Foster care providers – and those with a professional interest in fostering – are likely to have been aware of the award-winning Mockingbird Programme for some time. So there will be plenty of interest in the findings of an evaluation report into the programme published by the Department of Education in the last few days. The Mockingbird Programme has been developed by the country’s leading charity, The Fostering Network. They are describing it as a sustainable and cost-effective model of foster care which will have more capacity for caring for children and young people. The claim is that this increase is greater than that provided by other current foster care models.
Mockingbird relies on an intuitive model based upon the structure, support, relationships and features of an extended family.
One thing that everyone can agree on is the high costs – not solely financial – of increasing numbers of children coming into care. Because there has been an ongoing shortage of foster carers for a number of years there are pressures within the system. There are not enough carers available with therapeutic training who are better able to support children and young people with enhanced needs. This has increased the rate of placement breakdowns which causes emotional harm to both foster children and their carers. It also lies behind de-registrations further aggravating the recruitment and retention of foster carers. Placement breakdowns damage the stability needed by children to do well at school. It exposes them to risks of exclusion and children, not in school can fall victim to gangs. That path, sadly, leads to many youngsters getting caught up in the legal system. One noteworthy finding taken from the report is of special significance here. For every £1 invested in the programme by a fostering service, a saving of 99p has been achieved. Such an impressive return on this investment is in part explained by foster children spending fewer days caught up in the criminal justice system or placed in residential care
Contributing to the reduction in costs of the provision was the significant level of foster care retention facilitated by the Mockingbird Programme. The report discovered that carers who participated in the Programme were eighty-two per cent less likely to de-register than fostering households that did not participate. An important reason for this is integrated peer support available for foster carers the Programme features. Ninety per cent of participating carers rated this as being ‘good or excellent’. The evidence for this was further born out by the responses of those interviewed who described Mockingbird’s core essence in terms such as ‘person-centred’, ‘community’ and ‘extended family’. The reaction of one foster carer is especially significant: “If I didn’t have Mockingbird, these children wouldn’t be long-term with me.”
The Programme looks to be especially promising where the support available and consequent wellbeing of foster carers is concerned. This also applies to the experience of children and young people. The evidence suggests it enables them to build stronger, more lasting friendships as well as improving sibling relationships. Given that many children in care can all too easily feel isolated, the comment of one teenager is worth recording: “Mockingbird is a place where you will make new friends and that you will have for life really.”
The importance of trust.
Therapeutic fostering models such as the Secure Base used at Rainbow stress the importance of availability for any child. It is essential for the building of trust. This is known to be essential for children’s healthy emotional development. If they can trust that comfort, protection and nurture will be readily available they have a secure base from which to explore and build trust in themselves and others. In light of this, the findings of the report are extremely significant: almost all children and young people – 2018 (98%) 2019 (97%) said they felt they had an adult “who they trusted, who helped them and who sticks by them no matter what.” And this idea of the value of extended family and community is meaningfully expressed by a fourteen-year-old being cared for by a Mockingbird foster family: “All of the foster carers care about us and I have so many aunties and uncles, LOL! Wish I had always had Mockingbird throughout my life in care.”
The Mockingbird Programme can be said to be something of a paradigm shift. What is shows is that looking afresh at how care is organised lies at the heart of the benefits it brings. Another significant improvement it facilitates is the increased availability of fostering places which is down to the support it provides. Foster carers who took part in the programme were ten per cent less likely (34% against 44%) to be unavailable to offer a place for reasons connected to needing respite or even considering de-registering.
The value of normality.
Children who come into care understand what normality means through a very different prism from the rest of us. Their version, since so many have been abused and or neglected, is far from what most of us would recognise. For an environment to be healthy and ‘normal’, it must first be secure and stable. When placements repeatedly break down it is impossible for a child or young person to create a sense of proper normality. The report into the Programme says:
“The Mockingbird programme was seen to bring normality to children in care and their foster families, including kinship carers, through creating a community similar to an extended family environment and reducing experiences of bureaucracy.”
The findings seem to be suggesting powerfully that fostering is not something that should be done in isolation. Even a secure, successful fostering family household could benefit from being aligned with a ‘constellation’ (Mockingbird’s term) of other foster carers.
We, humans, are social creatures. Modern-day living has reduced many to living lives in isolation. Mockingbird, more than anything, highlights the importance of the inter-dependence which flourishes in communities. We all need this and it is looking like being essential for fostering. There should be considerable hope as IFAs and LAs have their established communities of foster carers in existence. Perhaps the next important step – indicated by the Programme is to organise these along Mockingbird lines. Lillian Stevens, Head of Mockingbird at The Fostering Network said recently:
“We are delighted that Mockingbird is seeing such positive results which can be sustained into the future. ‘The positive impact the programme has had on the children and young people, foster carers and fostering services over the past five years is fantastic to see. We look forward to continuing the expansion of Mockingbird to improve fostering for everyone involved right across the UK.”
For all of us involved in fostering provision it is worth recording that work and results from Mockingbird have caught the attention of the government. The Children and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, stated following the report: “I am immensely proud of the benefits the Mockingbird programme is bringing for so many foster families, because every child deserves a safe and loving home life where they feel valued.”
Twelve Mockingbird programme partners were evaluated as part of the English Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme 2017-2020. The Rees Centre at the University of Oxford played the lead role in the evaluation working in partnership with the University of York and York Consulting.
Rainbow is currently offering careers in foster care.
We understanding that children coming into our fostering service presenting with complex needs may not always fit into a mainstream family setting. This means our approach to recruitment, matching and placement support is defined by thorough and meticulous expertise built up over twenty years.
Stability and the right kind of care are what matters most to children coming into care. Rainbow offers the kind of specialist placements that provide this.
Therapeutic fostering requires skill and dedication so we promise great pay and prospects for anyone planning a career with us in therapeutic foster care. At Rainbow Fostering we look after children for whom a return to their birth family is not possible. And a growing number of children placed with us have a higher level of need meaning that mainstream fostering placements are not suitable.
The support offered by Rainbow is always tailored to work best for the individual child and foster family. We go beyond just 24/7 telephone support and aim to give our carers a unique experience with a feeling of solidarity – the knowledge and reassurance they are never alone in their task.
Call 0330 311 2845 to find out how to start your fostering journey with us. To foster you need a spare room, be over 21 and be in reasonable health. Whatever your ethnicity, cultural heritage, relationship status or sexual orientation we will welcome you to our vibrant fostering community.
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