Mockingbird Programme offers increased capacity, ‘normality’ and good value

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The UK’s leading fostering charity has developed a cost-effective, sustainable model of foster care, with more capacity to care for children and young people than other existing fostering models.

This was the finding of an evaluation report published today by the Department for Education about The Fostering Network’s award-winning Mockingbird programme.

Mockingbird is an innovative programme for foster care delivered by the UK’s leading fostering charity The Fostering Network. It uses an intuitive model based on the structure, support and relationships of an extended family.

One notable finding from the report was that for every £1 invested in the programme by a fostering service there has been a saving of 99 pence. There are several reasons for the programme’s favourable return on investment figure, including savings due to children and young people spending fewer days in residential care and in the criminal justice system.

The level of foster carer retention also contributed. The report found that those who participated in Mockingbird were 82% less likely to de-register than households who did not participate. A reason for this is the integral element of peer support for foster carers within the programme, 90% of whom rated it as good or excellent. This was further demonstrated in interviewees’ responses describing the essence of Mockingbird as being ‘an extended family’, ‘community’, and ‘person-centred’. One foster carer said: ‘If I didn’t have Mockingbird, these children wouldn’t be long-term with me.'

The programme showed promising findings around improving wellbeing for foster carers and improving support. Mockingbird also supported children and young people to build friendships, and helped strengthen relationships between siblings. ‘Mockingbird is a place where you can belong,’ according to a teenager living with a Mockingbird family. ‘Mockingbird is a place where you will make new friends that you will have for life really.’

Almost all children and young people (98% in 2018 and 97% in 2019) said that they had an adult who they trusted, who helped them and who sticks by them no matter what. A 14-year-old living with a Mockingbird foster family said: ‘All [of the foster carers in the constellation] care about us and I have so many aunties and uncles, LOL! Wish I had always had Mockingbird throughout my life in care.’

Another significant benefit of the programme is the increased availability of fostering places due to the support offered by Mockingbird. Foster carers taking part in the programme were 10% less likely (34% vs 44%) to have unavailable places due to requesting a break or considering resignation than those not taking part. The report states that: ‘The Mockingbird programme was seen to bring normality to children in care and their foster families, including kinship carers, through creating a community similar to an extended family environment and reducing experiences of bureaucracy.

Head of Mockingbird, Lillian Stevens, said: ‘We are delighted that Mockingbird is seeing such positive results which can be sustained into the future. ‘The positive impact the programme has had on the children and young people, foster carers and fostering services over the past five years is fantastic to see.

‘We look forward to continuing the expansion of Mockingbird to improve fostering for everyone involved right across the UK.’

Children and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, said: ‘I am immensely proud of the benefits the Mockingbird programme is bringing for so many foster families, because every child deserves a safe and loving home life where they feel valued.

‘The safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children remains our priority. That’s why we have made significant investments to improve services for these children, including over £12 million in extra support during the pandemic through our Innovation Programme, designed to help councils share approaches and practice to decide what works best.’

Twelve Mockingbird programme partners were evaluated as part of the English Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme 2017-2020. The Rees Centre at the University of Oxford led the evaluation in partnership with the University of York and York Consulting.

The full evaluation report can be found here.

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Mockingbird Programme wins Third Sector Award