Step Up Step Down

Step Up Step Down is a pioneering approach to supporting families on the edge of care. It demonstrates a reduction in the numbers of children coming into care, and improved outcomes for children and families.  At its heart are specialist, highly trained family support foster carers, who provide time limited, preventative support to up to four families at any one time.   

Step Up Step Down is one of a number of innovative programmes run by The Fostering Network.

For more information about Step Up Step Down email Jade Irwin

For media enquiries regarding the programme email The Fostering Network’s media team or phone 020 7620 6441.

About Step Up Step Down

Step Up Step Down operates in partnership with local authority services and has already seen success within the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland. Highly trained and experienced foster carers provide time limited, preventative support care to families. With support from The Fostering Network, the foster carer role is broadened and expanded. They work intensively alongside birth families, supporting them 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, the children can stay with a foster carer for a short period of time, rather than being placed with strangers.

The partnership model is embedded within children’s social care services, with the foster carers supervised by a social worker. However, as it’s delivered by The Fostering Network, with a needs-based approach, this helps overcome barriers many families face to receiving this kind of support. 

The support provided for families depends on individual family needs. It includes:

  • 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 peer support model for families

The programme’s success in Northern Ireland saw it win the Family Support Award at the 2019 Children and Young People Now Awards.

Step Up Step Down across the UK

After five successful years of delivery in Northern Ireland, in partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, the programme is now being rolled out across the UK.

Thanks to support from Welsh Government and the KPMG Foundation, our first programme in Wales will launch in spring 2023.

If you want more information on bringing Step Up Step Down into your area, please contact

Step Up Step Down is one of several innovative programmes run by The Fostering Network.

For media enquiries regarding the programme email or phone 020 7620 6441.

Step Up Step Down in Northern Ireland

Step Up Step Down operates in partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.

Four family support foster carers have so far supported 73 families (96 adults and 151 children). The majority of children referred to the programme are so because there is a risk of care admission.

Referrals are also accepted to support reunification plans to re-unite families where children have already been placed in care. 

‘This is the best example of trauma-informed practice I have seen.’
Una Lernihan (NI Health and Social Care Board)

‘Step Up Step Down truly keeps families together safely and well, especially during the pandemic when so many other services were reducing or closing.’

Head of Safeguarding, South Eastern Trust

Supporting families to flourish

Amidst ongoing mentoring for parents, short breaks for children, training and community supports, Step Up Step Down delivers additional summer programmes (for whole families, parents and children). 

We have been breathing deeply, drawing pictures in the sand, learning to be gentle, designing bug hotels, resting with picnics in the sun and managing transitions through a range of activities. These have developed social skills in groups and conquered fears by trying new things.

A 12-year-old who struggles with emotional regulation said, ‘I love this summer scheme. I can be myself and I feel easy-going here.’

Independent evaluation by RFA Associates found additional positive outcomes including reduced levels of family support required, increased school attendance, higher parental employment and parents gaining new life skills.

The five-year Step Up Step Down project is funded by The Big Lottery Fund as part of their Reaching Out Supporting Families programme.
Step Up Step Down was featured in a BBC Broadcast Appeal which can be found here.

Step Up Step Down in Wales


We are pleased to announce that Step Up Step Down will be launching in Wales in spring 2023. Supported by the KPMG Foundation and Welsh Government, the programme offers an opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for families with children on the edge of care. We will seek to sustain delivery beyond the grant funded period and demonstrate a scalable model for further roll out within Wales and beyond. 

The Fostering Network are now inviting expressions of interests from the 22 Welsh local authorities. We will identify two partner authorities to pilot Step Up Step Down as part of our demonstration programme. 

Participation requirements  

Commitment from the fostering team, safeguarding and family support teams, foster carers, parents and the children and young people themselves, will be essential if the programme is to be of real value. 

The local authority will need to consider the commitment of resources to support the following programme elements:  

  • Leadership and governance arrangements
  • Communication with local stakeholders 
  • Recruitment of foster carers as Family Support Foster Carers  
  • Family, children and young people’s participation 
  • Practical support for meetings, training and development events e.g. provision of venues. 

Most importantly, the local authority will also be required to provide an experienced social work practitioner to undertake the role of Supervising Social Worker, with no other case load outside of the pilot. 

How to submit an Expression of Interest

Please complete the Expression of Interest form and a data sheet for your local authority. Both documents should be returned to no later than Monday 5 December 2022

If you would like more information on the programme itself or the expression of interest process, please get in touch.

Expression of Interest Documents

Expression of Interest - about

FSFC role description

Expression of Interest - form to complete

Expression of Interest - data form to complete


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