Innovation is a good thing, yes? Well, where fostering and adoption are concerned; as with most things some fresh thinking is probably a good thing. But when the leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network claims that a new approach to fostering could “really revolutionise how fostering works in this country”, it is time to sit up and take notice. A memorable name helps and anyone considering becoming a foster parent might be interested in this latest departure: Mockingbird family model is the rather notable name we now have to add to the lexicon relating to fostering children. What is compelling is the interest that the government has shown. Given the pressures within the fostering industry – in simple terms relating to supply and demand – not enough carers available for specialisms such as fostering children with additional needs set against rising demand; government has to be seen to be acting. Wanting to foster a child is a big step, so anyone considering taking it should be encouraged by a government prepared to plough in additional resources to fund new thinking. This support comes via the Department for Educations’s innovation programme which has awarded almost £1.6m in funding to the Fostering Network to pilot the Mockingbird family model in eight local authorities. These include Oxfordshire county council, Leeds city council and the royal borough of Greenwich.
Time then to look beyond the name: a visit to the website http://www.mockingbirdsociety.org/index.php/what-we-do/mockingbird-family-model will provide comprehensive information, but in essence, the Mockingbird Family Model (MFM) delivers; if you foster a child, a model of support that intentionally creates a community. In each MFM, six to ten ‘satellite’ families live close to a licensed foster care family called a ‘Hub Home’ which provides help and assistance in a number of ways: providing peer support, respite care and – especially significant – helping navigate bureaucracy. The ‘Hub Home’ comprises specially trained foster carers who have expertise – so anyone fostering children with disabilities within the ‘satellite’ group will, for example, be offered additional support such as respite care. The ‘Hub Home’, together with its satellites is termed a ‘Constellation’.
This is a compelling model because it does not offer a ‘top down’ approach. If you foster a child it can be isolating, so the emphasis around joint planning and combined social activities can provide a very real sense of support. It is easy to see that this model has the potential to really ‘shake up’ the norms of fostering: most importantly, it can empower carers who feel part of a larger and outwardly recognisable group. This is a change to the established dynamic where carers are all too easily (and understandably) forced to be supine in the face of an unrelenting system: one that is often bureaucratic to the point of being bizarre.
For those who already foster a child or young person they will doubtless be aware of the coverage around the perceived failure to adequately resource fostering. Cuts are being made that impact on the level of support carers might expect to get. Proper levels of fostering children payments are obviously crucial for carers, but the knowledge that specialist provision and support will be available can make the all the difference to whether someone remains in fostering, or even applies to become a carer in the first place. Fostering children with disabilities is just one area demanding high levels of resource and support, but urgent attention equally needs to be paid to the mental health and well-being of looked after children: there are problems with the CAHMS service and the vital service they provide for children with mental health issues: placement instability has been having a direct effect on young people’s opportunities to access the service. The Mockingbird Family Model is already having a positive effect making placements more stable, which is in every sense the holy grail for each and every placement. But the MFM also has the potential to create an entirely new ‘political paradigm’ around fostering. There are now 17 of these constellations that are active in England. One can imagine, given time – and where they may come into being in far greater numbers across the country – real pressure from the ground roots will come into being. In this new world, it is difficult to imagine a situation where a House of Commons Education Committee will be left to ‘express disappointment that 12 years has elapsed since the last prevalence survey into children’s mental health’.
And the good news at the end of this rainbow…foster a child and you could soon be joining our carers in their relaxation classes. This is a hugely enjoyable experience aiming to give them the chance to relax and unwind before the long summer holidays begin! Many more sessions are planned as it was so popular: our goal, to have the fittest happiest carers in town.