Innovative scheme offers more support to foster families

The council wants to recruit 60 new foster carers over the next three years. Picture: MARK ATHERTO

The council wants to recruit 60 new foster carers over the next three years. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

A groundbreaking scheme has been set up in North Somerset to provide foster carers and children with an extended family network.

The Fostering Network's Mockingbird Family programme is an innovative method of delivering foster care and North Somerset Council is the first local authority in the South West to adopt it.

The model centres around a hub home, which involves one foster family offering planned and emergency sleepovers and short breaks, advice, training and support.

A hub home supports six to 10 satellite households and the network of families is called a constellation.

More: Urgent appeal for more foster families.

The constellation holds regular social gatherings, which enables fostered children to meet other young people in foster care, and also helps carers to support each other.

Nick Hooper, who has been a foster carer in North Somerset for four years and has set up the first hub home, said: "The idea is we are a safe place for people to go to whether they need to have a break, a change or whether they just want a sleepover.

"We are already seeing the results, as the children are happy to come to our house rather than go to another foster carer who they may not know, which could add to their trauma.

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"It's also been brilliant for carers, to the point where they have remained foster carers.

"Retention of carers is an issue all over the country because it's a hard role, so if we can play a role in retaining our foster carers, then that's fantastic."

The constellation has already enjoyed visits to Crealy, Puxton Park and the pantomime as well as a coffee morning and meal out.

Foster families within the constellation meet up regularly and offer support to each other - becoming like an extended family even after the children have grown up or moved on to their forever home.

Cllr Catherine Gibbons, North Somerset Council's executive member for children's services, said: "This is about making sure our foster carers receive the help and support they need, and of course improving the home life stability for our looked after children and young people.

"Our ultimate long-term aim is that all of our foster carers, children and young people will eventually belong to a constellation and experience the benefits this method brings."