences

Here at To the Moon and Back Fostering we have some exciting news. Interviewed by The Rising Network, Alison shares our story and how To the Moon and Back started, her beliefs and experiences. You can read the full article here.

If you would like to know more call us on 01223 800420 or get in touch.

When Alison and I decided we were founding our own fostering agency we knew that we wanted to have an agency that focused on having great levels of well-being in our children and foster carers in order to improve the outcomes for children in care, but also that of our professional team too, so that our social workers and therapists felt valued, empowered and respected

We share the belief that the outcomes for fostered children can be improved as a result of applying the key elements of social pedagogy. (Don’t worry, it sounds more complicated than it is)

Fostering Network, a national organisation, with whom we partner, undertook a significant piece of research in to the adoption of social pedagogy in the UK. Social pedagogy is already widespread in parts of Europe. The research was done in conjunction with funding from Comic Relief. One of the overwhelming outcomes of the research linked to fostering children, was the increased length and stability of children’s placements with foster carer’s. Basically the better the relationship and trust between children and foster carer’s the longer a placement is likely to have…(not really rocket science is it?) The length and stability of the placements is a key success measurement for fostering agencies. We believe enabling children the chance to build long lasting relationships with our foster carer’s is worth the extra investment.

Social pedagogy for us is a way of approaching the culture of how we work in the agency. We work in conjunction with our values which stress human dignity, mutual respect, trust, unconditional appreciation, and equality. Our culture is underpinned by a fundamental concept of children, young people and adults being equal human beings with rich and extraordinary potential.

Our approach is to understand the experiences that our children have had, so that we can develop bespoke ways of working with them to support their continued growth as an individual. We provide key opportunities for foster carers to develop their understanding of how the experiences of children, living in care, play out in their emotions and behaviours, so that we can fully support them by understanding their specific needs.

By understanding the real cause of a child’s emotional behaviour we can support the child to recognise where the feelings come from and how they might be able to overcome these feelings, leading to greater acceptance of what has happened and an opportunity to rebuild their confidence. This will ensure foster carers can support the children to grow as individuals rather than encouraging them to conform to social norms, which may be at odds with their unique outlook on life as a result of their experiences.

We support our foster carers in undertaking activities alongside the children, encouraging meaningful discussion and the forming of strong bonds of trust which creates successful relationships.

We believe in taking a “risk sensible” approach. We feel that a looked-after child should be able to live a full and happy life and take the everyday risks that any other child would experience. Be that climbing a tree, building and sailing a raft or skateboarding, we believe these experiences can help children to grow.

We feel that, enabling children to experience managed risk builds their self-confidence and increases their ability to make better decisions for themselves, improving their ability to make good choices later in life and support their independence after leaving care.

Each of our foster carers are offered training linked to the theories of social pedagogy, when they join our agency. This ensures that our approach is holistically implemented into all of our foster families across Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.

Reflecting on what is happening with our children is a huge part of social pedagogy. We enable time and the space to think why decisions were made and the impact the decision has had on everyone involved. By doing this we can learn what works and what maybe doesn’t work as well and improve what we do going forward. We believe this honest open approach enables everyone in our team to share and grow in confidence. It also ensures that the views and expertise of foster carers is valued across the team and taken in to consideration before decisions are made.

Told you it wasn’t rocket science! If you want to know more get in touch.

Angela Hunt
Director of To the Moon and Back Foster Care and a founder member of the Social Pedagogy Professionals Association (SPPA)

Supporting the rallying call for local people to support foster children

At To the Moon and Back Foster Care we are strongly supporting the rallying call from Fostering Network for more foster carers to consider providing support for children requiring care in and around Cambridge

The call for more people to consider becoming foster carers in and around Cambridgeshire came as no surprise to us. We specifically based ourselves in Cambridge because of the increasing number of local children needing foster care and because we are aware that nearly 42% are having to be placed outside of Cambridge because sadly there are too few foster carers available in Cambridgeshire.

Only last week Fostering Network, a national charity identified that across the East of England there are 2,700 fostering households offering homes to 4,755 children and that a further 530 new fostering families were needed across Cambridgeshire and East Anglia to provide for the increased number of children requiring care.

Children and young people find themselves in the care system through no fault of their own. The children have often faced considerable trauma as a result of abuse or neglect and desperately need caring people who can empathise and connect with them to support them to understand and overcome the dreadful start to their young lives. So many people would make great foster carers but they are generally unaware of the difference they personally could make to a young person as well as the financial benefits of fostering.

Whilst fostering is regarded a vocational role, payment is given to foster carers and these payments are subject to limited taxation which means that foster carers can receive tax free sums. The payment varies depending on the specific care need of the children as well as the fostering agency policy on payments. Foster carers working with To the Moon and Back can expect to earn on average £21,000 -£24,000 per child per year*

Fostering a child is a serious role that requires an ability to connect with a child including being able to empathise, motivate and support a child who has had a difficult start in their young lives. We hear from foster carers how they have enabled a child to see the opportunities in life and how they have gone on to college, an apprenticeship or university against all the odds. They talk about the first few days of a child being placed with them and the challenges that arose out of a child getting to know them when they have been abused and lost all trust in grown-ups. They talk about the teenagers who have been neglected and forced to become parental role models to their younger siblings, but suddenly with a foster family, having their own ambitions considered and encouraged. They talk about the young mum who herself has been in care for a while and after having a baby being unable to look after him because she has no parenting skills, but with the help of a foster carer, able to learn what being a mum really is and how to care for her baby so that her baby does not have to go into care too. Lastly they talk of children being able to go back to their family after they have cared for them but staying in touch and remaining a part of their continued lives.

Without the support of great foster carers, children in care are unable to have a family life where they feel safe and secure and able to have access to everything their peers have.

To the Moon and Back have developed a different approach to supporting foster carers in Cambridgeshire. By understanding the real cause of a child’s emotional behaviour we support the child to recognise where their feelings come from and how they might be able to overcome these feelings, leading to greater acceptance of what has happened and an opportunity to rebuild their confidence. This will ensure foster carers can support the children to grow as individuals rather than encouraging them to conform to social norms which may be at odds with their unique outlook on life as a result of their experiences. (see more in our blog about Social Pedagogy)

* assumes that the child is placed for a whole 52 week period

I was lucky to see a premier screening of the KPJR film Resilience recently

Whilst I was aware of the feelings of the American Paediatrician Dr Nadine Burke-Harris about Adverse Childhood Experiences, having seen a TED speech she made, I was unaware of the underlying research, so was totally blown away by the information relayed as part of the film

I agree with America’s Laura Porter, the co-founder of ACE Interface when she says that “This is the biggest public health discovery we’ve ever seen.”

The science of Toxic stress relates to the build-up of hormones as a result of repeated stress causing levels of toxicity which inevitably affects the way the body works, resulting in many physical illnesses which if known about earlier could potentially prevent physical health. “A child may not remember but clearly the body does

Talking about the documentary film Resilience, the director, James Redford said “Think about a child who comes home and opens their front door and there’s a bear in the room, and the bear roars. The child’s adrenal glands begin to secrete cortisol. Blood pressure rises. Pupils dilate. Blood shoots from the stomach to the bigger muscles. This is a biological response to fear. The response of fight or flight. Now imagine that kid comes home every day. But when she opens the door, what she finds in the living room is not a bear but a mentally ill relative or a verbally abusive father or emotionally abusive parents or an unstable situation or no food or you don’t know where your parents are.” He goes on, “Your body will continue to have that biological response if you are in stress. But day after day, those chemicals – the adrenaline, cortisol, the process of high sugar, that whole response, changes the way your brain processes information. It affects the development of the organs on a cellular level. This continual exposure to stress wears the body down, makes the immune system not work as well, makes you more prone to cardiovascular disease, cancers and other immune disorders later in life.”

I think we would all agree that childhood is not meant to be like this, The impact on a young child of this level of hormone on a daily basis will inevitably impact on the health and well-being of a child but also much later when organs have been affected as an adult, leading to many disorders, including cancer.

We feel so strongly that all professionals involved in looking after the welfare of children should see this film we have acquired the rights to show it and we are screening the film Resilience as part of our first conference in Cambridge on the 22nd November. To my knowledge the film has not been screened before in Cambridgeshire so it is a premiere for Cambridge. Having seen this film I am shocked to hear that so many professionals involved in the education and care of children are unaware of ACEs and the documentary.

 

I hope we can reach people to engage them on the effects of trauma on a child and open further discussion about how we face this public health dilemma to improve well-being and educate how to better assess the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Angela Hunt
Angela is the Managing Director of To the Moon and Back Foster Care Limited based in Cambridge United Kingdom