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”

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

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.”

To The Moon and Back Foster Care was formed by Angela Hunt and Alison Kindred Byrne with the intention of creating a trauma informed service, where foster carers could feel part of a great team, where relationships matter and where the support is proactive and individualised.

The outcomes for the service are proving to be outstanding, with very few placement breakdowns breakdowns and crises being avoided. The team are very positive that working therapeutically achieves better outcomes for young people, foster carers and the team who support them.

In an interview with one of the organisations very experienced foster carers, Debbie shares her experience of working in a therapeutic way with the children in her care and supporting them, to understand how their experience as a young child affects them.

Debbie, how long have you been fostering and what led you to become a therapeutic foster carer?

“We have been a fostering family since August 2013. Right from the outset with the two siblings, (who have now lived with us over six years) there were certain aspects of ‘standard’ parenting that just didn’t feel right.

For example, when the two children were clearly in a state of distress, sending them to their room or a ‘naughty step’ seemed cruel. I found myself instead, wondering what might have happened in their past. Wondering about the times when they’d been sitting alone, terrified of what was coming next. I had to question if we really wanted to recreate this fearful anticipation?

We were also very aware that an extreme fear of unpleasant consequences, might well lead to compliance in the short term, but it was not going to help them in the longer term when faced with making choices as adolescents. We knew we needed to find a way to help them to regulate, and almost re-programme the type of thinking they had learned in order to survive in their early lives. 

After a really challenging six months with another young man who came to live with us, we decided that we never again wanted to be in a position where we felt so helpless, and needed to find better strategies and support.

I’d heard of Therapeutic Fostering, and had responded when our previous IFA were asking for expressions of interest in a possible training opportunity looking at therapeutic care. Unfortunately, this came to nothing.

Instead we joined the Therapeutic Parents Facebook page, which started us on our journey of discovery. We read about and researched the subject, and we started putting what we were learning into practice. Finding success with what we were learning, and why these methods worked, resulted in us wanting to delve deeper, especially into the neuroscience behind the therapeutic approach.”

What benefits are there, in your opinion, to working in the way you do?

“When a child comes from a background of experiencing trauma (neglect, abuse etc), their brains do not develop in the same way as the brain of a child living in a home where he/she has ‘good enough’ parenting. More traditional parenting techniques may work for children with secure attachment, but a child whose brain is ‘wired differently’ just does not have the right brain infrastructure to benefit from these methods. 

For example, a child who believes they are shameful and bad because that has been their internal working model since birth will not respond to reward systems. They will instead sabotage this in order to reinforce their own belief in their intrinsic badness (I don’t earn rewards because I’m not deserving), and not achieving the reward will reinforce their toxic shame. 

These children are unable to ‘think things over’ when they are in a dysregulated state, because they are not accessing the thinking part of their brain, rather they are stuck in the primitive or survival part of their brain, which prompts a survival response of fight, flight or freeze. These children did not learn to self-regulate as babies by having a nurturing, responsive parent to help them learn how. 

We need to use alternative techniques to help these children heal and build these missing connections. This is definitely not ‘permissive parenting’. Rules, boundaries and structure are really important fundamentals that are worked on alongside a nurturing approach.  Inevitably the environment in the birth homes, is often chaotic and the children are unable to predict what will happen. For example, they may become worried when it is time to sleep, or wonder when they will get food and possibly feel anxious about whether there will be enough of anything for them. Putting structure and routine in place helps the child to predict these basics, possibly for the first time in their life and they can begin to feel safe and ultimately begin to recognise that some adults can be trusted to meet their needs.”

Can you share some examples of how you have approached some of the challenges that you have faced and how this helped the young people you have cared for as well as yourself?

“One of our boys in particular used to take things without permission, often belonging to other members of the family. In particular, sweet, sugary food items. When we first tackled this behaviour, he was massively defensive, getting very angry and totally denying it, even in the face of irrefutable evidence.

As we began to understand why this was happening, we started to tell him, that we knew why he’d done it, and we were gradually able to explain his behaviour to him. His responses progressed from ‘I might have taken it but I’ve forgotten’ to ‘I know I did it but we’ve talked about it and you’re helping me.’ 

He developed and progressed to being able to share his feelings with us, such as ‘If I see something that I want, it taunts me until I take it.’ He developed an understanding of ownership, and his own impulsivity. He was then able to ask if the item could be used or moved by the owner to remove the temptations. 

These days, he rarely takes things, apart from when things get really stressful and he regresses for a while. A reward-punishment system would not have enabled him to build these brain synapses. 

Another one of our children used to have enormous, dysregulated meltdowns, which resulted in lots of shouting, raging, banging and verbal abuse. Afterwards, he would collapse into floods of desperate tears. We have gradually worked with him to help him understand what is happening in his brain and body to cause this, and to recognise when he is beginning to get ‘worked up’. 

It’s a work in progress, but more often than not, he can now excuse himself from a situation, talk himself through it (he will sometimes literally have an argument with himself) and then return and apologise. He can usually turn himself around in a matter of minutes, as long as he’s able to act before he reaches his ‘tipping point’. 

Our third child is 11, and although he is with us permanently he is the newest member of the family, having arrived less than 18 months ago. He is functioning at an age much younger than his chronological age in some areas, especially social and emotional, and we try to address issues on the basis of developmental ‘stage rather than age ‘.

We went to a local shop earlier this year, having discussed that we were just popping in to get some juice. He had some change in his pocket, and once inside insisted he wasn’t leaving until he’d got some sweets. 

I watched him from the doorway for a little while; he was clearly indecisive about what he should do. I then approached him, took him by the hand and led him out of the shop (I think he was so surprised he made no attempt to resist). 

Once we got outside, I said I was sorry. I told him that I’d thought he was strong enough to be able to keep to the decision we’d made, but I could see I’d given him much too much responsibility. I had decided that to help him, we would stay out of the sweet shop until he’d had much more practice at keeping to agreements and had got stronger in his ability to regulate himself.

We do go in shops now and he does ask for things, but usually if I say no he’ll say ‘Okay.’”

As an agency we offer membership to The National Association of Therapeutic Parenting, to every one of our foster carers. We are quick to point out that this is in addition to what we offer ourselves and not instead of, but we believe that the additional support available helps our foster carers to be even more successful. You are a volunteer for the NAToP how do you support members?

As a moderator on the members’ Facebook group, I respond to questions about how to approach a problem in a therapeutic way, based on what I have learned or what has worked, but also signposting to resources that can give more information or support.

I also facilitate the local Listening Circle. These are non-judgmental, confidential groups, set up under the NAToP umbrella, and one of the main objectives of the organisation from inception.  The circles are for parents to get together at least once a month, with a group of other parents who are experiencing or who have experienced similar challenges. They allow members to be heard, share concerns and problems, and exchange information on where to go to get practical support, basically a hive of collective knowledge. Sometimes it’s just a chance to offload over coffee and cake, or to have a shoulder to cry on.

What advice would you give to people who may be considering fostering?

“I would say, think about your motivation to foster. It is probably the most important thing you will ever do to make a real and lasting difference, I’d say that’s a good place to be starting.

A trainer I know, who worked in residential homes for many years, once told me as a foster carer ‘You are literally saving lives’.

I would advise talking to other foster carers, make a list of any concerns or questions and share them with your prospective agency to explore how they will support you. 

Don’t be misled by the ‘All you need is a spare bedroom and lots of love’ type adverts. Yes these are both important elements, but children who come from hard places cannot recover from their past with caring and a change of environment alone. It takes time, and sometimes a lot of patience. 

Be aware that you will probably become an expert in conditions you have presently never even heard of!

Understand that you will need to be able to share certain things with people who ‘get it’. A parent of a securely attached child will probably not understand why you’re excited that your 15 year old just told you they trust you for the first time after 5 years, or that your 13 year old tells you ‘They feel like they exist’ when they get people who actually want to come to their birthday party for the first time ever.”

When you are new to fostering, it is very difficult to know which questions to ask as you do not know what you do not know! After nearly a year of fostering, we asked our foster carers a few questions so that we could get an honest opinion of what they feel about fostering with us.


How long had you been thinking about fostering before you decided to apply? 
— We had talked about fostering for ten years or so and when we finally found ourselves in a position to start, we went for it. 

Like many foster carers our carers had been thinking about fostering for a long time before they approached a fostering agency. Ten years is not uncommon in our experience but it can be shorter. The decision to foster is one of the most life-changing decisions a person can make, so no wonder it may take a while.


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

Our carers in this case were very confident in their approach when selecting their agency of choice. We actually loved the fact that they interviewed us.


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

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


What was it really like to go through the independent panel questioning?
— As a couple in our late 40’s and early 50’s we felt comfortable discussing openly our reactions and feelings. We have had a lot of previous experience raining young people and we were happy sharing it and answering questions that the panel posed us.

We felt we could learn from what was shared by the people on the panel, we held them in high regard. We were asked formally to feed back our thoughts after the panel so we felt our voices were heard too as part of the process.

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


After approval, how long were you waiting before you had a child placed with you?
— We were waiting for around 2 months. This was mainly due to our matching criteria, we have our own family and we were encouraged by the agency to make thoughtful decisions when looking at referrals of children, so that any children joining us would fit well in to our family. We were matched for siblings and made preparations for them, but when the case went to court the court order wasn’t awarded and therefore the children didn’t come to us. The build up to getting ready for children being placed involves a great deal and when the children then do not come it can feel disappointing, however afterwards you feel better and can re-focus, as usually there are other children’s needs to be considered.

We work hard to provide local placements for local children. It’s important to us that we make good matches of families to children. In our first inspection last year Ofsted highlighted our thorough process for matching. We have a duty of care to match families as best we can. A good match enables better outcomes for children by ensuring that they have consistency and an opportunity to build strong long-term relationships.   


How involved were you in the decision to have children placed with you?
— Very. Alison certainly made sure it was our decision to welcome our first young person, but in order for us to make the decision, she gave us good advice and guidance, as she always does. 

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

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

How much training and development have you had in the first year, how has it helped you in your role?
— Just about enough, we have felt that what we have had and continue to have is enough to make you feel ready for the job, but we haven’t been snowed under as yet!

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


How have your own children adjusted to fostering?
— They love it. Our 3 year old, 8 year old and nearly 10 year old have slipped into this so easily and naturally, it’s really surprised us in a positive way.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


What have been the absolute fostering high points for you?
— Watching a young person grow and change before your eyes, into the person they should have always been allowed to be, themselves. Priceless!

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

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

References: Why Foster Carers Care Fostering Network 2013

We are delighted to welcome Kate Steere as the new Chair of To the Moon and Back Foster Care Independent Panel. For Foster Care Fortnight Our Director, Angela Hunt has taken time out to ask Kate a few questions about her thoughts of the Panel process and how she intends to support our foster carers and ensure that as an organisation we continue to learn and improve our services to our children, young people as well as our foster carers and staff.


Kate we are delighted to welcome you to our team. We acknowledge your experience, knowledge and skill as a Chair and look forward to the support you will bring to our continuous improvement as an organisation. What are you most looking forward to, having joined our team?

“From what I have heard and seen so far, the agency appears very child focussed, but also very keen to listen to and work alongside foster carers to achieve the best for children. I am looking forward to being part of that and of course to meet your foster carers and hear about their experiences. It’s always lovely to have new carers return to panel after their first year and hear about all the warmth, care, nurture and fun that they have offered children and the progress the children have made in their care”.

The independent Panel process is a big part of the foster carer approval process, how do you see your role in ensuring the process is a successful experience for our new foster carers.

“I hope it won’t feel like The Dragon’s Den! I occasionally have to present to panels myself, so I do know what it feels like and I too get nervous. I hope to make the experience as friendly and comfortable as possible. I believe that you get the best from people when they are relaxed. I try to make sure that new applicants don’t feel as if they are being interrogated, rather that we are having a conversation about their wish to be foster carers, about their expectations and how their life experiences might be relevant when fostering.

There are some regulatory checks as part of the assessment and at panel we make sure these have all been completed, although as far as possible I will check this before panel.

 As I am independent of the agency, I’m also interested to hear about new applicants’ experience of the assessment and I can use this, to feedback to the agency about ways to improve the process.”

What do you feel are the most important aspects of your role as leader of the panel during foster carer’s annual reviews.

“Well, I do have to make sure that all the regulatory aspects have been met, but for me the most important part of the annual review is to hear about the foster carers’ experiences caring for children, their learning through this experience and about the support they have received from the agency.

Different panel members may be interested in different aspects of the fostering experience and so my role is to make sure that all panel members have the opportunity to ask the questions they want. Panel members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and include foster carers and those who were formerly looked after. The strength of the panel is in drawing on all that expertise when making recommendations.”

How have you seen the role of foster carers change over the years you have been involved in the sector and what are your hopes for the future of fostering.

“I have been a social worker for over 30 years, most of them working with children and families and in fostering. I have seen huge changes in that time. I think in the early years there was an assumption that having a warm, clean home and good physical care was enough. There are certainly more regulations and checks now and much more emphasis on safe care, but also on good support. There is also much more training available for foster carers and certainly in the last 10 years or so, the focus has been on providing therapeutic parenting and building attachments with children. In this way I think that the foster carer role is much more professional, with carers working alongside all the other professionals in the team around the child. My hopes for the future are that the types of support available to foster carers and children in their care broadens and is more readily available (especially support with children’s mental health). I also hope that the pool of foster carers can be broadened, by recruiting more foster carers from a variety of minority groups.”

We hear such a lot about foster carers feeling undervalued in some organisations but unable to make the change and transfer to another fostering agency for fear of things being no different when they have moved. What advice can you give to foster carers who may be thinking they need to transfer.

I think firstly you should be honest with your existing agency about feeling undervalued, to see if they can better support you, but then if nothing changes, start looking at what other agencies can offer and if they can better meet your needs. Think about what you want from an agency and ask lots and lots of questions of any new agency. Maybe ask some ‘what if’ questions. See if its possible to meet any existing foster carers from the agency, attend as many events available in a new agency as possible, so that you get ‘a feel’ for how things operate. If you are unhappy, don’t feel afraid to make that leap. There is a lot of variation between agencies but fundamentally you want an agency that appears very child focussed, one that respects, listens and works alongside its carers in a cooperative way and one that offers regular good quality training.

What is the best advice you have been given.

To think about what it must feel like for a child being moved from everything they know, and being placed with strangers; to try and place yourself in the child’s shoes. It’s simple advice that seems so obvious, but so easy to forget when managing all the other tasks that come with being a foster carer or social worker.

What is your best advice to newly approved foster carers.

To remember that asking for support and guidance when fostering is seen as a strength and not a failure, so don’t bottle things up! Use your supervising social worker to off load when you need to.

Also, to accept that nobody is perfect, and you don’t have to be. We all get things wrong sometimes, but the important thing is to be willing to discuss, reflect and learn from these experiences.

What advice can you give to foster carers.

Be willing to explore why a child might be behaving in a certain way, because having that understanding really can make it easier to manage and don’t take it personally, even if it feels very personal! (I know that is harder than it sounds). Be willing to try different approaches, as one size doesn’t fit all. Use the support offered and be kind to yourself, try to take a bit of time out to do something for you every now and then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing a Happy Christmas to you and your family

Angela and Alison xx

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Gitomer says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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