The responsibility for our own health and wellbeing to a certain extent, belongs to us all. However we understand that our culture and ethos influences levels of wellbeing and feeling of being supported. At To The Moon and Back, we believe that there are some key factors that can determine whether our foster carers have a positive or a negative relationship with our organisation. These include:

  • The knowledge that we are available and committed to supporting our foster carers at all times.
  • The level of confidence felt by our carers as a result of their knowledge and skills, built as a result of the development we provide, especially in the subject of trauma informed care.
  • The ability of foster carers to enable a child in their care to reach their true potential thanks to  their combined experience, knowledge and support, as well their own resilience levels.
  • The warm personal relationship our foster carers have with their supervising social worker and the support team around them. 
  • Their trust in our ability to work in partnership with our carers and work closely together to achieve the best we can for the children in their care.
  • Their ability to participate in the organisational decision making,  influencing what affects them and their role.
  • Their feeling that their commitment, expertise and dedication to improve the lives of the children in their care is valued and respected by everyone in our agency.
  • Their opportunity to contribute to how our organisation improves our service and thus their experience of fostering.
  • Their joining with us to embrace the “To the Moon and Back” ethos, culture and values.

We take the wellbeing of everyone in our team very seriously. Our support team are chosen for their ability to build warm relationships and provide the skill and expertise needed to support our foster carers well. We enable our support team to make decisions and communicate with our foster carers effectively. We monitor and control our individual caseloads to ensure our support team are available to foster carers and we provide our team with their own support to ensure their wellbeing is also protected, ensuring that they are the best version of themselves.

We work to create a close supportive community around our foster carers, ensuring that they have access to support, from fostering peer mentors and key experts that will be able to sign post them to help and support when they need it. This is important to prevent potential feelings of isolation and to enable carers to build a network of reliable people who can offer practical help as well as someone to talk to at times of challenge.

Our ability to protect the wellbeing of our foster carers and their building of resilience, whilst they care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society, is vital to our reputation as an outstanding fostering agency. Our organisation is built on a foundation that sustains a culture of everyone feeling empowered and enabled. Each policy, process and system reflects our aims, beliefs and values, in our quest to attract and retain the most talented and caring people to build a positive future for children.

We embrace key theories that support holistic approaches to supporting people achieve their true potential.  Our foster carers can expect to be treated as individuals. Our supervising social workers will work in close partnership with their family and external team, supported by our ethos, systems and processes to develop a meaningful support package to help carers succeed and meet the needs of the child in their care and help them to achieve their personal objectives too. The significance of feeling part of a respected but caring relationship is very important. We earn the trust of our foster carers, reflecting and focusing on what we can do to improve our service to our families, making good relationships with the larger team around the child too, so that we can ensure we are all focused on the child, supporting the foster carers to achieve everything possible.

Foster carer support is an area debated frequently; it can also be a measurement of an agency’s success. The levels that foster carers feel supported determine an agency’s success. When foster carers feel happy with the service, they are receiving they will tell others and we would prefer to increase our number of foster carers as result of our own carers recommendations.

Fostering is a rewarding but equally challenging role. But foster carers are not alone – they work as part of the team around a child and must be supported by others in that team to ensure that children are receiving the best possible care. The level and type of support that they need may change with each child in placement and at different times. They may need assistance and advice outside of office hours from someone who understands the issues, but this is not always available. For some, having access to short breaks can help placements continue when they otherwise might not, but these are not provided as a matter of course.

Moreover, foster carers frequently have children placed with them outside of their agreed approval range, putting fostering families under high levels of stress. Accessing tailor-made support in such situations is not always easy.

I heard a fabulous speaker recently talking about relationship-based teams and how they are built to go the distance as opposed to task-based teams. Philip Cox-Hynd refers to “true relation-“ships” as big sturdy vessels that can weather most storms and wouldn’t capsize through a heavy downpour of disagreement or a strong wind of misunderstanding.”  This resonated with how we have built our organisational culture as we purposefully talk about the desire and mechanism of building powerful relationships within our team.

Cox-Hynd explains that relationship teams succeed best where there is happiness and that happiness comes out of the feeling that people are working together for a joint aim. He says that “the key probably lies with an individual’s ability to have an impact on those around them that is congruent, ie what you see is what you get, individuals that walk the talk and express their emotions”.  He goes on to say that “the individual needs to be a relationship and, therefore a team builder: someone who reaches out and builds bridges,” makes connections with others for the benefit of the greater good.

Fostering services are responsible for providing foster carers with a range of formal and informal support, including proper supervision, short breaks, peer support, out-of-hours support and access to independent support, as well as support for their sons and daughters. Support received by foster carers is often scrutinised and it is something that our regulator will check is in place. It is a subjective area and determined individually.

Relationship based support, I feel is a relationship where the sense of feeling supported is a successful by-product of the great relationship that exists between two people. It doesn’t just happen; it takes work as with any other relationship.

Successful relationships have a sense of respect and value, they have often a joint purpose which links them closely together and they thrive on trust between them. That said, there may still be debates, even disagreements as part of the relationship but it continues to work because the effort is made to make it work. In a relationship of this nature, it is important to invest emotionally and be prepared to take a lead on making the relationship work.

Support of the supporters

Where foster carers rely on the support, for example, from a supervising social worker, it is important that the social worker feels in a good position to be able to invest in the relationship and provide the support that is going to be valued by the foster carer. We often talk about foster carers being a secure base for the children in their care. In the same way that the foster carers provide a secure base for the children in their care, we provide a secure base for our team members and we include foster carers in that.

We work to support manageable case loads for our supervising social workers, enabling them to work proactively with carers and spend good quality time with them. We emphasise the need to maintain a proactive focus on a foster carer’s wellbeing too. We do this by really getting to know our foster carers and being present during our monthly supervisions and visits. By being present we can hear what is being said, as well as what is not being said. We know that foster carers can, for example, feel like they are in a goldfish bowl that everyone is looking in to. It can cause carers to feel under pressure to be perfect all of the time and that prevents them saying things that they feel may be interpreted as being unable to fulfil their role.

It takes skill and requires true empathy to support foster carers well. The supervising social workers who lead on the provision of support, have to be team builders. It’s important that they support the building of other connections within the bigger team around the child, and maintain a focus on the team purpose, which should always be the child. 

Successful team relationships rely on honest discussions between supervising social workers and foster carers and supervising social workers and their line managers. The team shares their true feelings and emotions. This happens best, where there is no judgement and where trust is placed highly in the relationship.

We work therapeutically with our carers and our staff team in order to identify tensions that might exist so that we have a chance to support the individual to reflect and make adjustments. It is a very positive process which leads to good relationships being formed. We measure how well our team members use their leadership skills and how well they impact on others.

I was involved in piloting a “MOOC” an online development course for an organisation called ThemPra, which focused on raising awareness of working with a social pedagogy ethos.  One big factor was the need to have equality in the relationship between a foster carer and a child and the foster carer and the supervising social worker. We generally have lots of information about a child in the care system, we equally have a lot of information about the foster carers (following the rigorous assessment process). The relationship can therefore be unequal unless we address the balance and share information about ourselves with foster carers. Naturally we urge caution, the sharing of personal information should only be in the best interest of the foster carers. In the same way we encourage foster carers to share some of their information with the child, but once again urging caution, as children have to have successful role models to support them and we have to maintain boundaries and oversharing of personal stories may have an adverse effect on the relationship. 

We were thrilled that Ofsted highlighted the outstanding support we provided for foster carers in our last inspection. It is formed out of the relationships we build and continue to nurture during the whole time we are working together. Are you in a relation-“ship” or a relation ”rowing boat”

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. One of our foster carers laughingly will tell you that she never wanted to foster teenagers, but having fostered two, has found it to be enlightening and much more about the individual young people and their age irrelevant. We appreciate the challenges associated with caring for teenagers but feel 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

At an event this summer we asked people to give advice to their fourteen year old self, knowing what they knew as an adult. There were some fabulous comments, mostly related to just relax, it is going to be alright. I thought about the advice I would give to myself. At the age of fourteen I was worried about my exams, my skin, my father had just been made redundant, my peers were all better at everything than me. I was a mess in so many ways. I had written a diary, and reading it back, every day there was a drama. I was quiet and difficult to approach. I recalled this when living through my own children’s teenage years. We know that raising a teenager can be a challenge and it was for this very reason that in November 2018 we held a  conference with Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist. 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

We know that the time of puberty can be a rollercoaster of emotions often linked to hormonal changes. We have all been there though… and we survived!

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 too, 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 itself. The neuroscientists are now seeing that the brain does not actually fully mature until we are 24-25 years 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 moving 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, during this time, 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 being 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.

The NSPCC believe 1 in 5 children live with domestic violence.  At To The Moon and Back Foster Care we are often asked to find a foster family who can support a child who has repeatedly witnessed domestic violence. This is recognised as a significant adverse experience for a child and seen often in addition to other signs of neglect and abuse.

We see the day to day effect of domestic violence on children and young people.  We work with our foster carers to enable them to think about how to best provide a safe and nurturing home where the child feels supported to recover from their experiences or at least manage the trauma associated with being exposed often to high levels of violence within their own home.

Our experience comes out of working with children who have experienced the highest level of severity of domestic violence, often from more than one perpetrator. Significant numbers of looked after children may have lived with adults who have moved through several relationships that have included high levels of violence and control. Our aim is to share some of our knowledge and insights to help those supporting families or their own children living with or moving on from living with domestic violence.

We are clear to say that not all children who have lived in a home where there has been domestic violence, will experience long term traumatic effects, however some children do.  Many people will know a friend, colleague or partner who grew up in a home where domestic violence was the norm and they may go on to show little outward impact. This is not to say it has not had an impact on a child, it maybe they have learnt to live with, hide or move on from this without repeating the same pattern. This demonstrates that light can be found at the end of the tunnel.

As a parent, who may have separated from a violent partner, a grandparent, supporting their grandchild or as a friend who simply wants to help someone they know, here are some ideas of the possible impacts and how you can help.

What we know is that children are resilient and can thrive despite having lived in the most challenging environments. For those living with violence who want to move on from it, we advocate the need to reach out for support and leave in a safe and planned way.  (We have added useful contacts at the end of this article)

“Children have the resilience to outlive their suffering given the chance” … Ismael Beah. This is one of my favourite quotes and when training foster carers, I like to share it.

We truly believe this statement and work with our families to enable this for the children we care for. We achieve it with individual nurturing of the child on a day to day basis alongside creative and therapeutic parenting skills, acquired as part of our ongoing training and development programme and as a result of working closely with our practitioners and therapists.

So what is domestic violence? Many assume it is violence against women by their male partners. The NSPCC state

Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people in a relationship. But it isn’t just physical violence – domestic abuse includes emotional, physical, sexual, financial or psychological abuse. Abusive behaviour can occur in any relationship. It can continue even after the relationship has ended. Both men and women can be abused or abusers”

We may hold negative feelings about a perpetrator and therefore be surprised why a child might still want to see their father, mother or step parent, who is known to have been violent in the home. I am reminded by one of my favourite quotes, from a survivor, “An abuser isn’t abusive 24/7. They usually demonstrate positive character traits most of the time. That’s what makes the abuse so confusing”

We may think that because the abuse happens when children are not in the room that this means it has not impacted on the child.  This is not the case; children can experience domestic abuse or violence in lots of different ways. They might see the abuse, hear the abuse from another room, see a parent’s injuries or distress afterwards, they may also try to stop it.

The NSPCC believe that about 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed, this may be because they are a baby in their mothers’ arms when she is hit, they may be teenagers who have tried to intervene to protect a parent or just been in the area and got hurt through the violence.

What might we see in children in the short term

The research has shown that babies may evidence their stress through poor sleep and eating patterns, they may present more clingy or fractious and therefore harder to soothe. In older children, the way children change in how they present is often an indicator that something is going on for them. This is likely to change further only when they are no longer living in an aggressive environment. We might see that for these children they remain more anxious children and that our role is to help them manage the impact of constantly being in a fight or flight state.  Nurturing, open and supportive home environments where children can ask questions and talk about their experiences are sometimes all a child needs, in order to develop their own coping mechanisms.

Children may show signs of stress at school, by a change in their studies or they may become more withdrawn or quiet. Often domestic violence happens in secret and so children are expected to keep this secret too. It is hard for children not to tell trusted adults about what is happening and even harder sometimes having to lie about parents’ injuries or the reasons why people cannot come over to their home.  Children may re-enact what they see and hear at home and so may be aggressive to other children, and consequently present as a bully or may be bullied themselves.  Children may present with changes to their sleep pattern and eating habits and may appear distracted when they are away from the non-abusing parent because of them being worried about how they are. Children may not invite friends’ home for fear of what they might witness, they may also become passive and compliant with adults around them. 

What we might see in children in the long term

Children in the longer term may be traumatised by their experience and show signs of post-traumatic stress. With our foster carers we see children being triggered by the behaviours of others that remind them of their experiences, for example, a slightly raised voice or a look of displeasure can trigger a flash back or raise anxiety in children.  We see children at times struggle to maintain positive relationships with others and subsequently go on to find themselves in unhealthy relationships.

Children are individuals and will respond to the witnessing of abuse or domestic violence in different ways. According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists (Women’s Aid website) children may present as follows:

  • They may become anxious or depressed
  • They may have difficulty sleeping
  • They have nightmares or flashbacks
  • They can be easily startled
  • They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches and may start to wet their bed
  • They may have temper tantrums and problems with school
  • They may behave as though they are much younger than they are
  • They may become aggressive or they may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people
  • They may have a lowered sense of self-worth
  • Older children may begin to play truant, start to use alcohol or drugs, begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves or have an eating disorder
  • Children may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused.
  • They may have ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing parent.

What can we do to help children who have lived through domestic violence.

Our first and foremost priority is to ensure that they continue to live in a safe environment free of violence and control. When children feel safe, they can start to receive the help they need. There are great support services who can provide one to one support to enable the leaving of abusive environments or provide support to a family once they have left. (A list of services can be found at the end of this article.

Children need to be reassured that the situation is not their fault. Violence between adults is never a child’s fault and they must hear that. They must know that what happened is not OK, It was not their fault and that is was ok for them to feel scared or angry.

Children need to have access to safe adults to talk to about their experiences, when they are ready and if they want to but they must not feel pushed in to talking about it.  They need to hear that they did not deserve to have those experiences and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent it/change it. This they may need to hear way into the future and repeatedly if they need the reassurance. I know adults who still wonder if they could have stopped it.

Domestic violence is about control and children need to feel like they have some control in their lives. Providing structure and routine, predictability and choice are all important steps to recovery. For children who have lived waiting for the next incident, they need to have a sense of predictability. They need to know that this is not going to be repeated.

It is important that children whatever age can talk about what they have seen and heard, younger children might do this through play or drawing, this is a time to talk gently about how it is fine to have difficult feelings and support them through these. Older children may want to talk more openly about what they have seen and heard. It is important that you show you can manage hearing the difficult things and reassure children and young people that they are safe now. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk to children about triggers that may make them feel uncomfortable, for example a raised voice and how they can plan for them. If bedtimes are tough, ask them to help you plan how to respond and make it easier for them.

Our final thought is about the adults around the child.

When we support our foster families with caring for children who have experienced trauma, we always talk to them about the need for them to look after themselves. We model ourselves on what we want them as foster carers to provide for children.  We provide a safe openly trusting relationship with our team where they can talk about their feelings, especially those raised as a result of hearing the stories of what children have lived through.  We encourage them to have outlets to relieve stress such as mindfulness, good nutrition, sleep and exercise. It is amazing what you can do with the right support. If we have inspired you to think about fostering please contact us we would love to talk more about what we do and how we do it.

Useful resources

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/

https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-work/forms-of-violence-and-abuse/domestic-violence/https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/

Life story, we all have one… and its important we know it

We take for granted our life story. The stories of the day we were born, our first steps, first words, the funny stories of our school days, our illnesses, our incidents and the moments that made our families proud. These accounts are told to us by our parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family members. They are told in such a way that they invoke images and emotions and they give meaning and support to help us form our identity.

For children who are adopted or fostered there can be a disconnect with their past and for a variety of reasons, the anecdotes and life moments referred to above, are not known to the child. We may think that somehow discussing the past with a child who has experienced trauma in their family, is ill advised, but according to Fahlberg “the very fact that adults hesitate to share with a child information about his or her past implies that it is so bad that the young person won’t be able to cope with it. Whatever the past was, the child has lived through it and survived. He or she has already demonstrated survival skills” 

This extract is taken from The Life Story Book by JKP author Vera I. Fahlberg, M.D.

by JKP PhiladelphiaPosted on October 30, 2012

This article written by Vera I. Fahlberg, M.D., ancillary to material from A Child’s Journey Through Placement (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Jan. 2012)

The Life Story Book

Every individual is entitled to his or her own history.

It is difficult to grow up to be a psychologically-healthy adult without having had access to one’s own history. Traditionally, the family is the repository of knowledge about the child. Children separated from their families of origin do not have daily access to this source of information about their personal histories. It becomes more difficult for them to develop a strong sense of self and to understand how the past may influence present behaviors. Without this awareness, it will be more difficult for them to make conscious choices and to take responsibility for their own behaviors. For this reason, we believe a Lifebook should be made for each child. It is never too late or too early to make a Lifebook.

The Lifebook is designed to enable the child to understand significant events in the past, confront the feelings that are secondary to these events, and become more fully involved in the future planning of their lives. Frequently, the first step is to learn how he explains himself to himself, and what he understands his situation to be. This means listening for the child’s perceptions of these matters. Until we do this, we won’t know if we are to expand their information or correct their perceptions. Each time the Lifebook is read, the child is likely to understand the message in a slightly different way, reflecting her current intellectual abilities and psychological needs. The message we are trying to convey is, “You are important. Your thoughts and feelings are important” (Ryan, 1985).

A Lifebook can

  • provide a chronology of the child’s life;
  • enhance self-esteem and identity formation;
  • help a child share his history with others;
  • assist in resolving separation issues;
  • identify connections between past, present, and future;
  • facilitate attachment;
  • increase trust for adults;
  • help the child recognize and resolve strong emotions related to past life events;
  • separate reality from fantasy or magical thinking;
  • identify positives, as well as negatives, about the family of origin.

What Goes Into A Lifebook?

The Lifebook is an account of the child’s life, conveyed through words, pictures, photographs, and documents. Every Lifebook should mention the child’s birth mother and birth father. “We have no information about you birth father” at least acknowledges that he exists and that it is acceptable to talk about him.

Children like to have information about their own births, including how much they weighed, how long they were, what day of the week they were born, and at which hospital. A baby picture should be included if one is available. Some hospitals can refer caregivers to the photographer who took the infant photos when the child was born, and a picture may still be available. Health problems or abnormalities observed at birth should be noted as well.

Each book should explain why and how the child entered the adoptive family or the foster care system and how subsequent decisions were made. Many times, adults gloss over the reasons for the child’s placement. This avoidance can pose long-term problems. The very fact that adults hesitate to share information about the child’s past implies that it is too awful for the youngster to cope with. But whatever occurred in his past, the child has already lived through it and survived. He has already demonstrated his survival skills. Facts can be presented in ways that help the child understand and accept his past while raising self-esteem, or that lower feelings of self-worth. With experience, adults can learn to reframe even negative life experiences as positive strivings that went astray. Information should be presented in words the child understands.

Photographs of birth parents should be included. One-of-a-kind photos should be duplicated before being put in the Lifebook, with a copy put away for safekeeping. Information about parents and siblings should be gathered as soon as possible. If a Genogram has been completed as part of the assessment of the birth family, a copy should be included.

Most toddlers do some things that upset their parents at the time but that seem humorous in retrospect and become the basis of family stories. Talking about such behaviors give the child a clear indication that he can and will change. Even though it is often true that there are no pictures of these incidents, they usually suggest strong visual images. For example, one child washed her hair in a mud puddle twice in one day, even as her mother tried to get her ready to go to a party. Such behaviors are unique to each child and usually lead to shared laughter when the youngster outgrows that conduct. This concrete evidence of the possibility of change should be included in the Lifebook.

Sources of Information

Birth family members are an obvious source for pictures, mementos, and a variety of other information. The message to the birth parents is that they have something to offer the child even though they will not be parenting him. Requests from the adoptive parents for pictures and information reassures the birth parents of their importance in the child’s life. These requests can be made directly or through the agency involved. Information that can be compiled by adoptive or foster parents might include:

  • developmental milestones;
  • childhood diseases, immunizations, injuries, illnesses, or hospitalization;
  • the ways by which the child shows affection;
  • the things she does when happy or excited;
  • the things that frightened him;
  • favorite friends, activities, and toys;
  • birthday and religious celebrations;
  • trips;
  • extended family members who are important to the child;
  • cute things the child does;
  • nicknames;
  • family pets;
  • visits with birth relatives;
  • names of teachers and schools attended;
  • report cards;
  • special activities, such as scouting, clubs, or camping experiences
  • church and Sunday School experiences;
  • pictures of each foster family, their home, and their pets.

How To

There is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook. Just as each child and her history is unique, so will each Lifebook be one of a kind. Some children like to start at the beginning, with their birth or even before, offering stories about how their birth parents met, for example. Others may do better by starting with the present, talking about current family, school, friends, likes and dislikes. Some even want to start out talking about future plans. There are advantages to each of these approaches.

Loose-leaf photo albums with plastic-protected pages may be used. Some use a book with construction-paper pages. Some adults use prepared books; others make up their own. Some include photocopied or printed pages to be filled in.
The particular words used with a Lifebook are often very important. Although many children enjoy the idea of a scrapbook, to the child who may have poor self-esteem, the term “scrap” may have a negative connotation. Therefore, we prefer to avoid the term scrapbook. We also purposefully avoid the term “forever,” which may sound overwhelming to the child. The terms “keeping” or “growing up with” explain equally well the permanency that we are seeking for children and are preferred.

When children resist being an active participant in working on their Lifebook, adults have to become more creative. Trips can be made and photographs taken of places important to the child’s life: an old neighborhood, the hospital where the child was born, or the courthouse where decisions were made on his behalf are examples.

If the adult does not have complete information, as is so often the case, it is still possible to encourage and support emotional exploration. When a child’s statement reveals assumptions, such as “it seems as though my birth mom didn’t love me as much as my sister,” the adult might respond by saying, “That is possible. Some parents have difficulty loving all of their children. I don’t have any information as to whether or not that was true in your case. Can you think of some other reasons it might not have worked out well for you and your parents to live together?” This response allows a hypothetical exploration of a variety of reasons that parents and children have problems living together and expands the young person’s thinking.

Age-Appropriate Uses

Under Fours: Parents may use an adopted child’s Lifebook much as they would a baby book. Looking at pictures, talking about the parents’ first impressions upon seeing their baby, or talking about initial meetings with birth parents if that has occurred all convey that talking about the child’s origins and life is pleasurable to the parents. Relating facts as the child’s personal story, as opposed to “reading” it, is more appealing to the very young child. Since young children are likely to be confused by mention of a second mother or father with whom they do not have contact, it is preferable for the adoptive parents of a toddler to refer to the birth parents by their first names. As the child gets older and observes the connection between pregnancy and childbirth, the terms “birth mother” and “birth father” can be added to the story-telling.

Four to Seven: Children of this age understand the concept of “practicing” as a way to learn a new skill. The Lifebook may provide opportunities for the child to “practice” talking about important things, or to practice having fun with parents, or sitting close while reading, etc. Parents are practicing also, so the child should be made to understand that learning to be close involves both children and adults working on it.

Eight to Twelve: The Lifebook may be a means to helping children develop a “cover story” that helps them retain their right to privacy and control over their story. Children need a way to explain to others why they do not live with their birth family. The cover story is a shortened, not-too-revealing version of the truth. Children need to be given permission to refuse politely to provide strangers or mere acquaintances with answers to personal questions. They need to prepare to ask themselves, “Is this someone who really needs the information?” If not, they might say, “I’d rather not talk about it,” or “That’s very personal information,” or to give the Ann Landers response, “Why would you ask a question like that?” Providing the child with opportunities to practice responses ahead of time will help her not to be caught off-guard.

Adolescence: The effects of early childhood traumas or separations become more evident during early adolescence as separation/individuation tasks are recycled. The psychological tasks of early adolescence are very similar to those of years one through five. This repetition is both good news and bad. The bad news is that unmet early needs come back to haunt adolescents in exaggerated form; the good news is that it offers potential to address these earlier needs and meet them more appropriately, thereby facilitating true lifelong change for the young person. Although adults cannot undo difficult early life experiences, they can help the young person develop compensatory skills (Beyer 1990). Adolescents have the capacity for hypothetical thinking. By thinking ahead, they can identify and prepare themselves for the times when the memories of past traumas are most likely to resurface. They can start to identify the skills necessary to the development of choices that their birth parents may never have had. They can look more realistically at the choices made by those involved in their lives and be encouraged to take responsibility for the choices they will ultimately make themselves. Adults can help the young person look ahead, identifying times that the feelings of early life experience might echo. Ricks (1985) observed that individuals who were able forgive past experiences and/or speak coherently about the events shaping their lives were more likely to have securely-attached children when they themselves become parents. How do we help adolescents come to the point of forgiveness? How do we know if they have achieved it? Information about family patterns, combined with support in making conscious rather than unconscious choices will help young people move forward from the difficulties of their pasts without being judgmental. Triseliotis (1983) has identified three important areas which contribute to identity-building in adolescence. The first is to have a childhood experience of feeling wanted and loved. The second is to have knowledge about one’s own personal history and the third is the experience being perceived by others as a worthwhile person. Lifebooks we can contribute significantly at least two of these three goals. This paper was developed for training workshops for child welfare professionals and is related to material from Dr. Fahlberg’s book A Child’s Journey Through Placement

“Don’t teach your child never to be angry, teach your child how to be angry” -Lymon Abbott

As a fostering service we work with children who have lived through adverse experiences. At To The Moon and Back we are sometimes asked for advice on caring for a child who presents as angry. Caring for children who present at times as aggressive, intimidating or angry can be challenging to foster carers and over the years we have offered lots of advice, training and support to our foster carers and social workers on this very subject.

As part of this blog we are providing information and advice not just for foster carers and social workers but for everyday parents. We find many of the skills found in authentic day to day parenting are similar to the special skills we look for in foster carers.

It can be easy to see anger as a negative emotion and we often link anger to behaviour that scares us or feels unacceptable, temper tantrums, hitting, kicking, throwing things, verbal abuse, physical aggression and intimidation are good examples.  

What we can forget is that anger is meant to make us uncomfortable. Anger is used by others to get us to pay attention and it therefore gives us information. When presented with anger by our children, we should be thinking about how we help our children and ourselves to regulate and express anger in a healthy way. We will come back to this later. But first let’s look at what the anger can teach us. Andrea Brandt a family therapist talks of the four reasons anger is good for us,

  1. Anger helps you get your needs met. It is a way that your body tells you something is wrong or missing, for example, you feel unheard, unseen or unimportant. This anger might provide the space to say to someone I feel unsupported by you, can you help me by …….
  2. Anger helps you discover boundaries, for example, that feeling that raises up when your boss brings you another “quick job”.  The boundary may be..”I am overwhelmed” and a response could be “I cannot take on extra work”.  Our teenagers may feel it when as a parent we ask them about a relationship or enquire about their day. Their boundary may be “I want some space/privacy” and a response could be “I don’t want to talk at the moment, I need some quiet time”.  The thing is, anger has informed us and we have set the boundary.
  3. Anger helps us get things accomplished. Some of us might be motivated by being told “you can’t do that!” as our response might be, “right I’ll show you” and off we go to prove a point. Would we have achieved any of this, without that sense of anger?
  4. Anger strengthens relationships, which in itself sounds somewhat contradictory as many of us go about our day avoiding conflict, but the creation of a fulfilling relationship means working through things (including conflict) together, compromising, and seeing things from the other person’s perspective. This often only happens when one party states “when you did that I felt… or when you do that, I stomp off/ go silent, slam a door (I am sure we could all add more)

What we might be seeing from this, is that anger is often the result of another feeling being activated. This might be hurt, fear, embarrassment, disappointment or, rejection, the list is endless.

When we are working with young people who have experienced adverse early experiences in their childhood, anger often masks the emotions that make them feel vulnerable. For example when a child is faced with fear of the very people who should be caring for them, or feeling that they are unavailable to them or that they are being abused by them, the chances are they will not show how scared they feel, but instead they will try and become scary themselves, as sometimes attack is the best form of defence.

When we feel angry, our body responds with intense feelings, these are often physical and we will probably see the body move into a fight or flight mode which is the physiological reflex process that enables us to survive. This reflex involuntarily triggers a variety of hormones to flood in to our systems, increasing our heart rate, tensing our muscles and giving us a surge of energy from the adrenaline and cortisol that gets released. We are in fact “wired” for action. What we find in children and young people when they go through this surge of hormones, is that they often don’t know what to do next and what happens is usually not a conscious decision. This is not to excuse the behaviour but to explain it. 

At To The Moon and Back, the children we care for, are unlikely to have witnessed healthy role modelling of how to deal with high levels of emotion. They are more likely to have witnessed high emotion resulting in violence (a high proportion of our children have lived in homes where domestic violence is the norm), they may have seen parents drink excessively and struggle to manage their own needs, let alone someone else’s. Consequently when faced with their own emotion, they draw on their own experiences and what they have witnessed. It is for this reason when looking at how we care for our children, we ask our foster carers to think not what’s wrong with that child, but what has happened to them.

When working with people who express anger, often the most effective question to ask ourselves is, how we help them regulate those intense feelings in a way that is safe. That said, it may not be straightforward when someone is raging at us and we are scared or equally angry too. This is where we talk with our families about the need to co-regulate. This is about managing our own intense feelings which erupt as a result of a child whose feelings are overwhelming them. Some of the most effective ways of caring for a child or young person who is struggling to manage a feeling is to:

  1. Name it – outbursts are often a way when children can’t communicate in other ways. Give them some words to talk about their feelings. Dan Seigal says “name it to tame it” when responding to intense feelings. An example might be “I can see you feel angry at me and I get why… I want to hear what you are saying so I need you to use words instead of slamming that door”.
  2. Let children and young people know about their emotions. We may feel that a child goes from calm to raging in seconds, but there are likely to have been a few indicators of the culminating anger within the time. The secret is to identify any indicators and given every child is an individual, the indicators are likely to be individualised too. It is important that we become hyper observant and look for the indicators and help a child recognise these for themselves and help them find coping strategies.

I cared for a child in a residential home many years ago, just before he flew in to violent outbursts I saw his eyes widen, he dribbled and fidgeted. It was at that point, I started to name what I was seeing and start to de-escalate things, I used soothing tactics like you might with a baby. I would try to reduce stimulation, sounds, lights, I would help him learn the signs, so he could look for pause button moments himself.  This is not a quick fix but helps the longer-term solution.

  • Think about our own regulation. With the young person I mentioned above, I changed my breathing and breathed deeply and grounded myself knowing sometimes I felt scared when he got angry. My own scared thoughts could influence how successful I was at managing his feelings. The calmer I was the calmer he became. Not always easy, so seeking support is important. I would seek contact from someone after the event who understood. We talk about events of anger with our foster families so that they have the opportunity to debrief, by reflecting and analysing what happened and how they might do things differently if there is a next time. We offer our foster carers what our foster carers offer our children.
  • Exploring triggers that led up to the anger. This might be really obvious, a child has been told they cannot have something, for some of the children we care for a raised voice in an adult can be terrifying and as a result escalate a situation further. Think about what you know about the child in your care, are there hidden triggers you can identify.
  • Planning ahead and setting expectations are essential in changing behaviours. So before an event, talk about what you expect to happen, for example “when we go out I want you to hold on to the push chair”. Use prompts to remind a child of what is going to happen in order to prompt action and engage positive behaviours, e.g.  five minutes before we leave. Notice when children are responding to this positively and name that.
  • Think through structure, routine and outcomes. If an incident happens are there natural consequences that children can learn from, rather than a sanction or punishment having to be put in to place. For example “because of this incident, we are unable to go to that… because we have missed the bus”.  A disciple is a student and we should see discipline as a learning tool. Punishments often come in anger and I know from my own moments of not pausing before I act, that they can be unrealistic. I am not really going to remove all the electronic gadgets from the , even though I have threatened it and my children know it!!!!!
  • Model the behaviour you want from your child. We cannot expect children to respond to their anger healthily if we don’t either.
  • Reflection is an important tool in parenting and raising children. Thinking without blame and shame about how we handled a situation and then adjusting what we do is essential for anyone caring or working with children. (we are always learning) 

Think about your own self-care. As a parent and carer we naturally don’t put our own needs as high as others. We are only effective when we have a clear head and therefore caring for our own needs are important.

We support the need to work therapeutically with children and young people. We work to understand behaviour as a communication. Children who have experienced trauma as a result of abuse or neglect have experienced things, we may find hard to imagine. We work in a trauma informed way to hear the communications behind a childs behaviour, and we work to make connections and build deep relationships which enable children to understand their feelings and work towards coping with them.

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.

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 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 limited 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 

I have met many foster carers over the years, who have demonstrated to me their huge desire to be the best they can be, in order to advocate and support the individual child in their care.  Some of these carers wanted to simply parent the children in a caring and loving way and others saw their role as professional carers. All, I feel, understood their levels of responsibility and accountability and were prepared to go as far as they could to make a difference to the lives of the children they supported. In return they expected very little, other than, respect for their knowledge and skill and to feel valued for their dedication and commitment.

Fostering is not simply providing a loving home, although necessary, it is about making a connection and seeking to really understand the impact that abuse or neglect has had on the child and then helping them to start to feel able to trust people again. Successful fostering requires a combination of parenting and therapeutically caring for a child. We rely on foster carers to make these connections with children.

At To The Moon And Back, we are honest about what fostering really entails, the lows as well as the highs, so that people have a true picture of what they are committing to, in becoming a foster carer. The honesty of the challenges they may face, rarely puts them off. We in turn, commit to support them to understand about the impact of trauma and support them in their continuous individual development. 

What is inspiring, is how so many of our foster carers instinctively work therapeutically with the children, or are able to use playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy as a positive therapy for children who, because of their experiences, find it difficult to establish and maintain relationships.

Connectivity is easier in a well-matched relationship and we spend a long time getting to know our foster carers and their families, so that we can work on matching them well with a child.

Foster carers are co-professionals

Foster carers often become childcare experts, but with any experts, expertise develops over time. None of us are born experts. They are expected to operate as co-professionals in the team surrounding the children and young people. Being a part of the team around a child, unless the carer has working knowledge of the childcare field, can be daunting initially. Simply understanding the jargon that is used can be challenging and leave foster carers feeling isolated in conversations where they struggle to understand the language, we professionals speak. We owe it to the foster carers to speak clearly and refrain from using acronyms, ensuring that they fully understand what is being said without patronising them. It is rarely the children that cause the biggest issues for them, the frustration felt by foster carers, is usually a result of the system and a perceived lack of effective communication.

In a sector where professionals can change frequently, we find that foster carers are the continuity for a child and their advocacy for a child becomes vital in order to enable a child to reach their full potential in life.

Sadly, national surveys highlight that foster carers are so often not treated as the knowledgeable professionals they are, leading to many people feeling fostering isn’t for them, and leaving fostering altogether. I recall one foster carers story who whilst very new to fostering, was encouraged to foster children highly unsuitable for someone so new to fostering and with very little knowledge. Unsurprisingly, a placement failed after a very short time and the foster carer was so upset, she decided fostering was not for her. Luckily for the children she now fosters, the draw of fostering was very strong, and she decided to foster for a different agency who recognised her skills and abilities and supported her to develop her expertise.

Support

Feeling supported is a subjective area. What feels good for some may not be enough for others. What is vital, is the feeling that foster carers are in a good relationship with the agency team, feel safe and feel able to say when it’s not working for them. Good support is proactive, non-blaming and reflective. It can be individualised very easily when it is led by a skilled team. Our role as an agency, is to help foster carers succeed, in turn helping children succeed too. As we say so often, “it’s not rocket science”. 

Support for foster carers should be tailored to the individual needs of the child they are caring for and should be matched to the developmental stages of the child and the developmental stages of the foster carer. All fostering services should provide a dedicated full-time support service for foster carers and ensure access to respite provision when it is felt it is required. Peer support opportunities should be enabled and promoted at a local level.

Expert development

A development framework for foster carers must be in place. Mandatory training must be undertaken and knowledge should be tested periodically as it so easy to slip into habits that fail to uphold the best practice. In all profession’s, updates are required, and fostering is no different. However, post approval, foster carers who recognise themselves as the expert in the room, will want to update their knowledge and skill. This is not necessarily about doing lots of training courses, it’s more a case of being receptive to reflection and listening to the experience of others, for example when being a part of a group supervision session. Reading recommended material, listening to podcasts and attending good conferences are a big part of our development plans for our foster carers. Everyone develops differently but being open to being developed is an essential criterion for anyone in fostering.

At To The Moon and Back we are dedicated to raising awareness of the impact of trauma on young people. We see it as being vital to improving futures for children who have experienced traumatic events as a result of abuse or neglect. There has been some fantastic research into the benefits of working therapeutically with children and it feels right that we equip our foster carers with this knowledge from day one.

Likewise, it is important that our own team are educated and skilled to support the ongoing development programme for foster carers. We work to attract the right people, who can work within our culture and support foster carers to play a key part in the expertise around the child, recognising their input as highly as any other professional and advocating on their behalf when external professionals fall short, educating them about what they can expect from the foster carer.

Decision making

Foster carers must be given the authority to make everyday decisions on behalf of children in their care without unnecessary delays and restrictions. Whilst there are already lots of this happening, it isn’t always happening with the levels of regularity we would like to see. The foster carer must accept as with any professional, the autonomy of making decisions runs alongside their accountability too. As professionals we are all accountable for our actions as well as our omissions. So, whilst we push delegations of authority, we must educate foster carers about their decision making to protect them from allegations made against them.

Keeping accurate and meaningful records

“If you have not written it down, it didn’t happen” is a sentence I have been reminded of from my nursing days. It is vital that foster carers are educated and supported to maintain accurate and meaningful notes, that can enable us to review and improve the plans of care for a child with accuracy and provide professional and supportive information for the child in later adult life, when they may choose to read about their life in care. It is important that we support foster carers with mastering record keeping, revisiting it periodically in order to support them in the evidencing of the great work they do.   To a certain extent we must prepare the team around the child to enable foster carers to use their skills and knowledge and enable them to develop their mastery. It takes a village to raise a child, but a village willing to try new things and give recognition for success where it is due. Foster carers spend their waking days with the children in their care, they give children so much unconditionally, and in return want only the best for them. We rush around as professionals sometimes and we sometimes might forget to thank the foster carers for their input and monitoring, which they do constantly and upon whose expertise, we rely.

What to look for when you are considering transferring your fostering approval to another agency

Foster carers should feel totally supported in their role allowing them to enable young people to reach their true potential in life. There are times when foster carers feel the need to move to another fostering agency in order to help them continue to be successful in their role. Making the choice to transfer from one agency to another is a big decision and can be daunting for the foster carers.

We respect and support the fact that all foster carers have the freedom of mobility which means they can choose to move from one fostering agency or local authority to another fostering agency of their choice. 

The freedom of foster carers to move to another agency is recognised nationally and is captured in a formal transferring protocol document, which is designed to ensure that the freedom of choice by foster carers is respected by fostering agencies and local authorities as long as the best interests of the children in their care are fully met as a result of the transfer.  The transferring protocol was first published in 2014 and was reviewed and agreed by Fostering Network in 2015. https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/sites/www.fostering.net/files/resources/england/transfer_protocol.pdf

In supporting a transfer process, that is in the best interests of the children who may already be in placement, we feel, that once a foster carer has decided to move to another agency, it should be facilitated as swiftly and as easily as possible for the carers. This will help the foster carers during the transfer process to remain focused on the children in their care and not distracted by politics and any potential deterioration in professional relationships as a result of the foster carers choice to move to another agency. However we recommend that you make sure that you have voiced your concerns or discontent with your agency, giving them a chance to try and put things right before you make the decision to transfer.

The undertaking of research to find the fostering agency that you feel will best meet your needs and expectations is worth the time. We have created a checklist with you in mind to explain the process of transfer and to enable you to ask relevant questions.

What is there to think about

Establishing and understanding your reasons for wanting to leave an agency is important. It will help you to find what you feel you need with a new agency once you know what you are missing from the relationship with your current agency.

At some point you will need to speak to someone about your thoughts regarding transfer to another agency. The conversation should be confidential, and you should feel satisfied that there is no commitment at this stage and that an initial conversation is purely a fact finding exercise. You shouldn’t feel under any pressure, as it is important that any decision you make to transfer is made with lots of information and consideration.

The reasons for leaving an agency are very individual. It’s worth making a few notes about what you feel is important in your relationship with your new fostering agency and decide on good questions that may help you get the information you need. We have a compiled a few that may help you.

How much of a role can I play in the agency to influence decisions made on behalf of foster carers and young people?

For many experienced foster carers, feeling part of the discussions that influence the changes in an agency is important. If you get the chance to speak with directors frequently, then you are likely going to be able to discuss your thoughts and make suggestions. It doesn’t mean that everything you ask for will be granted, but having the opportunity to influence, may be a factor for you. In large organisations the decisions are not always made locally, delaying the decision making process. Understanding how the company works, e.g. who are the shareholders, is a consideration. Start by looking closely at the company websites and check out the “About Us” pages.

How can I influence my development and the building of my future skills.

We prefer to use the term personal development rather than training. Personal development is individualised and enables you to plan alongside the agency for the areas that interest you or are likely to most benefit you and the young person in your care.

If you know a foster carer in the agency you are likely to choose, then try and speak with them, or take a look at the latest Ofsted report. Alternatively ask if you can talk with one of the agency foster carers.

Develop a list of the areas that already interest you and discuss them with the agency. Ask questions about other essential training too and how that fits.

We work to support you to create a development plan. We work to enable you to undertake mandatory  learning as easily and efficiently as possible. We provide specialist conferences, bringing key national and international speakers, providing opportunities for other professionals to join the conferences, enabling us to learn alongside other experts.

We use group supervision in the way it is intended to share good practice and seek peer support. We also provide memberships with the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting, which provide additional support and development opportunities alongside that already provided by us.

We believe it is very important that foster carers understand the impact of trauma on a child. We are a trauma informed agency; our foster carer development reflects this.

What kind of relationships can I expect to have with the team members?

We feel strongly that the feeling of being supported is very much down to the quality of the relationships you will have with your supervising social worker and the support team. When you have decided what it is that you are looking for, you may well know how to ask if it exists. We suggest you get introduced to your potential SSW and find out how long they have worked at the agency and how the team works.

The registered manager is the accountable person for an agency and will be the influencing leader of the care team. This can indicate how stable the team is. It is difficult to build long term relationships when staff change frequently. Enquire about the stability of the team, (you can ask and/or look at the Ofsted report).

How many fostering households will your SSW support and what is the average number for the agency. How widely spread are the households, this can help you determine the frequency of visits to your house. (The bench mark tends to be about 12 families per SSW but you may want to consider if these are all local families or if a SSW is covering 12 families over a large geography.

It’s work asking how the SSW likes to work, frequency for getting in touch with you, the type of relationship you can expect to have. This can determine the amount of time you will have with your SSW and the kind of relationship you are likely to have.

The relationship with your SSW is a vital one. Their approach and professional ability will impact on your support and future success as a foster carer.

We work to no more that 10 fostering households per SSW and we actively recruit our team to work where they live, enabling our team to spend more time with you, than in traffic.

What support is provided for you?

We believe feeling supported is a result of good trusting relationships with those you work with. Many organisations talk of providing good support, but you might want to consider what the support is made up of.

How flexible is the SSW in providing supervision with you?

For example, accommodating work and other commitments you may have. Will you have access to advice from your SSW outside of the usual working hours.

At To the Moon and Back we work to build equal relationships between foster carers and SSW’s and determine an individual approach to how best to, communicate, create plans for formal supervision and provide opportunities for learning and development.

Who else can you speak to and gain support from

Are there support networks for you for example, other professional experts in the organisation such as therapists, peer support from other foster carers, organisational memberships that can support you with advice and information. We believe access to a range of information is very important and provides a variety of options for foster carers.

What advice and support is available when the office is closed?

In particular the evenings and weekends. Many offer telephone support and this is available over 24 hours. It may not always be the person you are most familiar with, so how does this work.

We acknowledge how much information we have about you as a foster carer and work openly to share information about us with you, so that the relationship feels balanced. We work individually, so we look at how we can support you best. We are a therapeutic team, and we look out for your health and wellbeing, making sure that you are at your best. We are approachable, realistic and work to help you feel safe. We provide support individually, and as a group and we provide each foster carer with a membership with the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting. We have access to experts to support your SSW to advocate on behalf of your child and yourself where required.

What is the breakdown rate of placements

It is important to understand how many placements of children, within the agency, result in breakdown and require children to be removed and placed with other foster carers. This may happen for many reasons, but the matching and placement process of children to foster families is intended to prevent breakdown.

You may want to ask more about the needs of children being typically placed within the agency. You can ask if it is possible to speak with one of the foster carers, thus finding out about their experience. Ask how the agency obtains and uses feedback, particularly from foster carers and young people, and how that is recorded and evaluated.

It is important that agencies are good at listening to the views of the children and the foster carers. There should be an informal as well as a formal process which allows you as a foster carer to offer feedback and this should inform improvements to be made. This is good governance and a requirement of registration.

What does matching look like

We all know that good matching of children with foster carers is more likely to result in settlement and longer stays. We suggest that you ask how matching processes works in your chosen agency. We believe the matching should be in conjunction with you and additional information provided for you to make your decision. We carefully consider what is not written in a referral and we analyse the needs of the child, ensuring as far as possible that the placed child will impact positively alongside your family.

What support can I expect financially

The agreements between fostering agencies and local authorities determines the fees for foster carers. Fees vary depending on the type of care the child requires. Agencies will advertise fees and it is important to understand how the fee is determined by asking about the levels of care required for children for the level of fee that is advertised. Also you may wish to ask what else is provided to support the financial costs of supporting a child. This varies from agency to agency but might include mileage payments when transporting children, birthday and festival presents and/or clothing allowances. Get in touch to find out about our fees

As a transferring foster carer, you can expect that the fees you are getting now, will be replicated as a minimum and you will not receive anything less. It is worth checking with your newly chosen agency if they would likely8 agree to pay your fees.

Does the agency have strong positive links with the local authorities?

This is important and can determine types of placements you might be offered depending on contractual arrangements. Their relationship with others involved in the care of your child, may be indicative of how the agency feels able to challenge and advocate on your behalf too. You can identify often if positive relationships exist by looking at the latest Ofsted report and asking other foster carers.

How long is the transfer process taking currently and what is involved?

People who have already gone through our transfer process have commented it was a more understandable process than the original assessment and seemed much easier. Assessments are undertaken before you transfer. Because there is a lot of information available about you as a foster carer, we endeavour to work with your agency to read your files and ask questions about your fostering career. We work with you to build our picture of you, that will be shared with our panel formally, as you would expect. You must be presented to our panel in the same way you were, when you first became a foster carer.

You may need to undertake mandatory training to get up to date, and it may be felt necessary or desirable for you to attend some of the Skills to Foster course, this is individualised, and we will discuss this with you.

We will have to undergo checks about you and verify who you are.

We appreciate that transferring your approval to foster, is a big decision. The timing is influenced by your intention to enable us to have conversations with your current foster agency. We are unable to do that until you give formal consent to your current agency and ourselves. This is normally done in the letter of intent to transfer your approval to another agency. You are not committed at this point, to transfer, however you have raised the point that you intend to leave your agency if everything goes well with the new agency that you have chosen.

Once you have done this, we can access records of yours, but this will be only in conjunction with your existing agency. We work hard to make this part straightforward on your behalf. A protocol meeting will be requested by ourselves. This meeting involves, you, the social workers of any children in your care at that time, the agency you are working with and your newly chosen agency. The purpose of this meeting is to determine that the move to another agency will be in the best interest of any children in your care. The meeting will involve conversations about the needs of any children and how the newly chosen agency will meet them. There will be questions about how the agency intends to support the development of you and how they intend to charge the local authority and pay you. All in all the purpose of this is to make sure that when you give your notice to leave your agency, (which you will only serve, when the panel of your newly chosen agency has recommended you and the ADM has ratified their recommendations formally) as the notice to leave once served, cannot be taken back. Therefore initially, you only inform the agency of your intention to transfer, the actual serving of 28 days’ notice, only takes place after the ADM of your new agency has ratified the decision. Once the 28 days’ notice has been served, you will automatically, on the agreed date, move over to your newly chosen agency.  

What support is available if you wish to take breaks or holidays from fostering?

The provision of “respite” can be a contentious issue for foster carers. It requires notice of the need for respite, firstly to ensure availability and secondly to prepare the children who will be using the respite service.

Find out how respite is supported in the agency. Ask also, how the agency enables you to use the family and friends support you have built around you, when you may need a break.

We provide flexibility for the use of the respite fund available to you. We know that there are lots of reasons why you may require the use of respite. We have foster carers who specifically undertake respite services, some who are willing to do this in foster carers homes to avoid children having to leave their home.

Respite arrangements are often established as part of any placement agreement. When children are living with you, it is expected that you will treat them as you would your own children, taking them on holidays with you. Some agencies will offer you financial support to help you fund taking children with you, or paying for children’s activities whilst on hoiliday, which leaves you to have a day to yourself whilst the children are having fun.

Get in touch to find out about our support for respite

How does group supervision work, what activities are there for families and children including your own children.

It is important that activities are available to families to enable people to build other relationships and to enable fostered children and children of foster carers to come together. We use this as an opportunity to have fun but also to chat about experiences and seek the chance to build support networks and learn about the experience of those using our services.

What is the culture of the agency, how does the organisation maintain and live up to their values

All organisations regardless of their size has a culture. You can look at their statement of purpose and ask questions related to it. The statement of purpose is a regulatory requirement and has to be included on the agency website, so it is easy to for you to read it. Click here to read our Statement of Purpose

How does the agency positively promote the image of former looked after children

Often the image is negative as a direct result of poor outcomes but are there people in the organisation that challenge that view. Are there care experienced people working in the organisation and how do they influence the improvement of outcomes for fostered children.

We see the transferring of foster carers to alternative agencies as a positive process, led by foster carers. We welcome conversations about whether we can offer what you are looking for, understanding that we might not be suitable for you. Its very important to feel that you can work with us and wish to be a part of something special. We take fostering young people very seriously and we appreciate the need to attract a diverse mix of foster families to match the diverse need of young people requiring our services. We want foster carers to be successful and support the building of networks that ensure foster carers feel part of something good.

The provision of support to foster carers is a legislative requirement. What is interesting is that a great many foster carers feel underwhelmed by the levels of perceived support offered to them. Support is relatively easy to provide we feel. It is about enabling a foster carer to feel safe in their decision making, offering development which leads to mastery and working proactively to support the prevention of occurrences that cause fear. This requires having a good relationship with carers, and enabling them to feel able to trust us. It is built on honest conversations and realistic management of expectations. Julie and Michael are new foster carers, they were approved in August. They were kind enough to share some of their thoughts when I interviewed them.

I asked Julie what their initial motivation to foster had been and how their experience of the process of becoming approved to foster was for them.

She explained, “Our initial motivation was based on the fact that we had room in our home, we missed family life (after our children had fled the nest) and we really wanted to make a huge difference to a child’s life in any way we could”. 

She said “The process from getting in touch with “To The Moon and Back” early last January, via a telephone call was amazing. The lady who answered the phone was so supportive, kind, genuine and extremely engaging, listening to our queries, advising, supporting and encouraging, answering all of our questions in a very professional manner and not making any judgements. She was very happy to discuss anything, with no time limit to the call. Throughout the fostering process “The Moon and Back” were SO supportive, encouraging us and answering every question, big or small and they always had the time to listen and explain the process of fostering. They were very professional and discreet, dealing with all references and interviews with our friends and relatives both in person and by telephone.  They were always happy to explain every step of the process.” 

I asked how they felt about their first placement, before the young person arrived, the initial first weeks and after the young person had left?

Julie said, “Obviously we felt nervous, anxious and a bit scared about our first placement, but “The Moon and Back” adequately prepared us via our skills to fostering courses and the assessment itself. We attended child centred training days where we met other foster carers, social workers and professional people from all walks of life who equally offered encouragement and support. 

The initial first weeks of being a “real” foster carer were extremely well supported by the team,  via daily phone calls/emails and very regular visits also. They were so encouraging, enabling us to make good decisions and providing support at all times, day or night  it felt that they were there for us. 

At no time did we feel alone or out of our depth. Our first child presented with complex needs, and  had been involved in county lines activity previously. We were given information to make a decision about the placement and it felt right. The team at  “The Moon and Back” could not do enough to support us at any time we needed advice or support. In fact they were there “on speed dial” every step of our journey. 

After the young person left us, to return home, the support and caring and encouragement for us still continued.” 

Not being offered sufficient support, is a big area of concern for many foster carers nationally. I asked the couple, what the support they felt they had needed, since being approved, actually looked like and if they felt they had had it.

Julie said, that the support had been on-going, “It is always there, via personal visits, phone calls emails etc, it never goes away. “The Moon and Back” is just a phone call away at any time of day or night.”

She said it feels that we are learning all the time and thinking and reflecting on our fostering experience and practice constantly. We have been meeting new foster carers and professionals and making relationships with all of the people surrounding the children in our care. We are drawing on all of our experiences and working out what we can do better to improve the outcomes for the child.”

I asked them what advice they would give to people who are thinking about fostering?

They said “Learn as much as you can about what fostering is all about, talk to other foster carers and social workers, think seriously about what you can bring to fostering and then do it. Enjoy the process, the challenge, meeting lots of new people from all walks of life, and above all be proud of your achievements in making a huge huge difference to a young persons life.  Last but not least, enjoy every moment of your journey and making some amazing memories.” 

Christmas can be a complicated time for young people living in care. With children hearing messages about Christmas being about family but not spending it with their own family. I asked them what this Christmas looked like for them.

Julie said “Christmas is a busy time for everyone but having a foster child at Christmas is about being present for our child, listening and being supportive and showing that we understand how they may be feeling. Above all, our focus is about making our child feel special, loved and wanted no matter what challenges confront us. We are looking forward to making a difference to our child, today, tomorrow and in the longer-term future.”