Why people choose to foster

The State of the Nation Report 2019 undertaken by Fostering Network, having asked foster carers directly, found that there are three main reasons why families foster.

  • The desire to make a difference to the lives of children in care
  • The desire to offer children the opportunity to be part of their family
  • Really enjoy working with the children.

What we know about foster carers

At To The Moon and Back Foster Care, we know that our own fostering families foster for the same reasons noted above, so we agree with the outcomes that the biggest reasons to foster are altruistic.

What we hear and what appears to be reflected in the most recent research (State of the Nation 2019) is that foster carers want to be seen as equals and part of the perceived professional team and feel valued for the work they do. The Fostering Network states that “foster carers are supervised, trained, skilled and experienced – and ought to be well respected, sufficiently remunerated, offered ongoing training and properly supported.

Sadly, I have recently had to reassure families when they have felt insulted as a result of comments, made by external professionals, about not being part of the professional team and we wonder why every year we have to replace the existing work force of foster carers at a rate of 10-12% every year, all before we actually start addressing the shortfall of around 8000 families. But it’s not just the external professional team that influences the foster carer’s feelings of being valued. Recent research showed that up to one in ten foster carers have considered transfering to another fostering service because they were unhappy with their agency. However they had not transferred because they were concerned about the transfer process. This reflects what we have experienced. We have been approached by amazing foster families considering a transfer but very nervous and subsequently wary of making the move to a different service. Amongst the reasons for not transferring were concerns about having to go through the assessment process all over again, and concerns that foster children may be taken off them. Seemingly their lack of trust in the system sees them resorting to “better the devil you know” and staying where they are, accepting they are unlikely to resolve issues and never have the improved service they would prefer and deserve.

What is the reality of fostering?

We acknowledge and appreciate that some views of fostering can be idealistic. For some who enquire about fostering, their willingness to care for a child who cannot live with their own family is overwhelmingly heart felt. At To The Moon and Back Foster Care, our extensive expertise, tells us that the children who need to be looked after, have, by the very nature of their reasons for not being able to live with their family, experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). There is a wealth of knowledge, research and evidence to show that this has a profound impact on children of all ages and there is no child that comes in to the care system without having experienced or been touched by an element of trauma. We are clear with everyone we come in to contact with, that every foster carer and member of staff should be trained from the very start, to understand the impact of toxic stress, loss, separation, abuse and neglect. Why? Because we know we cannot expect families to provide care to traumatised children without the tools to do this well. We work using some key principles of therapeutic parenting and as such all of our social workers have a high level of skill and knowledge in this area.

“The fostering task requires carers who can become ‘therapeutic parents’ to looked-after children in a way that promotes the child’s developmental recovery, often after abuse, neglect and trauma”. (Bristol University Compassion Fatigue Research)

We should be surprised and shocked, but sadly we are not, when we hear and see families who have not been prepared for fostering in this way.  My co-founder Angela Hunt and I have worked in other organisations that have not been trauma informed and whilst the staff and foster carers have done the best they can, the team had not had the necessary training, development or expertise to prepare or support families for the care they needed to provide. It was for this reason we set up To The Moon and Back Foster Care, with a clear ethos of a trauma informed approach built on a foundation of a skilled and equal team, focused on enabling our foster carers to succeed well.

Our past experience is further echoed in the findings of Bristol University’s research “Almost without exception, the foster carers in the focus groups felt that they had not been adequately prepared during the three-day preparation programme and their home study. As one carer said, ‘fostering is about normalising the most extreme behaviours and pretending it’s a normal life, and it just isn’t a normal life at all really’.

The rewards of fostering – what families tell us

We work with some very inspirational foster families. Their perceived rewards of fostering are humbling and encouraging.

“The moments when you can see happiness in a child’s face and know you have helped to create an environment for them to flourish”. (Foster carer at To The Moon and Back)

“You’ve got to look for the little things. One little child was probably with us six months before they smiled, and it was just like the sun came out. Because sometimes it’s hard, very hard, and you’ve got to look for the little things that make you think it’s worth carrying on”. (Compassion fatigue research Bristol University)

“Amongst a mountain of despair comes a bright light of hope and an incredible need for love from a child”. (Foster carer from To The Moon and Back)

“The one person I keep going for is her … I love her and that’s what makes it worthwhile. Looking after her is 95% hard work and 5% reward, but that 5% reward makes every day that’s hard worthwhile.”“When a child confides in you with an experience or opens up about their emotions, it is so rewarding to gain a child’s trust”. (Foster carer at To The Moon and Back)

So what can we do to help, when it is not feeling great?

None of us should be surprised by how fostering can leave families feeling. Young people who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, have strong feelings that they struggle to regulate. Many have grown up in families where they have not been shown how to respond to strong emotions in safe ways. Our foster children show us how they have been cared for in the past, by the way they express their hurt, trauma and neglect. They are not able to regulate their complex emotions and therefore express their feelings through behaviour that we expect carers to try and understand, contain and live with.

Having been a social worker involved in fostering for nearly thirty years, I have been inspired that despite the level of trauma children and young people bring in to family homes our foster carers live with and many remain committed to doing their best no matter what children present. What I have found sad and appears to be shown through research on foster carers and compassion fatigue, is how little as a professional, some social workers think or talk about the impact of fostering on families without an element of blaming the families for lacking in something, (resilience, skills support network, understanding… the list goes on).

At To The Moon and Back we truly see ourselves as trauma informed and we share our thoughts about the expectations of a trauma informed foster carer from the moment a family considers fostering with us. Only last month we hosted a conference on secondary trauma with Dr Karen Treisman and invited not only our foster families but every prospective family who had applied to us to foster. We feel strongly that they should know what they are signing up for and what they can expect from our support and ongoing development.

Foster carers we feel, cannot be supported effectively unless we are talking safely about trauma and what it does to young people, but equally to them and their family. By “talking safely” we mean, in a safe trusting relationship where foster carers can be honest about their feelings and fears, without feeling judged. We say of this basic need that, “this is not rocket science” but common sense. We are delighted that in our first Ofsted inspection report, our inspector was able to see that our trauma informed culture, values and ethos are central to everything we do.

Foster carers looking to transfer to us, have given permission for us to share their stories of their agency.

“There were issues surrounding support…. We never wanted to be in a position where we felt we had nowhere to turn to for day to day support… we became involved, through our own research and study, with an external  support service, funded by ourselves“

“My first agency was focused on “heads on beds” and it wasn’t’ at all child centred”

“I think it is hard in fostering, you are generally on your own and support groups never really happened ….which made it more isolating“

The research undertaken by Bristol University reflect these thoughts, with further sad and shocking quotes from foster carers.

“I’ve been there with children when you’re just meeting the basic needs, and you’re doing what you think they need, but you’ve took on their trauma, and actually you can’t cope with that as well as looking after this person, so we’ve put a lid on it. We can’t take any more in that glass, so you literally are protecting yourself.”Most foster carers felt that the social work professionals supporting them did not generally have the appropriate knowledge and understanding of issues of attachment and trauma, its effects on children and the challenges of caring. As a result, the support provided did not meet their needs.”

So why don’t families just move to a more supportive and trauma informed service.

In the most recent research undertaken by Fostering Network in 2019 only 53% of foster carers rated their service provider as good or excellent. One in ten families had considered transferring but didn’t. The biggest reasons given for not moving included feeling that the transfer process took too much time and effort and that their long-term placed child would have to leave them if they moved.  One family apparently stated “I am redoing the assessment, but it has taken eight months just to get references!” Also mentioned as part of the report were delays to transfer caused by spurious concerns raised by the foster carers agency, alongside threats of deregistration, resulting in their new agency often halting or delaying the process. All of which we believe is unacceptable and a sad indictment of how we see the value of foster carers within the sector. Foster carers have a right to change agency, so much so that protocols are in place to support the process, ensuring that foster carers are treated with respect and the children in their care are put at the centre of the decision making. It is important that the transfer process is undertaken swiftly once a foster carer has formally indicated their decision to leave their agency, so that the carers can remain focused on the care of the child.    

We have seen much of this for ourselves in previous roles with other organisations as well as more recently, in conversations with other colleagues and families who have discussed their intention to transfer. We hear the reluctance to move to another service and go through a full assessment only to find nothing is different. The carers invest in sharing intimate details about their lives and have their families and friends participate in another assessment. In The State of the Nation Report one family stated “We had to redo everything! References from family and friends, they met with them and interviewed them, they looked at our bank accounts, they asked intimate questions about our marriage and family relationships, they went through the whole invasive process again, from scratch.” It is acknowledged that the transfer process has to be thorough, but there is so much that can be done better. We work hard to make the process of transfer, meaningful and valued by the foster carer, using the time to reflect and be developmental, alongside the legislative processes which are purposefully rigorous and therefore unavoidable.

We are concerned that there are foster carers who, despite feeling so unappreciated, decide to remain where they are. Where a trauma informed approach or trusting relationship does not exist or has broken down we believe there is a cost to a foster carer’s wellbeing and therefore to the children they support.

One of our favourite trainers, Dr Karen Treisman, states “relational trauma requires relational repair”. This relies on there being a positive relationship with all parties and can only happen when there are safe relationships modelled throughout the organisation. We support our foster carers to care for children with relational trauma through relationship repair. Our foster carers are the secure base for the child to explore the world safely. Our supervising social workers are themselves, supervised using a relational approach, so that they too then become the secure base for the foster carer. This ensures that, in our case, the culture of the organisation remains true to the statement of purpose.

We firmly believe that having a supervision process that takes in to account working with trauma, enables issues, like the sharing of honest feelings raised as a result of caring for children, to be openly discussed. We know that sharing these this can feel risky in an agency that does not consider this part of clinical supervision as important and can leave families feeling vulnerable, judged and open to being seen as unable to cope as a foster carer.  Just imagine, how would it be if you felt safe as a foster carer or a social worker in your supervision to explore these feelings which arise as part of the day to day work. We are told by foster carers who experience this type of supervision that they feel “topped up”, “heard” and “truly supported”, sometimes also relieved that what they are feeling is a normal part of fostering. We truly believe that this is what every foster carer should be getting as part of their support package.

We know the feelings that children raise in foster carers can give insight in to a young person’s needs. We have children for example, who engender despair and pain in our foster carers and children who leave our foster carers feeling unusually sad and tearful. This bears no reflection on the carer’s shortfalls, rather, evidences what is going on for young people that they are projecting on to the foster carers and the family. It gives us all clues as to how we might need to support children and therefore is an essential conversation we should be having. By having this conversation regularly it potentially reduces compassion fatigue in foster carers.

“Compassion fatigue can be described as the emotional residue, or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma” (Figley, 1995)

I love the description used by Figley, he states “We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients (children). We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humour and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.”

This we hold true in our foster families and social workers who are empathic and sensitive to traumatised children. It should be spoken about and to not do so is damaging to foster carers health and wellbeing and ultimately the children they foster.

What we know, is that families who are not being supported by other professionals to recognise the impact of fostering on carers, is that the carers can feel judged, and criticised. We hear families saying that they were offered solutions to issues that were basically behaviour management tools which they knew would be unlikely to have a long-term impact on their child. We have seen foster carers throughout our careers, who have become isolated, perceived as challenging and difficult simply because they respond to criticism, solutions and guidance from professionals, in what are sometimes deemed as negative ways. I loved hearing from a foster carer who when described as being challenging, thanked the professional for the feedback. They knew that in their challenge of professionals they were acting as true advocates for a child whose needs were not being understood.

In the research carried out for a fostering service by Bristol University, the following quotes highlighted the findings from the research

“Foster carers also attributed lack of support to individual social workers’ lack of respect and empathy, which resulted in the carers not being trusted, their expertise being ignored and a lack of partnership working. Many foster carers also talked about social workers wanting to ‘solve’ problems rather than simply listening and being empathic, and this is not what they needed”

What we know about our social workers is that they too need empathic listening and supervision that supports them with the trauma that they work with. We end up otherwise in a cycle of all the professionals replicating the chaos of the families from where the children may have come, this manifests as blame, criticism and harsh judgements being made on other professionals.

 “Some foster carers felt judged and blamed by social workers for the difficulties they experienced in caring for traumatised children. Feeling judged led to a reluctance to ask for help and concerns from carers that if they were honest about the way they were feeling they might get de-registered. Lack of support is likely to have contributed to the moderate to high levels of burnout and secondary traumatic stress, and moderate to low levels of compassion satisfaction which many foster carers reported”.

As foster agencies we have a responsibility:

  • To provide the right leadership and agency culture which encourages the building of trusting relationships with everyone in the team but especially the relationship with our foster carers, enabling everyone to feel safe about being honest and open about their feelings.
  • To emphasise the priority of providing meaningful and individualised support of foster carers that they themselves value, recognising that we are all different and sometimes processes and approaches need to be reviewed to fit the needs of individuals
  • To actively listen for signs of tension in a non-judgemental way, so that it can be discussed and the tensions relieved.
  • To advocate for foster carers to be treated with respect and recognised as part of the professional team around the child, challenging on the carers behalf when the need arises
  • To promote best practice, ensuring that our foster carers are informed about the impact of childhood trauma not only on the child but also on themselves

The transfer process can be a positive experience. One foster carer said of us “I was fortunate enough to have Alison assess me ….. when I was transferring from one fostering agency to another.  The assessment was extremely thorough and worked amazingly around mine and my little boy’s needs, allowing us to meet in the evenings once my little boy was in bed, allowing me to focus on the assessment rather than trying to answer questions when my little one needed quite a high level of attention. All form F assessments can feel invasive, as they go over so much detail, but Alison was sensitive and understanding in her approach”

We are particularly sensitive to the transferring foster carer, changing agency is ae recognise is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We treat any transfer to us, as an opportunity to reflect on the care being provided and offer a new space to reconsider support, development and training that may enhance that care.  It doesn’t have to be an assessment that repeats the earlier process, but it needs to be rigorous and evidence based to show what has already been achieved and what more could be done with the right tools, resources and support. Often attributed to Einstein, “continuing to do what you have always done, hoping things will get better, is a form of insanity” or as I have already said, “comes at a cost” and having a good relationship with those supporting you really matters when trying to support a child who has experienced trauma.

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

a very Happy Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has inspired you most about your foster carers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your biggest challenge this year

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

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

What has been your biggest highlight in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Happy Talk” Angela Hunt speaks with Vanesa Pizzoto of Adventist Radio London

 

We have been very fortunate to have met some very interesting and genuinely caring people this year. Inspired by the people we met at an Adventist Church in Watford, we have taken part in so many events culminating in an invite to contribute to “One Vision” the idea of Enoch, a Pastor from the church. He has brought us together with other inspiring likeminded organisations across Watford in order to support each other to achieve great things for those people in most need in our community.

Vanesa Pizzoto is a wonderfully passionate woman who invited me on to her radio show to answer questions about fostering young people. Her appetite to find out more about what fostering actually involves and the specific needs of the young people who require foster families, led to a very lively conversation which we are delighted to share with you.

Every day 90 children, through no fault of their own, come in to care throughout England and Wales as a consequence of their experience of abuse or neglect. There is a shortage of 8000-9000 foster families nationwide. We are committed to inspiring people to consider fostering children and are delighted to provide information and answer any questions you may have about fostering. There are many different types of fostering and we work individually and with creativity to support you to be successful in enabling young people to achieve their true potential in life, despite their early childhood challenges.

Our sincere thanks to Vanesa Pizzoto and the team at Adventist Radio London, who have permitted the sharing of this podcast.

Need to credit Vanesa Pizzoto and include the website of Adventistradio.london

During the month of February, our thoughts turn to love. Let’s face it, we can hardly move without commercial references to showing our love with chocolates, hearts and roses.

It feels nice to be truly loved and whilst February is a focus for showing our love to our nearest and dearest, love is even better when it is felt throughout our whole lives.

What's love got to do with it

St Valentine’s Day for many of us now, is a focus for love in a wider context, this may be the love of a partner, but increasingly it is the love of any significant person who is prominent in our life, like a son or daughter, father, mother, aunt, uncle or friend. If we are fortunate, we have many cherished people in our lives, and they cherish us in return.

If we take a look at the film” Love Actually”, it explores the different loving relationships around a group of interrelated people in a community. It includes unrequited love. Where despite loving someone, the love is not returned and it causes unhappiness emptiness and hurt.

I love you to the moon and back is a phrase used widely to depict the strength and the distance we are prepared to go for someone we love. Our fostering agency name came from our determination to demonstrate our love for young people, and especially those in care who need love and support to overcome their challenges in life.

From our experience, many children living in the care system don’t always feel loved and often feel instead like a commodity passed around from family to family like an unwanted present. We however see them as a gift to us, to nurture, love and support no matter what, because in return we will get something, resembling love.

Love is a strong feeling which is sometimes difficult to explain. One of my favourite quotes about love was reproduced by Global News, they asked some elementary kids in Canada to explain what love is.

“I guess my best way of explaining what I think love is would be like the solar system. There are a bunch of planets that can represent people. And then of course gravity holds them together. And gravity is sort of like love. No matter how far apart people are, love can hold them together”

This image of the solar system with its planets and stars links with our ethos at To The Moon and Back about caring for children using the concept of a series of relationships. Some relationships might look to be a distance away, but they may hold a significance for a child that is not always entirely clear, all of the time.

The singer, Tina Turner, sang, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Well the scientists now tell us rather a lot actually. Doug Watt a prominent neuroscientist talks of our early life as babies as “unrememberable and unforgettable”(2001). This relates to how our early relationships as babies, may not be in our memory as adults, but impacts on our relationships throughout our life. This may be in ways that we least expect.

Our first relationships are based on learning about each other and responding to the needs of a baby based on the clues given to us. As a new parent, I remember looking lovingly at my baby boy constantly whilst trying to work out what his cries meant. Second time round as a mum I thought I was the expert as my daughter arrived, but her clues were so different and a new dance to get to know each other started. Every baby has their own way to communicate and a care givers role is to learn what this is.

Dr Allan Schore believes looks and loving smiles actually help babies brains grow. He describes how a baby takes the feedback of a smiling adult and this triggers’ internal processes, including a release of natural opioids, these are known to encourage brain neurons to grow. Put simply, those loving looks help our brains develop our emotional and social abilities.

So many scientists from different backgrounds, whether this is neuroscientists, biochemists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists appear to agree. As a baby, the more we feel loved, safe and stimulated, the better our life chances are as an adult because our brain develops its social and emotional abilities. The happier the experiences we have as a baby and toddler the better the chances are of having happy relationships later in life. The first relationships we have therefore become the predictor for future relationships. When we feel loved, supported and cared for in our first relationship as a baby we can expect that from others. It’s the start of our trust in others just beginning.

So, what about those babies who don’t experience love in their early years, who are left devoid of affection and stimulation. For those of us old enough like me to remember the horrific pictures of babies lined up in cots left unattended in Romanian orphanages, research following these children has taught us lots about the effect of love and attention on babies.

One study by (Chugani 2001) followed a group of adopted children in the UK, who had, pre adoption and lived in orphanages in Romania as babies. One year in to the adoptions there was a significant number of the adoptive parents identified as an absence of crying and a lack of expression of pain and fear in their toddlers. As the children were studied over time there was some great progress identified in all the children as a result of the care being given by the adoptive parents, but ongoing struggles with most of the children were identified by parents. These were around behavioural difficulties, struggling with relationships with their peers and their remaining focused on a task.

So, what has this got to do with fostering. We have experienced many of our foster children have had challenges in their early lives, as a result of significant parental instability and inconsistency, as well as neglect, the biggest reason why children are removed from their parents and brought in to the care system.

At To the Moon and Back, we truly believe that foster children deserve to feel loved for all of their lives. We want people who will go to the moon and back for our children and be prepared to show that what matters, IS love, actually.

 

Supporting people to overcome the most traumatic experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our aims

To be a foster agency of choice, recruiting and retaining the most caring and talented people within the industry


To embrace the principles of social pedagogy and commit to developing our foster carers and employee leadership potential. All of which would be conducted  within a culture of self-reflection, learning processes, and shared life experience


To work within the “Every Child Matters” National Policy Framework, promoting physical and emotional well-being, educational enjoyment and attainment. Feeling part of the community and having economic well-being, all whilst feeling a significant member of the family


To be a responsive and evolving organisation focused on continuous improvement


To provide foster carers who are positive role models, able to treat the foster child as they would their own child advocating the achievement of all aspects of the child’s development
 

Our beliefs

Children and young people have the right to expect a place of safety and reliable support within a nurturing stable family environment for as long as they need it


The safety of a nurturing home balanced with the undertaking of negotiated risk enables individual personal growth, and supports the individual young person to reach their potential


The views and wishes of children and young people should be listened to and taken into account when planning their futures and the future development of our services


Looked after children should have the same life chances as every other child and that being a looked after child should not reduce life opportunities or outcomes for children


It is important to emphasise equal partnerships and achieve effective team work


Everyone involved with To the Moon and Back Foster Care has the ability to influence positive change and continuous improvement
 

Our values

We believe we can

We have a “can do” approach to enabling people to achieve their full potential. We aim to create close relationships with our professional partners, to achieve shared objectives for our young people. We make time to help our colleagues where needed and work innovatively, challenging assumptions and offering new ideas to achieve outcomes


We make it personalised

We understand the need to listen actively and to be aware of our personal impact on others. We engage those around us to be fully involved in decision making on behalf of the young person and we remain focused on achieving personalised outcomes


We dare to care deeply

We will support our foster carers and our professional team to use their warmth, love, creativity and knowledge to go the extra mile for our young people, treating them as if they are their own children. We are respectful of others and feel passionate about achieving the best outcomes for our young people. We will challenge assumptions and be known for our honesty and straightforward approach. We are quick to admit what we can do better and make it happen


We are centred on the child

We aim to understand emotions and behaviours and create opportunities for our foster carers and professional team to build authentic relationships with our young people, walking alongside them and supporting them to feel that we can be trusted and are truly on their side. We remain calm in stressful situations and take smart risks when needed to enable a young person the opportunity to develop their confidence and ability to make good decisions for themselves


We do the right thing at the right time

We aim to provide timely honest feedback and a development programme for both our foster carers and professional team, so that our people are equipped and feel confident and supported to make informed decisions in a timely way. We contribute proactively to prevent the arising of issues for young people where possible and we see things through to their conclusion

Our two founders; Angela and Alison have always worked in the caring profession with Angela starting out her career as a trained nurse and Alison a social worker

Angela always had a great passion for social and health care. It was this passion that led her to gain substantial experience and success in operating social and health care for adults. It was during this time that Angela was asked to lead a 12-week project for a foster agency. She instantly fell in love with the fostering sector and when offered the role of CEO for a foster agency in Essex, she jumped at the chance.

Alison was an independent social worker working with a variety of local authority and independent fostering agencies. It was during one of Alison’s secondments to a foster agency in Essex that she first met Angela.

Two years on and Angela had left her role as CEO in Essex but still desperately missed the fostering service. Consequently, in January 2017 Angela decided to approach Alison to see if she would be interested in setting up a new fostering agency.

Many an exciting discussion followed, with the result being a shared belief in the recent outcomes of social pedagogy research. They both were, and still are, extremely passionate about well-being, and have put this at the very core of the company. They are both also proud founder members of the social pedagogy professionals association.


Company name

After spending many an hour considering different brand names for their newly found company, they decided to focus their thought process on why they were so passionate about setting up the foster agency.

In a nutshell they decided that it was mainly due to two core elements:

  • The outcomes for children in care not being good enough, many children in care do not have the same opportunities as their peers, through no fault of their own
  • They felt compelled to improve standards and offer the children in their care more opportunities

They then began to question just how far they would go to enable success. Well, to the moon and back!

When considering how far we would ask anyone to go for the children, again, the answer seemed to be, to the moon and back

The more they began to think about the name “To The Moon And Back”, the more it made sense. It had great connotations with Little Tiger Press’s famous children’s book; Love you to the moon and back, as well as the aspiration of a heart full of hope and the feeling, you’re never truly alone, that you experience when you look up to the moon.

And so it was decided, the new foster agency would be hence forth known as To The Moon And Back.