Hub pets part one – introducing John the ‘Satellite’ Rat

Our Mockingbird programme is growing rapidly, with new constellations (fostering households gathered around a hub home which offers planned and emergency respite, advice, training and support) popping up across the country. One of the unexpected joys of the programme is the emergence of the important role played by ‘hub animals’: pets that were part of the household before the family took on the role of the hub home and have now become a much loved member of the wider constellation family. The presence of these animals within the hub home adds to the variety of experiences for children and young people - and often provides another important relationship to support young people to learn new skills and confidences. We are collecting some great stories about the impact of pets living in the satellite homes – with some even accompanying children and young people at sleepovers in the hub home!

John the satellite rat

Freya, our Mockingbird programme implementation manager, had an unusual experience when visiting a Mockingbird hub home in Doncaster…

‘I was sat in the front room having a chat with our hub home carer Tracy and some of her satellite carers when there was a knock at the door. Tracy went to answer it – she came back in carrying a cage containing "John the rat"!'

John the rat was a pet belonging to one of the satellite families in Tracy’s constellation. This satellite family was caring for a young girl called Sophie (not her real name) who has very complex needs and a history of multiple placement breakdowns.

Unfortunately, Sophie had also experienced a number of occasions when she would go to respite carers and then never return to her main carers. Because of this history, Sophie was understandably very reluctant to accept the sleepover care that’s available through Mockingbird. However, the Doncaster team knew that to preserve the placement - and help Sophie to thrive – the sleepover support would be vital.

After several months of getting to know Tracy and building up her trust in the relationship, it was Sophie herself who came up with a solution. She really loved John the rat and knew that her foster carers loved him too – so she suggested that she would have a sleepover at Tracy’s house, on the proviso that John the rat could go with her.

Tracy was more than happy to accommodate this and so it was agreed that Sophie’s foster carer would drop John the rat off at Tracy’s house so that he would already be there when Tracy brought Sophie back to the hub home after school. The sleepover went ahead successfully and was a really important development moment for Sophie and her relationship with her carer and with her hub home carer.

We love this story because it demonstrates a brilliant creativity and flexibility that’s possible within the Mockingbird programme. It’s also a really interesting story that highlights some incredibly important and complex issues around attachment, trust, and relationships and showcases the impact and importance that pets can have for young people in care.’


The Mockingbird Programme

The Fostering Network’s Mockingbird programme is an innovative method of delivering foster care using the Mockingbird family Model. This is an extended family model which provides respite care, peer support, regular joint planning and training, and social activities.

The approach centres on a constellation where one foster home acts as a hub home, offering planned and emergency respite, advice, training, and support, to six to 10 satellite fostering or kinship care families.

For more information, please visit the main programme page. Also, watch this space for the next hub pet episode, possibly featuring Elvis the Pig!


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