Kirk Hawksworth is a senior supervising social worker for TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) and has been delivering Fostering Changes training in recent years as part of the Confidence in Care Consortium. He is the lead facilitator for the trust under this initiative and also has an active caseload of foster carers.
About the programme
The Fostering Changes programme is made up of 12 sessions advocating a very gentle way of working with children and young people and placing a focus upon building and establishing the relationships between the child and the foster carer. Aspects of the course are similar to other training or learning, such as attachment theory, however Fostering Changes does not require a foster carer to have attended any particular prior training and those new to fostering will find it easy to understand and follow. The only requirement that the programme has is that a foster carer needs to have a child in placement with them.
Not 'chalk and talk'
Fostering Changes is not a ‘chalk and talk’ type of programme – foster carers are encouraged to engage with one another and with the facilitators, which I think is one of the programme’s biggest strengths. We use a number of different mediums throughout the course including small and large group discussion, observing practice, watching videos, and having a go!
At the end of each session, each participant is tasked with trying out one of the skills, which we have discussed during the session, at home. The following session we have a chat about how this went. It is during this part of each session that foster carers tend to learn from each other – examples of good practice are discussed, challenges are worked through and suggestions that might make things easier the next time are made.
Each session builds upon the skills and knowledge from the previous session so no-one feels as though they have been ‘thrown in at the deep end’. It is also important that the programme is constantly evaluated to ensure that it is meeting the needs of foster carers, so, at the end of each session, foster carers are asked to complete an evaluation form letting us know how we did as facilitators. We are always conscious of addressing this feedback before we next see the group.
Working towards a sense of camaraderie
Another of the programme’s strengths is foster carers being in the same group for an extended period of time. This encourages them to share thoughts, experiences, and memories, and it promotes a relaxed atmosphere where they can have a laugh together. It helps foster carers to know that other people share their feelings and understand why they feel the way they do.
In my experience, foster carers tend to share more in this group with other foster carers than they would normally share within a learning environment. It helps that, as facilitators, we share a bit of ourselves too – anecdotes from our experience as social workers, as parents, as people. For this reason, the group is considered to be ‘closed’ once it has formed. It is hard for people to share in an environment where there are constantly new people appearing within the group.
Overcoming challenges and the programme's future
The model of delivery that we use includes having up to two social workers on the course along with the foster carers themselves. This can take a bit of getting used to for some foster carers who may be feeling that they are being observed, or evaluated. However social workers attending the group are doing so on the same basis as everyone else, and are expected to share and get involved in the same way, which has been very successful.
The Confidence in Care programme is funded to provide three support groups following each course, with the hope that foster carers continue to meet up and support each other. The hope is that foster carers can then ensure a larger, more familiar support network to help them in the work that they do.