'Step Up Step Down': improving life in the household

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There are times in life when all of us need a bit of support. Step Up Step Down is an innovative pilot programme of support care, funded by the Big Lottery’s Reaching Out, Supporting Families initiative, which The Fostering Network delivers in partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.

In this blog, Jade Irwin - programme officer for Step Up Step Down (pictured below with other staff and volunteers) - tells us more about the impact of the programme.

What is Step Up Step Down and how does it work?

Step Up Step Down provides a programme of holistic and needs led support, with the family support foster carer meeting regularly with parents in a mentoring role, alongside providing short breaks.

The programme officer from The Fostering Network completes outcomes star evaluations with the parents and children at the beginning, throughout and at the end of the programme. This evaluation tool helps families identify areas where they need support, as well as being able to see the progress they have made.

What impact has it had so far?

According to one of our families, life before Step Up Step Down was ‘chaos’ and ’everyone shouted and no one listened.’ The outcomes star evaluation at the beginning highlighted that for this family implementing boundaries, keeping the children safe, communicating well as a family, and the wellbeing of the parent were key areas to be developed.

Since Step Up Step Down has been involved, family life has significantly improved. The parent explains that ’We talk to each other now instead of shouting all the time, and I’m controlling my temper too. I’m learning how to get time for myself so that I’m calmer for the kids.’

Another parent described that before Step Up Step Down was involved, she ‘kept hitting dead ends’ when she tried to get suppStep Up Step Down staff and volunteersort for herself and her child, and ‘felt like nobody understood’ what they were going through.

The parent said, during an evaluation, that ’having the foster carer has been amazing because I feel supported and listened to, and my child loves going on the breaks.’  This parent also commented on how her confidence is building, thanks to Step Up Step Down, explaining that she ‘couldn’t even leave the house on my own before, but now I am going shopping, going to appointments and taking my kids to events.’

How does The Fostering Network get involved?

The Fostering Network provides training for the family support foster carers and the parents on the programme. Talking About Tough Issues training was a recent success, and everyone is looking forward to the ‘Bond’ and ‘Incredible Years’ training coming up shortly.

One mum who recently completed Talking About Tough Issues training said, ‘This has helped because I can think of new ways to talk to my kids now. I am going to make sure I have one to one time with each of my kids on their own.’

In addition to the training, The Fostering Network provides family activities to encourage them to bond and meet together with other families on the scheme. We ran a Step Up Step Down Christmas party for all the families, staff and carers on the programme with a variety of games and crafts, a big bouncy castle, balloon modelling, face painting, lots of food, and a special visitor from the North Pole. 

One carer said, ’This has been a fantastic event. The children have loved every minute of it and it was a great opportunity to spend time just having fun with the families.’ Moreover, a mother stated that she was ’so thankful for the party, and for everything else Step Up Step Down does.’

It is understood that problems grow in isolation, which is why the programme officer meets with the families in order to encourage them to get involved with various community supports and local provision for the parents, children, and wider families. This could include youth clubs, courses, craft groups, fitness classes, social gatherings, and much more.

What’s next for Step Up Step Down?

Now that the programme is well into its second year, the referrals are coming in quickly and the family support foster carers are working with full caseloads. Five children have already been taken off the child protection register, and a number of families and social workers are commenting upon the invaluable impact the programme is having upon the lives of the families.

We are really looking forward to seeing how Step Up Step Down develops, and to note the continued impact it has.

In the words of a grandmother, ’Step Up Step Down has been the best thing that could ever have happened for our family. It is making all the difference in the world.’