Mockingbird: A new way to foster

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Mockingbird is an innovative programme for delivering foster care which can bring significant benefits to the lives of fostered children and those who look after them. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council has been part of the programme since its inception in 2015.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council was part of the initial Mockingbird pilot which began in 2015 and has recently expanded its involvement by adding another constellation in September 2017.

Mockingbird uses an extended family model, in the form of ‘constellations’ which consist of a ‘hub’ home and several ‘satellite’ homes nearby. The specially recruited and trained hub home carers offer respite care, peer support, regular joint planning and social activities.

Because of its structure, Mockingbird helps alleviate the sense of isolation foster carers can feel and offers immediate practical support - similar to that a non-fostering family might receive from friends and relatives. In Stockport this enhanced support has enabled a number of short-term placements within Mockingbird to become long-term placements, offering greater stability to the children and young people growing up with those families.

Jane Parsons, Mockingbird coordinator at the council, gives an example of how responsive the support offered by Mockingbird can be - when some satellite carers were let down by their babysitter before attending an adult-only wedding. The carers directly rang the hub home carers, explained the situation, and the young person was able to stay in the hub home for the weekend.

‘Before the project that wouldn’t have happened due to the request coming out of hours and the permissions which would have had to have been secured,’ Jane explains. 'But as part of Mockingbird occasional stays at the hub home were already part of the young person’s care plan and the appropriate delegated authority was in place. And the young person didn’t have any qualms about staying with the hub carers because he knows them and he’s stayed with them previously.’

Consistency and familiarity

Continuity of care is one of Mockingbird’s underpinning principles, so hub home carers ensure the routines of the children and young people are kept consistent, regardless of where they are staying.

The hub carers say: ‘They know us. They know the house. We know their routines, the children’s likes and dislikes.'

Jane adds: ‘If the children are with the hub carers they pick them up from school so they know who their teachers are, they know who their friends are. They also know their history, so they can ask questions about their birth family which the children may not like to discuss with their primary carers because of the loyalty they feel towards their birth parents.’

To make the children and young people feel more at home when they come for ‘sleepovers’ (as respite is referred to) the hub carers in Stockport provide personalised bedding, chosen by each child in the constellation. ‘We want each child, when they come, to feel as though the bedroom is theirs.’

Stability and support

This familiarity improves the quality of respite care for the child and also the support offered to the foster carers. So much so, that it can mean relationships being maintained which may have otherwise broken down.

A satellite carer, who had only been a carer for six months when she and her partner joined the constellation, says: ‘We had a boy placed with us who was subsequently diagnosed with autism. We had a respite carer in place but that later broke down, at the same time our foster child was permanently excluded from school. We were at breaking point. Our foster child’s behaviour at home was affecting our children, who were doing A-levels and GCSEs, so it’s been a very difficult year, and without Mockingbird we wouldn’t have survived. Without the support that Mockingbird gave us, and their help with respite, we would’ve had to hand our notice in.’

The model also minimises the disruption experienced by young people if they do have to move out of their foster home, as they are able to live at the familiar hub home before another placement is found.

The hub carers feel the peer support promoted by the model is a key benefit. ‘The carers didn’t know each other at the start. But now we are able to let our emotions out and we all understand where the others are coming from.’

Fostering lead at the council, Vaunda Taylor, echoes this sentiment: ‘You’re bringing together different personalities within the constellation, but I was pleased at how quickly they gelled as a group and the satellite carers developed relationships with each other and not just the hub carers.’

These relationships ensured all of the newly approved foster carers in the project continued to foster after the first twelve months. .

‘We’ve had really strong messages about the support offered to newly approved carers’, Vaunda says. ‘Learning and doing are two completely different things and the support Mockingbird offers is invaluable.’

For more information about fostering for Stockport Council call 0161 474 3400 or visit ww.stockport.gov.uk/foster

Listen to the latest episode of our monthly podcast, All About Fostering, to hear more about the Mockingbird programme in Stockport.

The Fostering Network is the lead delivery organisation of Mockingbird in the UK. For more information about the programme visit thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/mockingbird or get in touch with our team at Mockingbird@fostering.net who can answer any questions you may have.