APFEL (Acting for Promotion of Fostering at a European Level) is a European gathering of a variety of stakeholders who meet each year somewhere in Europe to debate and share resources and best practice to promote and improve foster care.
The Fostering Network jointly hosted this year’s conference, Foster Care Transforming Lives, with APFEL on Wednesday 20th November. The event took place in Edinburgh and had attendees from France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, UK, Switzerland and more.
The presentations kicked off the afternoon before the main conference with Derek Kirton from the University of Kent presenting on the anti-professional turn in English foster care (the trend away from foster carers being seen as professionals by decision makers in the team around the child) which sparked an interesting discussion on people’s thoughts about professionalisation, employment and practice. It was clear to see that foster care across Europe differs greatly from country to country, let alone between one local authority/municipality to the other; however, the key issues of placement stability and the recruitment and retention of foster carers seemed to be significant for everyone in the room.
The main conference began with Kate Lawson, our policy manager, outlining the fostering landscape in the UK. The rest of the day was structured around several sessions covering placement stability, models of care, foster carers’ relationships with birth families, and supporting children and young people during and leaving care. Here are some key points from the day:
Johan Vanderfaeillie presented interesting findings from Brussels, applying self-determination theory to parenting suggesting that enhancing the basic psychological needs of the foster carer (their need to feel competent, autonomous and have good relationships) can improve parenting and therefore outcomes for the children in their care.
Learning more about alternative models of care from Mockingbird (UK) and una famiglia per una famiglia (Italy), it was clear to see that strengthening peer-relationships in care is a key part of successful models because they work towards building a strong network of people who care and are cared for around the child.
Marieke Klein Entink and Yvonne Aarsten from The Netherlands explained a collaborative approach they take to fostering which is similar to co-parenting. They shared examples where parenting is seen as shared between the birth family and the foster carer. This view was echoed in Nathalie Chapon’s work in France, that some children in foster care view themselves as having two families which they share their time between.
We also heard from Lifelong Links which operates across England and Scotland. Mariela Neagu and Louise Hill presented on the project’s objectives to create a lifelong support network for children and young people in the care system. Their work has highlighted the importance of relationships and how they have helped children and young people develop a sense of belonging.
The day was closed with a series of workshops where delegates were invited to think creatively about how to tackle problems and learn about innovative models to support children and young people.
This year’s APFEL conference facilitated an important exchange of policy, research, ideas and practice from people at the forefront of trying to change foster care for the better across Europe. This network provides a crucial forum to work together internationally to help improve outcomes for those in foster care. We are proud to be a part of it and are already looking forward to next year.