The Fostering Network receives grant to engage with families whose children are on the edge of the care system


The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland is bringing a pioneering approach to preventing children who are on the periphery of the care system from being taken into care, and instead supporting them to stay within their own homes.

The five year project, called Step Up Step Down, is funded by The Big Lottery Fund as part of their Reaching Out Supporting Families programme, and is specifically designed to use foster care as a model to keep families intact where possible by building the capacity of families and building their connections to support systems and supportive individuals.

The project, based upon the support care fostering model that has been successfully used in Wales, will operate in partnership the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) where four highly trained and experienced foster carers will provide time limited, preventative support care delivered by foster carers to 120 families. The foster carer role will be broadened to enable them to work intensively alongside families to build their skills, capacity and networks. The programme gives parents the support of a foster carer who can ‘step up’ if the family needs additional support and ‘step down’ when parents are in a better place to support their children. If the family experiences a crisis situation, the child would be able to stay with the foster carer they know for a short period of time, rather than being placed with strangers.

The support provided for families will depend on individual family needs and will include: home based activities focused on key family times such as bedtime, mealtimes and getting to school; a programme of activities focused on learning and achieving as a family; a programme of learning and play activities for parents and children together; intensive support at times of family crisis; sign-posting and support to access additional services; a regular programme of home visits to plan and review support; developing and delivering a per support model for families.

Kathleen Toner, director of The Fostering Network in Northern Ireland, said: "The Fostering Network and The South Eastern Trust share a commitment to making foster care the best it can be for all fostered children and young people, but also a determination to, if at all possible, meeting the child's needs within a family context and within their own communities.

"That’s why The Fostering Network is delighted to have received funding from Big Lottery to lead this project which will sit at the interface of fostering services, community based intervention and family support provision. We believe that this pilot project, and the notion of using foster carers to provide a preventative model of intervention, the can the kind of sustainable support that will prevent children coming into care over the long-term.

"A key outcome of Step Up Step Down is that the families involved are provided with the right kind of support and given the time to build their skills, ability and knowledge to ensure that they can access support without going into crisis. It also aims to ensure that families know the range of community supports available and have the confidence to seek help."

Brendan Whittle, director of children's services, in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said: "We are delighted to be in partnership with The Fostering Network and have the opportunity to work together in developing this new, innovative approach within foster care. The Big Lottery in awarding this significant funding has provided the South Eastern Trust and The Fostering Network with the opportunity to begin the process of developing a new edge of care service. This project will build on the existing skills of foster carers to ensure that with the correct training and support  they can work alongside parents and families who are experiencing stress and signpost them to appropriate services as well giving them confidence to improve their parenting skills and keep children safely in the heart of their families."