Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, writes:
‘Maybe I’m not so broken after all …’ are the words of a young person talking about a breakthrough moment for him at the age of 16 living with his foster carer. Jack, (not his real name), had multiple moves with several relatives in informal arrangements before being placed with a non-relative carer. His comment reflects his take on what was ‘normal’ family life. One Saturday morning he was somewhat reluctantly tidying his room with his foster carer who was giving off about the ‘mess’ and he suddenly stopped, thought ‘ah, this is what normal feels like' and added ‘maybe I’m not so broken after all….’
Foster care works for children and young people. It gives them a stable home with normal family experiences; it gave Jack a sense of belonging. It mattered that someone cared enough about him to make sure his room was clean and fresh, that he was sent to school and encouraged to think about what he wanted in life. It gave him emotional stability and it gave him love.
In Northern Ireland we have over 2,100 children and young people living with foster carers, many of them (almost 50% ) live within an approved kinship arrangement. The growth in kinship care over the last ten years has been a characteristic of our evolving provision here and we know from research that kinship foster care can have very positive outcomes when the match is right.
Celebrating foster and kinship foster carers
Foster Care Fortnight is our way each year to celebrate foster and kinship foster carers in Northern Ireland. Working with partners regionally in the Regional Adoption and Fostering Service, with the five health and social care trusts and with independent fostering providers we have a number of major events to highlight the need for more foster carers and promote the importance of providing stable family home environments for those children who can’t continue to live with their birth families.
We hosted the launch of Foster Care Fortnight in Armagh with the southern health and social care trust on Friday 13 May. With a wide range of information stands from further/higher education, employability, health and social care, independent advice, information and advocacy it is a chance for carers to meet, exchange information, learn about new, emerging initiatives, take part in exciting workshops and have a lovely lunch.
Our Foster Carer of the Year took place on Friday 20 May in the Hilton Hotel, Belfast with more than 250 people attending. We announced awards for a number of foster carers of distinction and from that group we selected our Foster Carer of the Year and Kinship Foster Carer of the Year. The awards are representative in nature and are presented to foster and kinship foster carers who reflect the key attributes of excellence in foster carer, who demonstrate commitment, experience, expertise, are child focused and determined to make a positive difference.
The coming year in Northern Ireland
Looking forward, the next year in Northern Ireland will hopefully bring some new developments in fostering. We look forward to new fostering regulations being brought before the Northern Ireland Assembly to enable the development of new standards for fostering, assisting in the deliverance and achievement of excellence in foster care.
We have just commenced a new project, ‘Step Up, Step Down,’ a support care model of foster care in which foster carers provide support to birth families to keep children at home within their communities. This exciting new partnership initiative is funded by the Big Lottery, “Reaching Out, Supporting Families “programme and the pilot will run for five years initially working with over 100 families in the South Eastern Trust area.
Also this year we celebrate ten years of our flagship educational programme, Fostering Achievement. We will be marking this with an ‘outcomes seminar,’ highlighting the significant contribution this unique programme has made to the educational outcomes of looked after children in foster care.
We are also planning an exhibition of creative work produced by children and young people who have received support from Fostering Achievement where we will launch our publication, ‘Not so Broken…’ a compilation of stories from young people in foster care. Stories like those of Jack at the start of this blog, they are thought provoking, moving, inspirational and answer the question, ‘what works?’ They answer, foster care works …