On behalf of everyone at To The Moon and Back we wish you and your family

a very Happy Christmas.

As a thank you for your support we are offering 10 free tickets and the offer of 10 tickets at a very heavily discounted rate for our upcoming conference. These are available on a first come, first served basis and the offer is open until the 31st December 2018.

Successful people will be notified by email by the 5th January.

We are thrilled to have Dr Karen Treisman with us again for the conference on the 3rd April and for those unable to secure a free or much discounted ticket, Very Early Bird tickets will go on sale mid-January 2019.

The conference, “Trauma, It’s Impact and How to Care For Ourselves” will be on the 3rd April 2019 (in Cambridge)

An amazing opportunity to hear from Dr Karen Treisman, author of many books, including the bestseller… “A Therapeutic Treasure Box for Working with Children and Adolescents with Development Trauma”.

The conference is great for foster carers, adopters and front-line staff working day to day with people who may have experienced trauma either first hand or secondary to their involvement with supporting someone else.

In order to take up this offer, you are required to email your name to hello@moonandbackfostering.com and quote “Christmas2018moon&back” *Conditions apply.

Conditions

All 10 free tickets will be allocated in order of receipt of an email quoting the above, one ticket only to be allocated to each person, and the email sender must be the intended attendee of the conference and have subscribed via our website or as a result of permission given in one of our conference feedback forms. This is not transferrable to anyone else.

Once the 10 free tickets have been allocated, the next 10 people will be notified to enable a decision of whether they would like to purchase a ticket at the Christmas rate. The purchase does not have to be made, however if they choose to do so, tickets can be purchased once the details are finalised and tickets go officially on sale mid-January 2019.   

 

Whilst the majority of us look forward to Christmas spending time with our families and exchanging gifts, for many children in foster care it can be a time of very mixed emotions. Christmas can be very confusing or an overwhelming experience with some children missing their birth families and unable therefore to feel truly happy. Others having never experienced Christmas celebrations before, find the whole experience, whilst enjoyable, at the same time, slightly strange or bewildering. Even if the children have experienced Christmas celebrations before, given that each family does it differently and have their own traditions, it is likely that the child will have feelings that need to be considered and supported.

The charity, Fostering Network, invited foster carers and professionals involved in foster services to share their Christmas stories. They shared their experiences of trying to create a wonderful Christmas for fostered children and the many changes that needed to be made to their plans in order to accommodate the very individual needs of the child in their care.

The stories demonstrate the amazing expertise of so many foster carers and their absolute dedication to putting their own Christmas experience second to that of the children in their care. What is equally inspiring and tremendously heart-warming is the ability of the foster carers’ birth children, who show fantastic insight, patience and care for the children living in their home, putting their needs ahead of their own.

One social worker from Flintshire County Council states that “most Christmas eves, we get asked to place around five children and we are phoning our foster carers asking if they can care for another child over Christmas”. We too, have experienced similar demand leading up to this Christmas, as local authority placement teams try their absolute best to find a wonderful caring home for each individual child in need. However the reality is that we have no families available to offer as all are at capacity. The demand for new foster carers continues to be very high, with new children coming in to care at a rate of 90 per day across England and Wales.

Mark and Sandra, foster carers reported “Christmas of 2015, we woke up Christmas morning all excited, but our little boy didn’t know what to do and – his little face was blank.” He apparently opened his gifts very slowly with very little excitement, instead looking confused.  After Christmas lunch he told his carers that it had been the best dinner he had every had and it was only much later in the year that they became aware that little boy had never had Christmas celebrations before, “no toys, no special food and no family games”

Susan, another foster carer shared, “We had a five year old and a two year old one Christmas. They didn’t know what an Advent calendar, Christmas Cracker or Christmas dinner was.” She explained that afterwards when she had asked the older child what had been the best bit of the day, expecting to hear it was the lovely gifts, she was told it was the Christmas crackers and the dinner, because they had never had that before.

We are so grateful for the fantastic work undertaken by all foster carers and not just at Christmas time. But knowing that they are all going to the moon and back for the children in their care to ensure that their Christmas is memorable and the best it can be, is truly inspiring.  Their ability to be flexible and put the child at the centre of their day is what makes them amazing.

We thank our team of foster carers and their super families for their tremendous work and support which ensures that we enable young people every day to go on to achieve their true potential.

Wishing a Happy Christmas to you and your family

Angela and Alison xx

 

 

Poet and care experienced Lemn Sissay said recently on a channel 4 programme that he had been told how he was a great survivor of the care system. His response was, he didn’t want to survive, he wanted to live!

At to the Moon and Back Foster Care, we have high hopes and aspirations for the young people leaving our care for independence, we want our young people to feel as confident and capable of achieving their potential in life as we do our own children. It’s worth thinking about our own children, who we are told are finally leaving home much later and often return home numerous times during their early adulthood, after hitting difficulty, either emotional or financial. We are a secure base for our children when they are young and for our adult children to return to when they need to.

Young people leaving care rarely have this secure base. They have had to survive the trauma of being separated from their own family and in many cases have moved around the care system, living with different foster families. On top of this they have had to learn to live with the personal experiences of abuse or neglect that resulted in them having to come in to care in the first place, this is an incredible feat.

Leaving the safety of a foster care family or a residential home to live independently between the age of 16 and 18 is far beyond the experiences of most children but a reality for young people in the care system. They are subsequently vulnerable if they do not have a strong supportive network around them as they move out.

There are several reports and research that highlights the high percentage of care leavers that are involved in homelessness, unemployment, mental health services and criminal activity. A sobering review by Lord Laming for the Prison Reform Trust found half the children in youth custody came from foster or residential care. (2016) http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/In%20care%20out%20of%20trouble%20summary.pdf.

The report made a range of recommendations that focussed on building healthy relationships for young people in care. At To The Moon and Back Foster Care, we believe this is essential basic for all young people coming in to our service and is the basis of the healing process. It is for this reason we describe ourselves as a trauma informed organisation that works on building and maintaining strong relationships.

Some of the recommendations from Lord Laming’s report are shown below. We truly think that these are not hard to expect or achieve. Most are what we should consider a human right and a reflection of how we view children as equal human beings.

6.1 Ensure that each child in care is treated with respect and understanding, is fully informed and engaged in matters that affect their lives, and receives consistent emotional and practical support from their primary carer and at least one other trusted adult. This may be a social worker, Independent Visitor or other professional or volunteer.

6.2 Ensure that each child in care is supported in developing and sustaining positive relationships with their family members where this is safe, in the child’s best interests, and in accordance with the child’s wishes and feelings.

6.3 Facilitate and support peer mentoring of children and young people in care by young adults who have experience of the care system and can act as positive role models.

6.4 Ensure that appropriate responses are made to challenging behaviour without unnecessarily involving the police.

6.5 Ensure that suitable care placements are available locally to meet local need and placement choices are made in consultation with children and young people.

All of the recommendations above rely on the making of good relationships with young people and making sure that foster carers have the right expertise, support, training and good supervision so that they are able to empower a child to make good choices for themselves and build self-confidence. We believe working in this way creates great levels of wellbeing in our foster families and reassures them that they are not alone in providing the care and support for the young person.

We have talked often of the power of an effective relationship between foster carers and the children they support, this starts with an effective relationship between the fostering agency and the foster carers. At to the Moon and Back this is a part of our core values and we believe this is essential and is therefore what we do day in, day out, with our foster carers and staff.

How do we help young people move successfully in to independence?

To start with, focusing on minimalizing the number of placement breakdowns is vital for a young person.  By getting it right from the start, we believe this enables us to support a young person to remain in one placement and work through the challenges and conflicts that arise in all relationships. We do this by ensuring that matching between foster carers and young people is done well, taking time to highlight where extra resources or support may be needed to support the individual needs of foster carers to ensure that they are successful.  Ofsted raised this as something we do well and in partnership with foster carers.

Providing local placements for children is also high on our priority list. Significant numbers of children are having to be placed long distances from their own community, often incredible distance away, as a result of a shortage of local foster homes. This results in them being unable to maintain important relationships with their teachers and friends which may be the only consistent relationships left when they are unable to be with their family.  It also means if they are found foster homes locally, that when young people move on from the care system in to independent living, they are likely to be less fearful about having to move away from what they know or those supportive connections that they have developed whilst in care. We know if young people have moved to foster services outside of their home county through their teenage years, that they can be geographically at a distance from support services that they are entitled to from their Local Authority, and subsequently get caught between staying locally close to their support system or moving back to their borough and having to start to build those connections again.

Our blog from last year, ”It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”, focuses on the need to include the local community around a child living in care. In encouraging others in our communities to help us inspire and give opportunities to young people creates aspiration and goes some way towards improving a child’s self-confidence and hope for their own future. We spend time as an organisation getting to know the areas and services within the areas from where we recruit our foster families and as a result build networks that can support young people to dream big and access resources to help them achieve those dreams.

When thinking about a young person’s future and the opportunities needed for them to be able to support themselves in adulthood, we inevitably look to their education. Education can be a challenge for many young people living in care and this is shown in the often-poor outcomes for care leavers. Only 6% of care leavers go to university https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/nov/07/6-per-cent-care-leavers-university-deserve-better-chances  This is not to say that university is the only option, but what this report acknowledges is the lack of opportunity for a young care experienced person to go to university which is something many of us take for granted for our own children. We encourage our foster carers to inspire our young people to broaden their horizons, whether this is a job, an apprentiship, university or to travel and take a gap year.

Unresolved trauma can affect the way a child responds to the education system. They often require an individualised approach to accessing their studies which is not always available in our schools.  We encourage our foster carers to advocate on a child’s behalf, so that their behaviour is not just seen as disruptive but as an expression of their hurt, loss and often the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds them.  We have found, by our foster families building close links with key staff in schools, our young people are supported through challenging times to enable them to maintain school placements.

Despite the challenges faced by many children when entering care, the prospect of leaving can be even more daunting. We believe in supporting our children to ensure that they are fully prepared for the transition to independence. This may start early when encouraging children to learn to cook or keep their room tidy or manage their pocket money. We do this in partnership with young people, their foster families and their social workers to plan the period leading up to leaving care. This we hope makes it less daunting.

Throughout their time in foster care the young people will learn a range of skills and knowledge to ensure that they can progress into adulthood and independence. This has to be done in a way that recognises the impact of their early care.  We know that this can and does impact on some of the tasks of preparing young people.  Some of the tasks therefore may also include young people understanding their emotional world and how to regulate it.

These tasks include:-

  • Develop their emotional and behavioural skills to be able to deal with a variety of different situations
  • Develop a range of practical skills to help in everyday life such as cooking, laundry, financial budgeting, household DIY
  • Find the best route into further education, jobs or apprenticeships
  • Develop a strong sense of self-worth to ensure they have the confidence to experience new situations and meet new people
  • Promote a good understanding of the opportunities available to them and how they can benefit from these, such as housing options
  • Supporting them to understand how to maintain a good diet, physical, mental and sexual health

We believe in offering our young people the very best chance in life and know that leaving care can be a daunting and lonely prospect.

The young person will require a plan which incorporates what and how a young person will be equipped with the knowledge and skill set required to live independently. This is developed with the young person and is implemented mainly by our foster families with the support of the team around the young person.

At eighteen we believe that young people are still young and potentially still vulnerable, so we offer a scheme called Staying Put. Essentially this enables our young people to remain with their foster carers past the age of eighteen. The idea behind this scheme is to offer the young person more time to adapt to the world of independent living and learn any new skills they feel are required. We believe highly in this scheme and don’t want any young person to feel forced out of their foster home simply because they have legally come of age.

Coming back to the comment made by Lemn Sissay at the very beginning of this blog, research shows the offering to a young person, of a phased introduction into independent living, along with regular contact with their foster family, can help young people to live rather than simply survive!

 

If I was asked to describe my day as a Supervising Social Worker, the answer would be in short “No two days are the same!”. I believe that my role is to provide the best guidance and support to new and existing foster families so that they can navigate through their unique fostering journey and to ensure that they operate within the established rules and regulations governing their fostering practice.

I carry out home visits – I might be visiting families in their homes for regular monthly supervision which can take a minimum of 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on how many children the foster family is looking after and how things are going. This will not be my only contact with the foster family. We will often communicate on regular basis via email, telephone and text messages. Good communication between the foster carers and I is crucial and cannot be stressed enough.

During the home visit, we might be talking about many things and no supervision visit is the same. The focus is on the children’s progress, looking at the different areas of their development, such as health, education, emotional wellbeing, learning new skills including independence skills and so on… I will often also focus on the foster family itself, the foster carers, their children and their wider support network. How are they finding things, are they coping well, how is the working relationship with the Local Authority, what is it they need support and help with? Together we try to identify their strengths and work on areas that need developing. The monthly supervision visit is documented in a Supervision record, signed off and the foster family keep a copy for their files.

 

The foster carers attend regular meetings with the Local Authority social workers, such as the Placement Agreement meeting, when a child is initially placed into their care, or the Looked After Children’s Meeting and Personal Educational Plan Meetings. The latter two are equally important as the Looked After Children’s meeting reviews the children’s care plan in place and the Personal Educational Plan meetings provide an opportunity for the foster carers to ensure that children receive the necessary support to meet their educational potential.

Depending on the care planning for the children in their care, there might also be Long term linking meetings taking place or, if the plan for the children is to be moved on to their adoptive family, meetings with the Adoption Social Workers. I will regularly accompany foster carers to these meetings and support them in advocating on behalf of the children in their care. Foster carers are professionals in their own right. It is therefore important that they feel empowered and confident to share their knowledge of the children they look after and hence contribute to the care planning for the children’s future and actively shape the children’s educational achievement.

 

Paperwork is a necessary and an important part of the fostering role. I might be supporting foster carers with completing their daily logs until they feel confident and comfortable with their style and detail of their recording.  We will also regularly review risk assessments and the foster family’s Safer Caring Plans to ensure that their practice is safe and everybody in the family is appropriately safeguarded.

Often, it is required that foster carers provide input into assessments such as sibling assessments and psychological assessments which inform court decisions and some foster carers like to have assistance with their input to ensure that the most comprehensive information is provided for the involved professionals.

Depending on how long the foster carers have fostered, an annual fostering household review has to be completed, which requires a significant amount of data collection to provide evidence and feedback from other professionals and support networks to reflect on the carers’ fostering year. The preparation for their annual review provides an opportunity to check compliance, renew required DBS checks and medicals and review personal development.  The review is a joint piece of work and if this is the first annual review for the foster family, it is presented to an independent fostering panel, which I attend with the foster carers.

Whilst the above outlines the day to day practical activities that I would usually be involved in with foster families, another equally important role of the supervising social worker is to develop and grow the foster families’ understanding of relational and developmental trauma and attachment and the ongoing impact of this on the children they are looking after.

When foster families become trauma and attachment informed and translate their knowledge into their day to day life, this can have the most transformative effect on children who have been through adverse experiences in their lives.

Supporting foster families with expanding their “tool box”, watching them build their resilience and develop self-care strategies, whilst maintaining commitment, stability and continuity of care for the children is, for me, the most rewarding part of the work.

 

 

Parenting children when one or both parents are not living with a child can be fraught with tensions. At To The moon and Back Foster Care we work with children who are unable to live with either of their parents, but remain in some form of contact. This can sometimes be a bitter sweet relationship with children loving their parents and at the same time, hurting and feeling angry at them for not being there every day for them.

Our foster carers are asked to support and promote safe time with the children’s family and help a child maintain a positive relationship with their parents, siblings, grandparents and other members of their family. This is always done in a planned way that ensures children are at the heart of how this is done. We know that many of the skills, attitudes and tools that foster carers and ourselves use to manage this are transferable to parents going through separations or managing the challenges of co parenting a child with a parent who does not live in the family on a day to day basis.

We hope this blog helps both those thinking about fostering, who have concerns about working with birth families, but also parents wanting to do what is best for their child despite the relationship they may have with an absent parent or one where there is tension between the separated parents.

There are approximately 2.6 million separated families. That is a lot of families working to ensure the impact on a child, of not living day to day with a parent, is minimal. We know however, all of these children are potentially hurting, due to the day to day absence of living with a birth parent.

For many children the distress of parents separating is short term however the longer-term impact often depends on how this is managed by the adults around them.

Jeffrey Gitomer says

“Resilience is not what happens to you. Its how you react to, respond to, and recover from what has happened to you.”

Supporting children to understand the reasons why a parent and they are not living together, can be hard. We hope we can share some of our top tips.

In the short-term children may feel a profound loss and their early response can involve a number of defence behaviours, including: denial, disbelief, dissociation, hyperactivity, irritability and protest, alarm and panic.

Remaining focused on what your child needs is essential. Children want to feel loved, cared for and in a stable and safe environment. We advise our foster carers that the first step to supporting a child, is making their home life feel predictable. Routines allow a child to feel contained and this can be a first step in making sense of the difficult parts of their life.

Open communication is essential when children are not living with one or both parents. Children can tolerate the truth. They need to be reassured that whatever the circumstances, it is not their fault. Adults are responsible for how they manage the adult relationships. Children should be shielded from the tensions between parents and not be used as a middle person to pass messages or as a weapon to punish the other parent.

Children do not want to hear negative things about a parent, they potentially want to have a relationship with both parents. They do want to be able to talk about their parents and not feel guilty or disloyal to another parent. We find children may want see photos of their absent parent, may want to share memories and talk about how they feel. Children should be able to do this without the fear of letting someone else down or upsetting them.

No matter what is going on for a child, our top piece of advice for you as a parent or foster carer is to listen to the child in front of you and be resilient enough to cope with their emotions. This will help show them that they can talk to you about how they’re feeling.

Many would say they listen but you need to consider, if are you really hearing what they are saying? When children find their home circumstances change, they often find their adult care giver is also in emotional turmoil.  For example in separating parents, this may be your own hurt, anger or sadness at the losses you are experiencing.  For foster carers it may be the same feelings based on what you hear about a child’s situation or birth parent. Ask yourself a question, are my emotions helping this child? If the answer is no, then you may have to park up your own feelings in front of the child and have your own space and support to express these. Children need to see adults who are able to express emotions but can also contain them.  Finding an avenue to vent your own feelings is essential.  This should be through a supportive friend or family or through a service set up for parents going through separation.

We advise our foster families that at times of contact with a birth family, behaviours may change in their children, we want our foster carers to understand that the behaviour is communicating a feeling. So, when faced with anger and difficult behaviour, we ask them to provide love, understanding and support, this does not mean ignoring behaviour but putting it in context of the circumstances. It is important to create opportunities to discuss the child’s feelings and actions, define what is acceptable and what is not and work together on finding alternative and appropriate ways of dealing with angry or sad feelings.

Supporting children and young people to regulate their emotions is one of the key skills needed for their adult life. This is not always easy when there are tensions around parents working together. We sometimes find with the families of the children we work with, that they can feel angry at foster carers for having their children when they cannot and they may want to tell them how to parent them or sometimes say things to make their task harder. This may be similarly an issue also between separating parents. Thus finding ways to enable a parent to feel part of their child’s life is essential. Showing respect to a parent because of what they mean to the child in your care is not always easy, but it is in the best interests of the child. We find no matter what has happened in a family, children want their parents, in many cases, in their life and just want this to be safe and about them and not about the problems in the adults life. Children of separated parents often feel the same, they want to have a relationship with both parents and not want to feel that they have to be loyal to just one parent.

It is not always easy to work alongside a parent when there are tensions, we offer the following top tips which we share with our foster carers when working with a fostered child’s birth parents.

When tensions are rising between parents, take it somewhere else. It is important not to argue in front of children, whether it’s in person or over the phone. Ask the other adult to talk another time or drop the conversation altogether.

Use tact. Refrain from talking with your children about details of parent’s behaviour. It’s one of the oldest sayings around… “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

Be nice. Be polite in your interactions with birth parents. This sets a good example for children and young people and when you are perhaps on the receiving end of a negative comment or behaviour be gracious in your response.

Look on the positive aspects of the relationship, choose to focus on the strengths of all family members and encourage children to do the same.

Work on it. Make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your children’s parents as soon as possible. Watching you be friendly can reassure children and teach problem-solving skills as well.

If our blog has inspired you to find out more about the role of foster carers, check out our website at www.tothemoonandbackfostering.com.

At To The Moon and Back Foster Care we know that one of the biggest needs for our partnering local authorities is for families to care for teenagers, however despite the increasing demand, the families coming forward to foster are often anxious about fostering teenagers for fear that they will bring trouble to their door. We know that caring for teenagers can be exhausting at times but it is also one of the most rewarding times about parenting/fostering, because we can see the emerging adult develop.

Teenagers in many ways have always had a bad press. Stories of gangs, antisocial and risky behaviour can be regular news items. However, in 2010 an under published research highlighted that “75% of young people regularly volunteer to help others, and most have values far removed from the fame-and-fortune obsession normally attributed to the X-Factor generation.” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/sep/02/youth-bad-news-stories

We know however that raising a teenager can be a challenge and it was for this very reason that in November 2018 we held a local conference with Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist and author and Poet Ben Westwood. At this conference we talked about how we care safely and successfully for adolescents. We trust that some of the information, advice and tips raised in this blog will help parents living with teenagers, or maybe encourage those out there thinking perhaps fostering might be for them, to consider fostering teenagers.

Adolescence is often linked to teenage years, traditionally starting as children move in to their thirteenth year and ending at eighteen, however if we link adolescence with puberty and the associated hormonal changes that often result in some of the presentations associated with teenage years, then this might start at an earlier age. Girls can start puberty between  8- 13 years of age, with the average age of onset being 10 ½  years old. In boys this can begin between 9 and 14 years with the average age being 11 ½ years.  https://www.verywellfamily.com/when-should-puberty-start-2632063

The onset of puberty is when the body starts changing and as a result the hormone levels in children raise to enable their bodies to start the process of maturing. This period is often associated with the emotional rollercoaster of the teenage years.

What can we expect from adolescence?

It is a time of change, one when young people begin to separate from parents and show signs of what kind of an adult they might become. There are surges of hormones combined with body changes. There may be a struggle for them to find an identity compounded by potential pressures from their friends and peers. Overall there is a sense of development of independence, but this is a confusing time for young people and can be very challenging for those caring for them. The hormones increasing in the body means that children can struggle to regulate their moods, they may present as changeable and struggle to explain why they feel the way they do. They may be withdrawn, sullen, snappy or quick to become angry. We also know for teenagers in the care system, there can be additional pressures placed on them around their identity after all they are separating from both birth families and foster carers and potentially with an added clash of family norms between their two worlds.

We know during this time that there are significant changes in an adolescent’s brain development which gives rise to some of the reasons why this period in a teenager’s life can be challenging.

Adolescence is a time of significant growth and development of the brain. The neuroscientists are now seeing that the brain does not actually fully mature until we are 24-25years old,  we might therefore think of adolescence as a period of time that lasts a lot longer than merely teenager years.

Neuroscience

During adolescence the unused connections in the “thinking and processing” part of the young person’s brain (called the grey matter) are ‘pruned’ away.  In short the unused connections in the brain that have not been built are simply pruned in order to make space for other connections which are being used, in order for the connections to grow stronger. This is the brain’s way of becoming more efficient, based on the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. You may consider this as rejigging and decluttering a filing cabinet in order to make space for new and expanding files.

The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is remodelled last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain, responsible for a young person’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of actions, solve problems and control impulses. Changes in this part continue into early adulthood. The mismatch of the emotional regulation maturing along with the growth and pruning of the brain is part of why we associate teenage years with a rise in risky and impulsive behaviour.

Put simply, as the brain is changing, the abilities of our young people, their thinking and ability to process and make sound decisions develop at a slower rate than the development of the part of the brain that regulates emotional responses. The consequences are likely to be impulsivity, lack of thought about consequences, living in the moment and a move away from parents who may push for reason and sensibility.

What does this mean for the parenting role?

Well, we can safely expect young people’s emotional lives to be like a roller coaster.  We also know that young people find their peer group become more important to them, in terms of what they believe, what they like and what they do. They are a significant influence on a teenager and can become more prominent in a young person’s life. Some might think that parents, carers and family become less important to them, but this is not totally true. What we do know is that a young person’s peers become more important to them and that the role the parent initially plays in socialising their young person, shifts, to be taken on by their peers.

However parents and foster carers have an important role to play in the growth and development of their teen throughout adolescence and into adulthood.  Studies have shown that teenagers who feel a secure connection with their care giver are better able to disengage and form healthy relationships during the rest of their life.

For foster carers, we know offering support through the teenage years can be harder because adolescents may have started life with less secure relationships with their own parents.  This may be because their parent had their own issues that became their preoccupation such as mental health challenges, addictions, or their own unresolved childhood traumas. Many teenagers may also have had the added pressures of supporting younger siblings in the family. Some of our teenagers have taken on the responsibility to parent younger children and they may try and continue to do this whilst living with foster carers. They may also have had less opportunity for their own needs to be recognised and consequently met by an adult.

The building of a predictable and empathetic relationship with the adolescent is the priority for the foster carer. It is a priority for a relationship to be built where there is sensitivity to the changes going on for the young person and an understanding of how this might feel for them. This is likely to contrast with the lack of consistent early nurturing care from their own family. When fostering teenagers, a carer may be the first person who is predictable, patient and in tune with them. They may identify key skills and talents and nurture them.

For all care givers, remaining committed and open to the relationship with a teenager whether they are your own or a foster child is the priority and not taking the changes in the relationship as a personal rejection.

Understanding more about a teenager’s development might help us think about how best to support a young person move through the teenage years feeling supported but not controlled or constrained. In order to achieve this we know that building strong communication links, having a sense of acceptance and an ability to help a young person regulate their feelings, are essential.

Here are some of our top tips.

Allow teenagers to take some healthy risk. New learning comes from feeling empowered and learning from mistakes. Risk taking has to be balanced against safeguarding young people but building in steps to manage risk is vital. New and different experiences help a child develop an independent identity, explore grown-up behaviour, and move towards independence.

Enabling young people to find new creative and expressive outlets for their feelings is important. Many teenagers find that doing or watching sport, listening or playing music, writing, painting and other art forms are good outlets for expressing safely how they may be feeling. Helping young people understand what is happening internally for them, can help them understand why they may need new outlets for their emotions.

Talking through decisions step by step with your young person and listening to what they need is a key task for caring for teenagers. By asking them about possible courses of action they might choose, and talking through potential consequences can encourage them to weigh up consequences for themselves.  Enabling the young person to take some of the control in decision making is essential, as young people are beginning to want to be more independent. For young people in care this is essential. Many young people in care talk of feeling like they are controlled and have little say with so many people involved in their care, this is a small way of helping them take back some control.

Use family routines to give your young person’s life some structure. These might be based around school and family timetables. Positive predictability allows people to feel safe through turbulent times. It can also help build an essential sense of trust in the adults.

Provide boundaries and offer opportunities for negotiating those boundaries. Young people need guidance and limit-setting from their care givers, but be open to reflection on what is working best and be prepared to offer some flexibility.

Offer frequent praise and positive rewards for desired behaviour. This reinforces pathways in your teenager’s brain.

Be a positive role model. Your behaviour will guide your young person about the behaviour you expect.

Stay connected with your young people. You’ll probably want to keep an eye on their activities and friends, by showing interest rather than control you are more likely to be able to keep the dialogue going. Continuing to be open and approachable can help you with this.

Talking with your young person about his/her developing brain can help them see what you are doing and why. Having an understanding about this important period of growth might help young people process his/her feelings. It might also make taking care of his/her brain more interesting to them.

Last of all, but one of the most important top tips, is to look after yourself. As a trauma informed organisation we see the impact raising children can have on adults. Children can be exhausting and fostering children can bring additional stresses. Self-care and protection from burn out are so essential. We believe in this so strongly that we have dedicated our next conference to self-care and protecting from secondary trauma when supporting people who are fostering or parenting children who may present as challenging at times.

After a great year, we were asked a few questions recently about our motivations and opinions about the work we do, including what drives us and what is in store for 2019.

Not many people decide to set up a new fostering agency why did you decide to start “To The Moon and Back Foster Care”?

Alison I have worked with children living within the care system for over twenty-five years in every level from residential worker to senior manager and now owner. I remain as passionate about it as I was on day one as a rookie care worker. For the latter part of my career I have worked as a contractor supporting organisations with their recruitment of foster carers, sometimes providing training, sometimes in managing a team or by dealing with conflict between families and agencies. After working with Angela in one organisation for a year, I knew that we shared similar values and the vision to improve outcomes for children and foster carers. When she suggested that we could start something new that could embrace our vision and values, I was excited that we could create something that we truly believed in and that had at the centre, the values that we both share. I knew I could combine my knowledge and experience from the range of roles I have had with the level of experience and passion that Angela has.

Angela. I had a sliding doors moment in 2013. I was as a self-employed consultant in the adult care sector supporting organisations to transform and build high performing teams. At a conference, I was sat next to an owner of a fostering agency and she asked me if I might be interested in meeting her business partner with a view to me undertaking some transformational work for them. What was initially a 12 week piece of work for the fostering agency, led to me becoming their CEO and staying for two and a half years.

I recall being very surprised by the sector in general but in particular the low morale of social workers and the perceived lack of foster carer support. The outcomes for children leaving care, I felt, were far too low and placement breakdowns were remarkably high. I had fallen in love with the children we supported and wanted to do so much more for them. It was whilst in my CEO role that I met Alison. She inspired me with her determination to challenge low expectations and work to deliver excellence. I decided that if I wanted to really positively influence the sector then the best way would be to set up a brand new fostering agency that could be focused on creating the right culture for foster carers and social workers to have high levels of wellbeing and thus achieve consistency and fantastic outcomes for young people. I knew that I would want to work with Alison, thankfully she shared the same vision of what we could achieve and so “To The Moon and Back” was born.

 

Why do you think there is a need for another fostering agency?

Alison There is a short fall nationally of between 7,000 to 10,000 foster families. I think there is room for an organisation that can provide bespoke care for its families and offer the personal touch. It feels that so many agencies are having to be predominantly focused on targets for investors and shareholders, we are simply offering people another choice, a choice that I think a lot of people are wanting. I know from my own network that what families and social workers want is to work for an organisation that puts wellbeing, good practice and young people at the heart of what they do.  Many organisations promote that they do this and individual staff often do, but in large organisations it can be easy to get lost as an individual.

We have a terrific level of expertise between the directors and our team of staff and we recognise the needs and desires of children in care and foster carers.  e have included in our team, care experienced people, foster carers, consultant therapists/play therapists all of whom add to our discussions and decision making, so that the voices and needs of children and foster carers are heard and acted upon.

We all have a hands on approach and as a director I would never ask any of the team to do anything I would not be prepared to do. I also truly believe as directors we expect our children living in our foster homes to have the level of care we give our own children.

Angela. It is important that foster carers have access to real choice. Whilst it appears there are lots of different fostering agencies, many of what appear to be independent are owned by large organisations which despite the intention to maintain the individual brand, the culture eventually changes as the leadership becomes more influenced by the decision making of the shareholding board. There are some fantastic people working in these organisations, but their ability to truly influence decision making is limited. I think what we are offering is a culture that everyone would like to be a part of and we are aiming to work innovatively in order to keep costs low so that our LA partners also value what we do because it gives great value for money. Fantastic outcomes do not have to cost more and there is room for more value for money in today’s world of austerity without losing quality.

You are based in Cambridge but you cover a wider area than Cambridgeshire, how do you provide the level of support to foster carers outside of Cambridgeshire

Alison Cambridge is the office base but most of the work with families happens in their home, the office is a statutory requirement but the real work lies out in the community with our young people, foster carers and collaborating partners. Support to our families is our priority and we use technology as well as face to face visits to ensure we have a local feel. I can facetime and skype a family quickly to talk through an immediate issue, but can arrange follow up and a visit as soon as it is convenient without them losing the immediacy of good advice. Our records are all electronic and our team can access them 24 hours a day. Support groups and training is done locally, in which ever county we are working in. We take time to get to know the area and utilise the resources available to us. We centralise our conferences and open them up to other organisations and as a result we have found working with local services easier because we have met them and trained with them. We have a closed on line group available to keep everyone linked in and offer a platform for peer sharing and questioning.

Angela Our office in Cambridge is our administrative base which for our Cambridgeshire foster carers is a good place for them to meet. However in other areas we utilise good spaces as we need them for meetings or training. We work with local communities to identify good spaces that will not be expensive, ensuring we can provide the financial resources where it is needed most and not wasted in empty or infrequently used spaces for which we have to pay rent.

It is very important that our support team can be accessed by our foster carers. We tend to look for supervising social workers who live close to the foster carers they support, so that they can spend more time in foster carers homes rather than in their cars in traffic trying to get to work.

We keep the number of foster families per supervising social worker at a lower level than most so our foster carers can rely on the ability for us to support them well. Our flexible working system means we can be available when they need us most, plus we enable our team to make decisions quickly which means there is no having to wait for decisions.

We work proactively so that we can identify potential challenges and we work to prevent them happening rather than waiting for it to happen and having to be a crisis focused service.

Our support comes out of the great relationships we make with foster carers, we get to know each other very well and the most important relationships are between the supervising social worker and the foster carer. Geography is no long a major issue when building good relationships.

In your Ofsted inspection report it says that your Statement of Purpose is embedded throughout your service, how have you made your values and mission so central to what you are doing  

Alison The statement of purpose is not a tick box document it was the starting point for Angela and myself to decide what was important to us both. Once we were clear of what we believed the right values and mission were, it was easy to ensure everything we did aligned with what we believed in.

Every document came from the starting point of how do we keep children and foster families central to our service delivery whilst exceeding the minimum requirements in line with legislation. Because we started with the values and beliefs of how we should work everything else developed. We always say building great relationships is not rocket science and we truly believe that if you care for people and recognise their value, that people will shine throughout the organisation.

Angela The values of an organisation are central to the behaviours of the team and the outcomes for those you serve. I have seen many organisations whose values on paper are incredible, however in practice, they do not exist. The values of an organisation can be felt by everyone in the organisation. We can feel if we are more than a pair of hands, or if we are truly valued and cared for in an organisation.  I have met people who try relentlessly to do their absolute best but feel unsupported and taken for granted, consequently their morale is affected and their wellbeing suffers so that they have to give less of themselves to the job for their own self-protection, as a result the foster carers and children suffer. There is a great Scandinavian pedagogy term for the ethos, or attitude of an organisation. It is called Haltung. I agree with Eichsteller, who says “In our interactions with others, our ‘Haltung’ will have an influence, because the way we think about others and our relationship with them affects the way in which we engage with them. Most children, for example, will know when we genuinely care about them or when we pretend to care. In a sense, our ‘Haltung’ shines through in our relationships with others, which in turn colours their behaviour towards us”.

What has inspired you most about your foster carers?

Alison The families we have approved all inspire me, they are individual in how they foster but all have a sense of wanting to provide an outstanding level of care. Our families have all gone the extra mile with tremendous humility simply seeing it as part of their role The level of commitment to each child placed has been impressive and this has meant that despite some of the tough times our families have dared to care and this has enabled the young people to settle despite how hard that might be.

Angela I am in awe of anyone who can give a loving home to another child and build great relationships from a starting point of having never met that child before. It takes a great family to build these quality relationships with a child who may have experienced trauma in their lives. They see themselves as ordinary but to me they are far from ordinary. I am inspired every day to do the best for them, because they deserve it.

What does being Trauma Informed mean for you and how does it add to the service you provide to young people and foster carers?

Alison This is a non-negotiable part of fostering for To The Moon and Back. Being trauma informed is about understanding what children have gone through prior to coming in to care and how that has shaped who they are. I do not believe you can foster without appreciating what abuse, neglect, loss and separation does to a child.  It does not need to be at a high academic level but being trauma informed means sharing with foster families and our collaborating partners our knowledge and ensuring they and ourselves have access to up to date information about how adverse childhood experiences affect the body, the brain the ability to regulate emotions and how the body can move on from trauma to a place where children can achieve amazing things.

Angela Being aware of the impact trauma can have on an individual is a basic point of entry I feel for anyone involved in fostering. The impact of trauma felt by a child who has experienced neglect or abuse is individualised and as such we have to be open to the impact this may have on behaviour, ensuring that we see behaviour as a communication of what is being subsequently felt by the child.

Being informed means we can work in the best way for as long as it takes to support the child to come to terms with what has happened to them and go on to fulfil their potential in life. Being trauma informed helps us to support our foster carers and staff to deal with the potential impact working with a child’s trauma can have on them too. We build trust in our relationships and work to ensure that we reflect and engage positively at times of supervision so that we can support opportunities to improve wellbeing and ensure our team never feel alone in their work.

You have said it takes a village to raise a child, what do you mean by that?

Alison Raising any child is hard and I know both as a parent but also a long standing social worker that children and those raising them need help. This can come from a teacher who gets the child, a local scout group who welcomes the young person to their troop, or the neighbour who offers a cup of tea to a worn out foster carer and provides some space to laugh or cry. Achieving great fostering outcomes are not just about the work of the main carer but involves their family friends, our staff and lots of others in the community who have an impact on the young person.

Angela I wrote a piece about my childhood living in a village and the feeling of safety and support I had when growing up. It is an African proverb that means there are so many influences on a child that helps them form as an adult. These influences start with the closest family and as the child grows older more influences come from the circles of acquaintances they make from teachers to friends. People come and go depending on what is happening in the child’s life but they will always remain as part of the influencing on their life.

I feel that as a community we should support the children living in care. They do not have the same opportunities that their peers have. Children in the care system may have been out of education for a while or have had disruption to their education as a result of their experiences at home. As a result they may not have the same opportunities as their peers to try new things or get chances to visit places. Local businesses and services have the chance to inspire children and children in care may need a little bit more time or a slightly different approach. I have been very lucky to make some wonderful connections in different businesses, all of whom have said that they would love to be able to support children who are interested in certain careers. I am always keen to talk to anyone who feel they can be part of the influencing village around the child.

Creating an environment or culture where great levels of wellbeing exist in foster carers, young people and staff is a great aim, what steps do you take to ensure your own wellbeing is at a high level  

Alison This is something that I work at and don’t always get right. I know I need to eat well and get sleep, and exercise. Some days I do great at this, other days I fail miserably. I have a built in network of support both personally and professionally.

I know as a working mum I cannot do everything so I have help from people and accept that I don’t run a perfect house. I am also in a strong network of professional support. I attend a CPD group and have been there for over ten years. They push and challenge and support me to improve what I do. I have a social work mentor I can talk to and both professional supports ensure I can listen and support families knowing when I feel overloaded, stressed or impacted by the trauma. I have a place to go and safely manage the feelings and make sense of what I am doing. Angela and I talk a lot and also laugh, we enjoy working together despite the intensity of this at times. I do what I preach, and share via my training and supervision of social workers the good practice and help them with offloading the trauma.

I am an advocate of mindfulness, I discovered this thirty years ago after a personal loss in the family and developed a love of meditation, I wish I did this every day but I do it when I can. I fit in when I can, my personal time whether this is a shopping trip or a quiet coffee with my friends.

It sounds like I have it sorted. There are days when I do nothing that meets my wellbeing at all,  I eat cake, chocolate and get grumpy, and that is because I, like everyone else, am not perfect!¬!!!!!

Angela I am the first to say it is easier to support someone else than for me to follow my own advice… I have always worked long hours and whilst I am aware how this can impact on my wellbeing, when something needs to be done it needs to be done. However I do try to balance this.

I have always liked to be active. I used to run but now cycle. I find cycling very enjoyable, so much so I cycled from London to Paris recently raising funds for a charity. I enjoy walking in the fresh air regardless of the weather which gives me the energy I need. Whilst I am not a practitioner of meditation I like listening to music and reading and love the mindfulness of being creative. I reflect often and attend each month a meeting with a group of people who challenge my thinking and support me by coaching me.

Alison and I look out for each other and make sure that we maintain our wellbeing levels so that we are always performing at our best and role model this for everyone we support.

What has been your biggest challenge this year

Alison Balancing, giving my children and husband time, whilst also setting up To The Moon and Back. I obviously want my children to see me and have time with me, I want to see their nativity plays, take them to the park and be around for them, whilst also working. I think many families have the same struggle. My children still give me cuddles and like being with me, so I must have achieved something good for them whilst working.

Angela I have felt frustrated by the portrayal of the image that all independent fostering agencies are focused only on the profitability of the company. I deliberately wanted to give foster carers a choice and an opportunity to help us build something special that may challenge the sector, to see that it is possible to achieve great levels of support and outcomes for children without it having to cost LA’s more, furthermore that it can be done morally with good ethics. Alison and I have funded everything we have done so far ourselves, which hasn’t been easy. We have not always gone the easy route, but I believe it has been worth it and as more people choose us, clearly they think the same too.

What has been your biggest highlight in 2018

Alison Seeing our first young person thrive with our first foster family. They trusted us as the first family to join us and to see a young person arrive and settle was amazing.

Angela Having our first Ofsted Inspection and being formally recognised for so much of what we had set out to achieve. In particular being recognised as providing levels of support that foster carer’s value and having great outcomes for our children.

What is in store for To The Moon and Back in 2019

Alison More of the same, I would love to meet and support more families to join our organisation and provide a wider range of homes for children and young people. We turn away too many referrals for children that we could provide great care to with more families.

Angela We have an exciting year ahead. We have inspired people in Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey as well as Cambridge to consider fostering with us and we intend to do more of that. We are grateful for the support we have had so far. Knowing that people have belief in our ambitions, inspires me to push to get it right.

We have some more fantastic conferences lined up, with the first for 2019 on April 3rd. We plan to expand our team with more likeminded people, keen to continue with us to go to the moon and back for our children, foster carers and staff team.

Recently we were invited to a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons to discuss and share our thoughts on the benefits of social pedagogy. Pedagogy is widely acknowledged across Europe where front line family workers are trained as social pedagogues which in many European countries is a profession in its own right. Their approach to family work is slightly different to that of a traditional social worker and is based more on practical and creative ways to engage with and facilitate change whilst still using the academic knowledge and skills used in social work. As pedagogy has become more widely acknowledged as good practice in the UK, pedagogues from across Europe are being employed in their capacity as social workers because their approach is believed to result in good outcomes for families as a whole.

 

When Alison and I decided to found a new fostering agency in 2016, we were explicit in our determination to develop an authentic organisation that truly focused on everyone in our team feeling valued, empowered and respected. Our values and mission, without intention, are, perfectly aligned with what is becoming recognised as best practice in a social pedagogic organisation. We have worked to create a culture that has authentic relationships at the centre of our service. In achieving this we enable honest and open communication, true equal relationships and give respect to a person’s individuality. We believe this all arises from our ethos and desire to work ethically and fairly.

 

Neither of us are risk averse, which is quite unusual for social work and nursing professionals. That doesn’t mean that we do not have high levels of quality control and process in place, we certainly do, but what we do not do is let the process get in the way of our creativity and spontaneity when finding solutions and giving hope to young people. We believe that exposing young people to good levels of risk and enabling them to make decisions for themselves helps young people grow in confidence and thus helps them in their preparation for independence when leaving care.

 

We feel that outcomes for fostered children can be improved as a consequence of applying the key elements recognised in social pedagogy. We both feel very strongly that what we do is more than just a job, it is a way of serving the community. Families undertaking fostering and those working with children living in care, become very emotionally connected to children and subsequently greatly involved in the lives of others. It’s definitely more than a job! In becoming so connected its easy to become affected by the life stories and experiences of others and it is therefore vital that in order to protect our wellbeing that we take care of how we work both individually and as a team. It is why emotional support for everyone is essential whether this is for young people, foster carers or our staff. As Directors we are not exempt from this and systems are there to support us all.

 

Thempra refer’s to the need to respect the 3 Ps when working. The 3 P’s refer to the professional, personal, and private self

“Building trusting and authentic relationships with children is very important in social pedagogy. Through relationships we can show children that we care, role model how they can have positive relationships with others, but also learn a lot about who they are. Without relationships we wouldn’t be able to really know a child, find out what they are thinking about and how they see the world. And without that we would not be able to help them, to support their development. After all, every child is very unique, and we can only appreciate their uniqueness if we know them well, if we look for their hidden talents and find out what brings them joy or causes them sorrow. For children themselves, these relationships are also very important, and they want to know who we are as a person, not just what we do as a professional.

This can often cause challenges for professionals about what it means to be professional and to what extent we are able to be personal. Social pedagogues would argue that we can’t be professional without being personal, so we have to be both. What we must avoid is not the personal but the private self.

The professional self is fundamental. It helps us explain and understand a child’s behaviour, for example to know that a foster child might refuse to go to school, not because he can’t be bothered but because he has had traumatic experiences in education before. So the professional self draws on our knowledge of the law, of relevant policies, and of research, practice evidence and theory connected to our field of practice. The professional self makes the relationship with a child purposeful, because as professionals we will have particular aims for the child.

The personal self is about how we engage with the child in a way that shows them who we are, so that we can develop a better, more genuine relationship with them. By actually being who we are and using our personality, but also showing our flaws, we can encourage children to be who they are. Using our personal self in a social pedagogical way requires a lot of professional reflections, to ensure we keep some personal boundaries whilst using our self as resource for children to learn about relationships. We have to know what we aim to achieve through the relationship, how the relationship may help the child, why this requires us to be authentic and how we can ensure that this is beneficial to the child. For example, if a boy has just lost a parent we might choose to talk about someone we have lost who was dear to us, how we have felt and how we have coped with the loss. This might help the child see that he is not the only one who has been in such a situation and has felt very sad, and it might provide a chance to talk about how we can support him through this difficult period, how he might want to commemorate his parent.

The private self, sets the personal boundaries of what we do not want or should not share with a child and must therefore not be brought into the relationship. This is about putting some boundaries to protect the child and not become entwined or enmeshed with our personal issues. They do not need to hold our worries and stresses. This relates to over sharing.  For example, if we are still feeling depressed about the loss of someone dear to us, then sharing this with the boy mentioned above could be very unhelpful for both of us.

It is also important to understand that often the private self has an effect on how we engage with a child, for example we might avoid talking to the boy who has just lost his parent, because we are not comfortable with managing sad feelings. We might unconsciously dote on a girl who reminds us of our daughter. Therefore we need to reflect on our own behaviour and recognise when our reactions to a child may have something to do with what is part of our private self. Having good trusting supervisors then allows us to be open to discuss this in supervision so that we can manage the professional, the personal and the private self.

What strikes me is the need to be very honest to ourselves about how we are feeling and reflect frequently without fear of being criticised or judged, we are human after all. We use reflection in supervision, day to day conversation and as a team we encourage each other to share how we really feel. I think that this is very refreshing. I have seen how tough this can be for some people who have experienced a different culture in other organisations, where perhaps this can be perceived as weakness in people who share their true feelings

The culture of a successful organisation feels safe and nurturing. I believe that the key elements of creating a safe but outcome focused organisational culture lies in the values of the organisation. Not the values on paper, but the values that are actually tangible in the workplace. How does the organisation we work for really feel like to us…How comfortable are we with how our organisation makes decisions and respects the opinions of others? How focused is the organisation on its people? I have seen great values written down in statements of purpose but they are not followed through and the values are not recognisable in day to day working, in which case they are worthless in my opinion. Our Ofsted Inspector this year, stated that our values were evidenced to be visible throughout everything we did.

“In pedagogic terms, this ethos, beliefs, attitude or way of working is called Haltung. In our interactions with others, our ‘Haltung’ will have an influence, because the way we think about others and our relationship with them affects the way in which we engage with them. Most children, for example, will know when we genuinely care about them or when we pretend to care. In a sense, our ‘Haltung’ shines through in our relationships with others, which in turn colours their behaviour towards us. ‘Haltung’ is fundamental to social pedagogy, because it demonstrates the importance of the professional being authentic.”

Social pedagogy is not rocket science. I believe it is how we all wish to be able to work. It is respectful, it enables us to feel equal, it listens and reflects, it makes subtle yet consistent changes for the achieving of better outcomes, it challenges us in a good way and it helps us feel that we are making a good difference to those we are supporting.

 

We believe that the outcomes for fostered children can be improved as a result of applying the key elements of social pedagogy. These align well with the foundations we have in place for our trauma informed practice, this is our strong knowledge of the impact of trauma and how it impacts both the person who experienced it and those working with that person. In basic terms it boils down to working holistically and keeping the person at the centre of everything we do, reflecting and making tweaks to consistently improve the relationships we have with children, but equally important those we have with foster carers and each other.

 

In research undertaken by the Fostering Network, a national organisation who piloted the use of social pedagogy in the UK showed one of the overwhelming outcomes 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 our fostering agency. We believe enabling children the chance to build long lasting relationships with our foster carer’s is worth the extra investment.

 

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 potential causes 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 manage and regulate these feelings. This gives great skills and resilience for young people to take in to their adult life.

 

We support our foster carers in undertaking activities alongside the children, encouraging meaningful discussion and the forming of foundations for strong bonds of trust.

 

We believe in taking a “risk sensible” approach. We feel that children within the care system should be able to live full lives 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, Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey.

 

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!

 

References and additional information

 

Eichsteller, G. (2010). The Notion of ‘Haltung’ in Social Pedagogy. Children Webmag. Available online:http://www.childrenwebmag.com/articles/social-pedagogy/the-notion-of-‘haltung-in-social-pedagogy

 

The 3 P’s reproduced in part (see full article) http://www.thempra.org.uk/social-pedagogy/key-concepts-in-social-pedagogy/the-3-ps/

 

Social Pedagogy Professionals Association http://sppa-uk.org/

Fostering Network  Head Heart and Hands https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/policy-practice/projects-and-programmes/head-heart-hands

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Once you have decided that you want to find out more about fostering a child, it’s a good idea to have lots of information available to you and to be able to talk to someone who is already fostering. Choosing a foster agency that suits you best, involves research and the asking of the right questions. We asked our foster carers a few questions so that we could get an honest opinion of what they feel about fostering with us.

 


 

How long had you been thinking about fostering before you decided to apply? 

—We had talked about fostering for ten years or so and when we finally found ourselves in a position to start, we went for it.

Like many foster carers they had been thinking about fostering for a long time before they approached a fostering agency. Ten years is not uncommon in our experience. The decision to foster is one of the most -changing decisions life a person can make, so no wonder it may take a while. According to a survey undertaken by Fostering Network in 2013 What is known is that most foster carers share a common set of values. They are principally motivated by an intrinsic desire to ‘do the right thing’ and to contribute to improving society.

 


 

What made you choose To The Moon and Back Foster Care as your agency?

— When we embarked on finding the right agency that suited our family we created a questionnaire for ourselve and we asked each agency questions over the telephone… in effect we interviewed them for the role! Once we had shortlisted 3 agencies, we met with them all separately. Alison’s passion, coupled with the ethics of To the Moon and Back as a company, shone through and it was a very easy choice for us.

The ethics and passion of our organisation is an overwhelming attraction for wanting to come to our agency. The carers in this case were very confident in their approach when selecting their agency of choice. We actually loved the fact that they interviewed us.

According to the survey undertaken in 2013 foster carers share similar values but fall within three main categories, however their values are markedly different from those held by the rest of our society.

The outcomes of the survey were detailed, but I recall at the time the report came out, I found them unsurprising. What I learned was the need for ensuring individualisation of our service to foster carers and always working with authenticity in the making of relationships with foster carers.

We have a strong set of values which enable us to maintain our ethical stance and go the extra mile for our foster carers and young people.

 


 

How did you find the assessment process? Some people call it free therapy. 

— Not sure that we’d ever class the assessment process as free therapy but there were moments of enlightenment and enjoyment. It was an easy journey though, as the ultimate goal to foster stayed in our sights throughout.

The assessment of new foster carers is on the whole a very enlightening process. It is very detailed and has to meet various regulations set to ensure children are protected. We make the assessment comfortable and work with flexibility for the potential foster carers. We explain everything and work with empathy.

 


 

What was it really like to go through the independent panel questioning?

— As a couple in our late 40’s and early 50’s we felt comfortable discussing openly our reactions and feelings. We have had a lot of previous experience and we were happy sharing it and answering questions that the panel posed us.

We felt we could learn from what was shared by the people on the panel, we held them in high regard. We had an all-female panel and we fed back that we would have found it useful to have had a male panel member too. We were asked formally to feed back our thoughts after the panel so we felt our voices were heard too as part of the process.

The process of being interviewed by our independent Panel is seen by some as very daunting, however in reality it is a very friendly meeting and they work hard to put prospective foster carers at ease. Their questions and suggestions are intended to helpfully identify the carer’s strengths and areas where support may be useful.  

 


 

After approval, how long were you waiting before you had a child placed with you?

 — We were waiting for around 2 months. This was mainly due to our matching criteria, we have our own family and we were encouraged by the agency to make thoughtful decisions when looking at referrals of children, so that any children joining us would fit well in to our family. We were matched for siblings and made preparations for them, but when the case went to court the court order wasn’t awarded and therefore the children didn’t come to us.

We work hard to provide local placements for local children. It’s important to us that we make good matches of families to children. In our first inspection this year Ofsted highlighted our thorough process for matching.

We have a duty of care to match families as best we can. A good match enables better outcomes for children by ensuring that they have consistency and an opportunity to build strong long-term relationships.

 


 

How involved were you in the decision to have children placed with you? 

— Very. Alison certainly made sure it was our decision to welcome our first young person, but in order for us to make the decision, she gave us good advice and guidance, as she always does.

Ofsted when inspecting us against the latest standards said in September this year this independent fostering agency is good because

  • Carers identify and are able to meet children’s individual needs.
  • Work undertaken by the agency and the carers reduces risks to children.
  • Placement matching is careful, considered and completed in partnership with the foster carers.
  • Practice is innovative and child-centred. Children are at the heart of all decision-making.
  • The agency’s statement of purpose is embedded throughout its work.
  • Children develop interests and hobbies and have positive, family-based experiences.
  • The agency has a strong focus on keeping children safe.
  • Foster Carers describe strong support from the agency
  • Children form good relationships with their carers

Children develop interests and hobbies and have positive family based experiences

 


 

How much training and development have you had in the first year, how has it helped you in your role?

— Just about enough, we have felt that what we have had and continue to have is enough to make you feel ready for the job, but we haven’t been snowed under as yet!

Development is a key area for new foster carers. There is a lot to learn initially, but it is in bite-sized chunks and individualised. It doesn’t need to be academic learning, it can be very practical or reflective. We have provided a variety of conferences where we all learn together alongside other professionals from within the community which has proved to be very successful as well as fun.

 


 

How have your own children adjusted to fostering?

— They love it. Our 3 year old, 8 year old and nearly 10 year old have slipped into this so easily and naturally, it’s really surprised us in a positive way.

The provision of support for foster carer’s birth children is very important. The support of the foster carers by their supervising social worker includes monitoring of birth children in the family so that we can ensure their wellbeing is promoted and that they are able to contribute positively in the family.

 


 

What does good support look and feel like from the foster agency? 

— “Alison”! Having someone to talk to, almost anytime and being able to get quick answers to questions when faced with situations relating to our foster children is great and having a feeling that someone’s got your back and is willing to really help you when required.

Alison role models the individualised support we offer our foster carers, working pro-actively with tremendous sensitivity and encouragement, building great relationships on a platform of trust.

 


 

What advice would you give to someone looking for a foster agency?

— Do lots of research, take your time and don’t be swayed by large remuneration packages, they may well look good on the face of it, but please, please, do not judge an agency by what they pay, rather look at what you get as a whole to support you in your fostering role.

We have created a checklist for people looking for a fostering agency, which can be downloaded from our website. Going back to the survey Why Do Foster Carers Care 2013, financial remuneration is not high on the list, but fairness around pay is considered by some and providing that, comes down to the agency using the resources available to them to offer the best support for the child. The ethos of a company is important and it goes beyond what the marketing says.

 


 

What have been the biggest fostering challenges?

 — The “system” – dealing with the local authorities in their procedural ways, can be a challenge as they feel antiquated at times but that’s just our opinion of course. We know it’s a different way of working and we have had to make some adjustments about our expectations, with help from Alison.

We all work together as part of a multidisciplinary team around the children we support. As foster carers you are considered equal in the team, but as such are expected to play an equal part. It’s important to learn about the different ways we all work so that we can ensure we challenge where required. There are legislative parts of our work that cannot be changed and it is done for a reason. Whilst potentially frustrating when not used to it, it is our role to explain what is happening and why, because ensuring understanding is part of the foster carers development that we are here to support. 

 


 

What have been the absolute fostering high points for you?

— Watching a young person grow and change before your eyes, into the person they should have always been allowed to be, themselves. Priceless!

We couldn’t have put this better ourselves. It is indeed priceless, seeing young people grow. Polish doctor and pedagogue Janusz Korczak said

“Children are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with respect, as equals. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be – the unknown person inside each of them is the hope for the future.” Janusz Korczak (1879-1942)

References
Why Foster Carers Care Fostering Network 2013

 

We are saddened when we hear the stories of foster carers feeling unhappy about the agency they have chosen to foster with. When first looking in to fostering, most enquirers are understandably unaware of what to expect and the specific questions to ask. It is an area of unfamiliarity and unless enquirers know other people who are fostering, they have little personal experience to draw upon.

Searching for a foster agency in the first instance can be challenging as there are so many to choose from.  Once fostering, foster carers understand more about the sector, what should be available to them and the levels of support they may need. It was for this reason that we created our To The Moon and Back free downloadable article “What To Look For in a Fostering Service” to help demystify the process.

I read a recent article published on LinkedIn, written by a professional who supports foster agencies to improve their foster carer retention. In the article he depicted the levels of unhappiness of foster carers and that he felt some foster carers had felt misled by their foster agency. They felt that when they had first enquired, they were given unrealistic expectations about what they could expect once approved and sadly once they had children living with them, they didn’t have the levels of support or resources that they had been led to believe would be available to them. We have always believed that honesty was the best policy when recruiting new foster carers. It is unacceptable to encourage potential foster carers to sign up for something without full honest information. We share all relevant information so that applicants can make a fully informed decision about whether fostering is right for them. We are very proud of feedback from those who foster with us. Our recent Ofsted inspection report highlights that everything we promised to foster carers was delivered.

Worryingly , I have heard other comments that relate to foster carers who, although feeling unhappy with their agency, feel unable to move to another fostering agency, as they are concerned that the foster children they have living with them, may be removed from them if they choose to leave the agency.  This goes against the transferring protocol that most fostering services have signed up to. This sets a clear principle that “Foster carers have the right to freedom of movement between fostering services.”

We are aware that some foster carers choose to stay, despite feeling unhappy, because they cannot face having to be assessed a second time. Whilst the assessment when transferring is very thorough it doesn’t have to take as long as the original assessment, as so much of the information is already available. We are required to identify with foster carers what they have learnt, how they have supported young people and what they, as a family need. We work with foster carers on collating and making sense of this for the future of their fostering career. This information provides a new assessment that identifies more clearly your fostering skills and proven track record and this goes to the independent fostering panel. We understand however, that it is important to provide a level of extra support for a transferring carer during this process because once they have notified their agency of their intention to transfer they may feel that they are in no-man’s-land.

Why Foster Carers consider Transferring to another agency

  • They are dissatisfied with the relationship they have with their agency, maybe as a result of feeling unsupported, or as a result of a particular incident or worker.
  • They feel they are not been given the development they feel they should be getting.
  • The fostering agency has been taken over by another organisation and the culture they were looking for has subsequently changed as a result.
  • The foster carers are not being offered the young people that they feel they can care for
  • The allowance is insufficient

When a foster carer feels unhappy, they are likely to feel undervalued and as a result whilst still giving their best to the children they care for, there is likely to be some impact in the foster carers wellbeing which will eventually affect the children, no matter how hard the foster carers try to hide it. We truly believe that happy and successful foster carer lead to a better experience for young people.

Our Transferring way

If you are feeling unhappy with the agency you are currently fostering with and considering whether a transfer is going to be better for you, what should you do?

Once you feel that you have exhausted all avenues available to you in order to remedy any issues that you are unhappy about, there is probably no other choice available to you, other than finding an alternative fostering agency. Obviously no one wants to see foster carers leave their agency, but certainly no one wants to see foster carers leave fostering all together. We feel that transferring is an opportunity for you to get what you feel is going to enable you to be more successful in your role.

Transferring to another fostering agency involves a piece of work which can be undertaken, in our case, relatively quickly, it can be undertaken in as little as 6 weeks. There are formal processes that are required to be undertaken and the processes follow a formal Transfer Protocol. https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/policy-practice/recruitment-and-retention/transfer-protocols

We recommend that you consider the kind of relationship you are looking for and how you feel you can be best supported to be successful in your role. Happy supported foster carer’s leads to a greater likelihood of happy supported young people, able to achieve their true potential.

At some point you will need to speak to someone about your thoughts regarding transfer to another agency. The conversation should always be totally confidential and you should feel satisfied that there is no commitment at this stage, it is purely a fact finding exercise.

What actually happens if you decide you want to transfer to another agency and you have a child or young person already placed with you?

As a foster carer thinking of transferring, you will have specific reasons for this and will have (as suggested above) researched other agencies and what they can offer you.

Once you have decided on an agency that you feel will be able to offer you what you are looking for, in order for this transfer process to commence you are required to formally give notice of your intention to transfer to, your existing agency and the placing authorities of the children you are caring for. If you do not have children in placement you are required to give notice of your intention to transfer just to your current fostering agency.

What happens after you have given notice of your intention to transfer?

Your current fostering agency will formally acknowledge your notice of intent to transfer. The agency you are intending to transfer to, will arrange for your current agency to have authorisation to look through your fostering file. This is a file which contains information about your fostering career. This can only be done with explicit consent from you. This is an important part of the initial transfer assessment process for the new agency to start “The getting to know you” process and to confirm that there are no reasons why you should be unable to continue fostering.

Once this has been done and the new agency you have chosen to transfer to is satisfied that you are able to continue fostering, they will engage with everyone involved in the care of the children you are looking after, in order to arrange a meeting, sometimes called a protocol meeting.

What happens once the new agency is satisfied you can be considered to transfer to them?

If transferring to us, we will want to ensure that you fully understand the process and will meet with you formally to share the transfer process and the timescale for each part of the process. In the same way that when you first decided you wanted to foster, we are required to undertake a formal assessment of you and once complete, the assessment is shared with the agency independent panel and you will be required to attend panel. Formal checks will be undertaken on your behalf, including references. This is regulatory requirement for transfer, however we find that this is much shorter than your original assessment, because so much is already documented about you.

Will you be required to undertake any training before transfer to The Moon and Back.

Most fostering agencies suggest that skills to foster is not required for transferring foster carers as they have usually done it before. We do not believe that you should complete the full course as a formality, but we will explain areas of specific training that we cover as part of the course and ask if you would like to undertake any part of it. You will be invited to a half day workshop which we find, new transferring foster carers coming to us find very informative and enables you to refresh your general fostering knowledge and understand what is available to you at our agency. We consider this as an agency induction day for you.

You will be required to be compliant in all mandatory training as set out in fostering legislation. This should be discussed as part of the transferring assessment process to be presented at Panel. It is a simple process to get fully up to date if for any reason you have fallen behind on your mandatory training.

What does a Protocol Meeting actually involve and will you be included in this?

Once you have served notice of your intent to transfer, a protocol meeting date will be set. The meeting can be convened by the placing authority/authorities – this may include commissioning/contracting officers as well as the children’s social worker, representation from your current agency, representation from us as the fostering agency you are choosing to transfer to and of course yourselves.

Where there is more than one placing authority responsible for the children in your care, the authority that has had children placed for the longest period with the foster carer will be generally be considered the ‘lead’ authority, but this is only done by agreement.

Why is a protocol meeting needed?

The meeting is usually led by the placing authority for the children in your care. The aim of the meeting is to determine that the transfer you are intending to make will be in the best interest of the children in your care. The local authority acting as the corporate parent for the child in your care must be satisfied that the welfare of the child can be continued or improved as a result of the switch to a different fostering agency and that the agency you are choosing to go to, can continue to provide the level of support required for you to continue to be successful as a foster carer.

The meeting will include discussion about fees, this is to ensure that the current fee situation can be met as a basic, but by this point you will have had meaningful conversations with your transferring agency of choice and be reassured that this will be ok.

Are you expected to present all of this information at the meeting?

You will not be expected to bring or present this information. The professionals in the meeting are required to prepare for aspects of the meeting agenda. In the event that lots of information is required, we will always consult you, during its preparation, so that it is accurate. We prepare transferring carers in advance of any protocol meeting, so that you are fully informed of what is likely to be discussed so that you can feel less anxious and can continue to focus on the children in your care and your family during the transferring process.

What happens next

After the protocol meeting discussed above, the local authority will make their “in principle” decision about whether the transfer can go ahead. It is in principle because the final decision about the transfer, once the local authority is in agreement, lies with the agency where you are transferring to. Just as when you first became a foster carer, the transfer assessment has to go through the agency’s independent panel process. Once panel are happy to recommend approval, the final decision will go to the Agency Decision Maker after the Panel meeting.

Are you free to transfer once the Agency Decision Maker has said yes to approval?

At the point that our Agency Decision Maker has approved you to transfer to our agency, you are then required to give 28 days’ formal notice of your intention to leave your current agency. This is a formal contractual process and formally states your date of leaving one agency and joining ours.

 Foster carers have the right to move to another foster agency at any time. The transfer protocol is there for a reason and is embraced by local authorities and IFA’s

When we are approached by foster carers who are considering transferring, we are very respectful that they will have taken a long time to consider the implications before getting in touch. We want them to make the right decision.

As far as we are concerned transferring can be straightforward and can happen quite quickly once  you have informed your agency that you are looking to transfer. With us you do not have to be involved in conversations with your agency about the process as that is what we do on your behalf in order to support you in the process. We belief once you have made the decision to transfer, It is in the best interests of everyone that the process is quick and smooth.

When a foster carer chooses to foster with, us we feel very special. We appreciate that foster carers have a choice and that they have a right to exercise it. We work very hard to ensure that foster carers never want to leave us, we work in an individualised way to enable foster carers to succeed.

If you are considering transferring, you can talk to us in complete confidence by contacting us at hello@moonandbackfostering.com

Or call us for an informal friendly and confidential chat 01223 800 420