Aged 6, S came to live with Kasper carers Julia and Dave (she had been adopted for 12 weeks, and needed an immediate foster placement when this broke down).
“We didn’t know S was going to be adopted so it was a surprise when two months after arriving, her social worker said a forever family had been identified for her… I'm told it’s rare for children to be adopted at this sort of age, she was a very lucky girl to get another chance.”
“She was very settled with us, so we all agreed not to mention the adoption until after Christmas. Eventually in January we started mentioning that maybe there was another forever family for her as we just didn't know.
“We started talking about suitcases, joking that she would need a huge one if she moved! We talked about where she would ideally like to live and the sort of house she would like to live in and any animals she might like. As I already knew the details of the new family I was pleased that she said she wanted to live in London to be near her sisters. “
“When the match for the adopting family was approved in April this year, introductions started. She was so excited when she saw a video of the new family and her new bedroom. I was so happy and quite relieved that she was excited. After many daily visits and a few overnight stays, she finally moved at the end of April.”
“It was heart pulling to see her go, but it’s great for her. She had her seventh birthday in June with her adopters and seems very happy. We are so pleased for her!”
A few weeks ago, S came back to see her foster carers for a little visit. Her adoptive parents had taken her camping, along with her two older birth sisters who have also been adopted; they are now a family unit! As Julia recounts, "It was great to have some together time, just S and me, before my whole family came over... they were really excited to see her too." "We played some games, watched some TV, had big hugs and even went to look at S's old room. She clearly had happy memories of living here with us, but is so very happy with her forever family and new home... It was really wonderful to see her so settled and making attachments so well."
As professional foster carers, we are challenged in many ways throughout our working lives. Not least how we manage contact with maternal birth family members.
The easy answer is conduct ourselves in a fit and proper manner with any members of the family allowed contact with a child or young person. In truth this can be difficult because no training can prepare you for the uncertainty and impact that this might have on a young person's state of mind post contact and placement.
However I do believe the relationship between birth parents and you as a carer can make or break contact. With us it was easy! When we first met C's birth mother I had a preconceived image in my head what she would be like. How wrong was I! Therefore stereotyping is not an option. It is too easy to do so when in fact, as in our case, the opposite was the truth.
We found very quickly to our advantage that using her was an asset and made our job easy. Sharing information of mutual importance prior to contact allowed the contact to be managed appropriately with any challenging behaviour met head on post-contact. However I think the most important thing we did was humanise the person in front of C. Meaning that rather her being seen as some one who failed, she is some one who mattered.
We did this by exchanging mutual friendship in the shape of cuddles showing that Mum mattered to us therefore she mattered to C. In other words contact was good. Indeed as time went on we became friends and this greatly enhanced our ability to cope with contact and to have no fears of any form of undermining.
Obviously this approach will not suit all, as I can imagine there are families out there that have not had the same support and recognition of our part in the child's well being. However I believe that the closer that you can become to any foster child's birth family the more relaxed a young person maybe and therefore able to cope with some of the complex issues that surround being placed in care and taken away from the very people that they should feel most safest and secure with.
- M, Kasper foster carer
The fantastic LifetrainUK recently delivered an advanced training course for Kasper foster carers and staff - 'Young People Mental Health and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Advanced Practitioner Training'.
The course aims to enable foster carers, practitioners and parents to work more effectively with young people who are experiencing mental health issues. It also explores and provides a practical tool kit of exercises and strategies which can be utilised when working with young people.
We asked Dr Tash Emin, Director at LifetrainUK, to write a short blog piece about her first training experience at Kasper HQ in Whitstable, Kent... And, asked what our foster carers and staff thought of the programme.
"We are a training provider for a range of foster care agencies across the UK. At LifetrainUK we offer a wide range of courses that meet the needs of today's carers. This training ranges from Working with Young People who Self-Harm to Understanding Attachment. All our training is practical, fun and relevant to today's carers."
"LifetrainUK currently works with Kasper Fostering, we find the carers engaging, committed and with the drive to learn. Their evident commitment to the young people in their care is intrinsic to their attitude towards training."
"It is a privilege to work with people who support, challenge and want to move young people's lives forward in a practical, personal and professional manner. We really enjoy working with such interesting, knowledgeable and dedicated carers who apply what they have learnt with the young people in their care."
"The staff, social workers and managers mirror the above commitment. There is a real team atmosphere and a working environment that fosters growth in all aspects of the organisation. As an organisation we rarely come into contact with such a cohesive group who share values and beliefs that can only benefit the young people they serve."
Dr Natasha EminDirector LifetrainUK
Here's what our foster carers and staff members had to say about Dr Emin's course, and what it meant to them...
"Brill brill brill brill. Could do with more of her training I can't say how surprised I was at how knowledgable the trainers were and made it so much fun!" (Foster carer)
"I have taken so much from today that I really did not expect and came with the view that I might not learn anything I do not already know... so I am absolutely chuffed to bits it was so so so good." (Foster carer)
"Tash has made a helpline available to all course attendees which I feel will be of huge benefit and was very well received." (Staff member)
"ADHD is such a huge subject you could never cover it in one session. But Tash's course was focussed, solution-based and very well linked to fostering." (Staff member)
"This was by far one of the very best I have attended the day was fun and I came away wanting to find out more on the next training day... well done to Kasper for finding this outstanding course." (Foster carer)
"It was an excellent course of which I throughly enjoyed and came away with some good ideas and strategies." (Foster carer)
"Difficult to identify any areas where the course today could have been improved; it was a great learning experience presented in an honest, realistic and fun way. Looking forward to day 2..." (Staff member)
In practice Local Authority fostering social workers always try to keep siblings together but, for many different reasons, it is not always possible. Whenever we successfully keep brothers and sisters together it's worthy of celebration at Kasper....So imagine how utterly delighted we were earlier this year to reunite two brothers already in our care with their younger sibling, to stay together permanently.
Back in 2012, following a very troubled start in life and many placement moves with different relatives and kinship carers, a sibling group of three brothers (all aged under 8) were placed together in foster care. However placing siblings together in the same foster family is not always straightforward.
Children from sibling groups can present a wide range of needs, which some foster families find hard to meet... Brothers and sisters can have various relationships - they may get on well and want to be together, or they may elicit distress, harm and chaotic behaviours in each other due to the trauma they have already suffered.
In this case, the three siblings were separated and the youngest brother was placed separately with the possibility of adoption in his future. The two elder brothers were placed long term with one of our wonderful Kasper foster families. They said a final goodbye to each other, and were to have no contact going forward.
Fast forward two years, and the two brothers were very settled in placement - enjoying and achieving at school, taking part in hobbies and being part of family life. Although, they often asked about their little brother and why they could no longer see him.
Earlier this year, Kasper Fostering heard that the Local Authority had not been able to find adoptive parents for the youngest sibling. While looking at his long term care options, the Local Authority reinstated contact between the three brothers and the recommendation was put forward to reunite them permanently in foster care.
Our foster carers already had approval to look after three children, and following a full assessment at their home with all three brothers, it was decided they should remain together! Kasper's Supervising Social Worker Leanne said, "It's going really really well, the boys are all now in school and went on holiday together as a family this summer. The icing on the cake is that all three also now have regular contact with their birth parents and sister too - we really could not have wished for a better outcome."
A report issued by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) back in February this year highlighted the challenges independent fostering and adoption agencies are facing when looking after sensitive personal information. Specifically, the sharing of data relating to the care and wellbeing of vulnerable children.
The ICO found a number of common problems including sending information insecurely between agencies and local authorities, and between carers and agencies. There was also a general lack of awareness, training and guidance, and a failure to encrypt sensitive personal information held on mobile devices, such as laptops and memory sticks.
John-Pierre Lamb, group manager in the ICO's Good Practice team, said at the time of the report release: "The work fostering and adoption agencies carry out is vital to helping some of the most vulnerable young people in society. Keeping their sensitive personal information secure must be recognised as an important part of this process and agencies must have the necessary safeguards in place to keep this information safe whether it's in the office, at home or on the road.
"The worst breaches of the Data Protection Act can lead to a monetary penalty of up to £500,000, but when you consider the sensitivity of the information this sector is responsible for, the human cost could be far more significant."
Since the report was published, Kasper Fostering has been involved in a number of working groups to consider how we - as an Agency and a whole sector - may be able to better meet the 8 data protection principles in our work. These state that personal information must:
Two Kasper staff members attended a working group at BAAF in March, comprising representatives from NAFP, Fostering Network and the DfE; we were one of two independent fostering providers invited to join the debate. The workshop explored common issues experienced by independent providers which included information contained within foster carer records and young people's diaries, DBS checks and confidentiality, sharing agency information and records with legal representatives, alongside overseas checks.
The Safe Network has also produced basic steps to safety, with key information on protecting children and young people's personal data. Balancing a child’s right to privacy with the need to work positively with their carers, this includes best practice advice surrounding the storage of records which includes:
BAAF and NAFP are working together to gather data in terms of current information sharing processes, and deliver training sessions to enable independent fostering agencies and the fostering and adoption sector as a whole to achieve best practice in this area.
Through our own record keeping and data protection training, policies and procedures Kasper Fostering is continuing to ensure staff, foster carers and children and young people are sharing information safely and securely. We also ensure children and young people know and understand their rights regarding personal information, and accessing their records, to know about their background and family history.
Being in the Military teaches you many qualities - self-discipline, patience, communications, leadership and man-management to name a few... There are lots of ways these skills can transfer to civvy street, but who's considered fostering as one of them?Leaving the armed forces to find employment is tough - and an even bigger challenge with national unemployment levels reaching their highest over the last decade. While there are a wealth of career paths open to servicemen and women (and their partners), fostering vulnerable children and young people is often overlooked.Transferrable skillsWhile fostering is far removed from a life on the frontline, it can set military families up with the transferrable skills they need to offer a loving, secure home to really troubled children.Having already learned how to:- triumph over adversity- achieve objectives against all odds- think on their feet and work as a team- diffuse difficult situations- adopt sensitivity and diplomacy- use practical ways to manage behaviours...training and serving in the forces is often a perfect foundation for a caring role - in particular, helping to guide older children and teenagers through life choices and preparing them for adulthood.Challenges and rewardsFostering is tough and challenging - young people at times can display extreme behaviours and emotions related to loss, change and negative parenting.They may have experienced extreme neglect, deprivation, physical, emotional or sexual abuse in their short lives already. And then they have to go and live with total strangers...For every challenge, however, the reward is knowing that you've played a part in helping that child experience a safe environment where they feel supported and listened to. One that helps them to recover from their experiences and develop a positive sense of themselves.Fighting for their rightsFor highly-skilled former members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, mentoring young people to develop key skills, confidence and motivation is second nature.Being in the army is all about supporting one another; working as a team and looking out for each others' backs. Being a foster carer works on the same principles.Foster carers are strong advocates for the young people they care for; always on their side, fighting for their rights and making sure their views are heard. It's also about protecting young people, so that they can recover from trauma and thrive and succeed in all aspects of life.Permanent baseFor many families, serving in the forces means living in married quarters (often just big enough for the family members you have), moving to different bases all over the world, and being away for months at a time.While this transient lifestyle would not be suitable for fostering, for ex-servicemen and women with a permanent base to call home it most definitely would.As a future career option, being a foster carer can offer ex-military families the opportunity for a dual income and long term employment working from home... As well as the chance to make an amazing difference to the lives of vulnerable children who really need it.What's not to think about?If you're thinking about becoming a foster carer, you can talk to our friendly, helpful team at Kasper. We're here to answer any questions you may have, before deciding whether fostering is right for you. Get in touch on 01227 275985 for an informal chat.
There comes a time naturally when our own children have grown up... but does that mean we're too old to care for children and young people at all?The answer is a resounding no. Legally there are no upper age limits to foster looked after children and young people. In fact many people come to fostering a little later in life after their own children have grown up, left home and even become parents themselves.Older foster carers can often bring considerable experience, stability, consistency and life skills to fostering, alongside a safe and secure home environment. Young people can benefit greatly from this calming, steadying influence.Grandparents who become foster carers can often also understand the need to maintain relationships with birth family members, which can be important for children’s sense of identity, security and belonging.Practical considerationsIrrespective of age and experience, to be a foster carer you must be in good health and physically able to take care of children in your own home.As with all applicants, we would discuss personal health and vitality with you, in relation to caring for a child or young person. For example, the physical nature of holding and carrying babies or chasing after toddlers may not be a day-to-day possibility.Age is also a factor when matching younger children for long-term or permanent placements: How old you will be when the child reaches 18 or 21 obviously forms a key part of the initial matching process.Many older foster carers will opt to look after an older child which can work very well. Older children and teenagers, despite having different behavioural challenges, may require less physical and direct care but need more guidance and advice about making the right life choices.Proof you're never too oldDaphne has been a Kasper foster carer for eight years. She was approved to foster with the Agency aged 58, and has never looked back, "Age doesn't worry me, and it didn't worry my parents either. I wanted to give young people a better life, and I felt inside that I really wanted to help."Daphne currently fosters two young people on a short term and a respite basis - one is 14, and the other 16. She also has a wonderfully close, growing family of her own including five birth children, 26 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren (with more on the way!)Three young people she previously fostered now live nearby, and remain a big part of the family. It's clear that Daphne is a loving, caring role model - but what motivated her to foster in the first place?"You have to want to do it, and for the right reasons. Spare rooms and time are not what it's about - to foster, you need an over-riding mentality and devotion to love and care for others. Whatever your life, job or house situation, you need this quality first and foremost."Calling in lifeThe young people Daphne has fostered have all benefitted from having her extended family in their lives. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren have been fantastic role models for the young people she has looked after. From their strong school and work ethics, through to their good manners and style tips...And of course, having so many young people around has kept her young in mind, body and spirit. So what would Daphne say to any grandparents thinking about becoming foster parents? "It's not about your age - it's about your calling in life. You're only ever as young as you feel!"If you're thinking about becoming a foster carer, you can talk to our friendly, helpful team at Kasper. We're here to answer any questions you may have, before deciding whether fostering is right for you. Get in touch on 01227 275985 for an informal chat.