Last week The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland held our Fostering…the Future? conference with almost 200 delegates in attendance from across the fostering spectrum - foster carers, social workers, trust directors, government officials, staff from universities, further education colleges and other voluntary organisations.
We were delighted to be joined by Richard Pengelly, the Department of Health Permanent Secretary (pictured right below, along with Kevin William, chief executive of The Fostering Network, Ruth Ellison, a foster carer, and Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland), who thanked The Fostering Network, foster carers, and voluntary organisations for the passion and dedication that they bring to their work.
He said: ‘There are almost 3000 children and young people in care in Northern Ireland, of whom over three-quarters are in foster care. Each one of them deserves to have the best care and opportunities available to them and it is important that we support those who are willing to take on an alternative family role. I recognise the challenges faced by the sector. Today's delegates have first-hand experience of these challenges and need to part of the solution. I would ask you all to work closely with us in finding that solution.
‘That solution will need to ensure that it is not only capable of dealing with the increasing numbers of children and young people in care but also capable of responding to changing needs. There is much that is good in our system of care – we keep that and we build on it.’
We also had two keynote speakers, both of whom were fantastic:
Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Safe Hands and Thinking Minds Training and Consultancy Service discussed relational trauma in the context of looked after children. Karen has extensive experience in the areas of trauma, parenting and attachment and works clinically using a range of therapeutic approaches with families.
Jimmy Paul, a care experienced adult who had a turbulent time in foster and residential care, clearly has a deep commitment to sharing his experiences and using his knowledge to help improve the experiences of all those in care today.
We also had contributions from 22 others reflecting current practice in foster care, new and emerging developments, as well as practical examples of what works.
As well as providing a forum for everyone involved in foster care to discuss how we can and should work together to ensure positive outcomes for all children who are looked after in Northern Ireland, the conference also saw the launch of our exciting new Fostering Kinship Support programme. This is a new initiative in Northern Ireland which aims to support children and young people living in kinship family arrangements, and their carers, to access support that will help them improve their wellbeing, build their skills and enable their engagement with the programme.
Overall, this was a highly productive event which we hope will bring benefits to all those involved in fostering across Northern Ireland. We have had incredible feedback about the conference both online and offline.
If you are on Twitter, you can learn more about the conference by following our director in Northern Ireland, Kathleen Toner, @tfn_kathleen or searching #tfnconference17