Safe, secure and thriving in their foster family

March 12, 2020

Guest blog

6 minute read

We are lucky to work with some fantastic organisations and recently started working with By the Bridge fostering, who went live on the 27January this year. They have had a fantastic first month, and we asked Caroline Hallett, Participation and Education Manager as well as Mind Of My Own lead, for her thoughts on the voice of the child in fostering. Here’s what she had to say:

The voice of the child is crucial in fostering

The voice of the child is crucial in fostering at By the Bridge, not just to understand the wishes of the child, but also to ensure they are safe, secure and thriving in their foster family. Children who are in care have so many decisions made “in their best interests” but often without consultation or an opportunity to really understand why they are in care or have an input into who is looking after them, especially if they are very young when they first come into care.

I am always mindful that in 5 or 10 or 15 years’ time, the young people we are supporting today will be adults and potentially will be accessing their files and trying to make meaning of their childhood. Imagine how upsetting it would be for them if they could not find any evidence of their authentic voice, wishes and feelings?

We have many care experienced and edge of care experienced adults working in our organisation, and the biggest issue many of them had when growing up was a lack of control over what happened to them, and a feeling that they were not being listened to.  Everyone working in social care has a duty to the child they are supporting to ensure that their voice is heard and valued.  This doesn’t always mean that children will be in control, but at least they will understand and have an input, and we will be able to say we did our best to ensure their voices were taken into consideration.

Young people want to use the app

If you have a teenage child you know how difficult it can sometimes be to get more than a monosyllabic sound out of them!  Mind Of My Own gives our young people an opportunity to talk to us when they want to, rather than us as an organisation only getting in touch when we want to know something. Our young people have told us that they feel it puts power in their hands, they get to tell us what they want to tell us, not answer endless questions about what we want to know.

We have only been using mind of my own for a month, but it’s already been revolutionary.  We have had nearly 80 statements from a cohort of 500 children aged 5-16 which is amazing. It has proved that young people want to use the app and workers are delighted that they have a tool to capture child voice in a guided and structured way. The statements are already having a big impact on how we can support our young people.  They have been able to tell us that they are delighted with plans made for them to spend time with their birth families, or to ask us to help sort a problem between them and their local authority Social Worker.

One of our young people had been feeling really anxious, so she sent a statement in to let us know how she was feeling. We were able to send one of our Eagal (Education Advisor, Grow Achieve Learn) consultants out to see her, and shortly after the conversation they had we were delighted to get a statement – on a Saturday at lunchtime – telling us how happy she had been feeling and that she had managed to overcome her anxiety and get on a bus on her own.  We were able to show our Eagal and Managers the real impact of our work, as well as celebrating this young person’s achievement.

Side by side with a child with additional needs

Express has given our staff the opportunity to sit side by side with a child with additional needs and capture rich information about their wishes/likes and dislikes in a way we have not been able to do before.  We are finding out really fun but important things, like the food the enjoy, who their friends are and what they would like to tell their teachers if they could.  It helps us to better document the needs of our children who potentially do not have the words for their feelings, but can navigate and communicate through emoticons.

We did get some concerns from our foster parents and social workers initially, but they have managed to work through them and see the positives.  By far the largest number of statements we have received have been from young people wanting to share good news and let us know how well they are getting along, this is brilliant.  We have been delighted to celebrate their achievements with them, and amplify their successes to a larger audience.

Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your thoughts and proving once again how important it is to ensure that decisions about children’s lives are made in consultation with them, rather than over their heads.