The theme for this year’s Foster Care Fortnight (May 10-23) is Fostering Communities and nothing could better demonstrate the positive power of bringing foster families together than our successful Mockingbird Programme, which has community collaboration at its very heart.
The model currently supports 60 children and their foster carers in Hertfordshire through five central hubs, each led by an experienced foster carer who offers vital peer support and guidance to six to 10 satellite families. Advice and support is provided to families through regular meetings and coffee mornings, with a range of social activities organised such as days out and sleepovers, all to strengthen relationships and support their longevity.
This evidence-based model is structured around the support and relationships an extended family provides and was adopted by Hertfordshire County Council in 2018 from leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, which delivers it nationwide.
Since then, the model has gone from strength to strength and is helping to ensure children are provided with secure and stable families by preventing relationship breakdowns through early intervention and support. This means that more of Hertfordshire’s children are growing up with the stability they need and deserve, giving them firm foundations to lead healthy and fulfilling lives, reflecting the aims of our Corporate Plan.
The Mockingbird Programme is both beneficial to children and young people, as well as the foster carers themselves, who are supported to be able to provide the best possible care to their young people. It is also a cost-effective and more sustainable model of foster care, with more capacity to care for children.
It really has been a vital life-changing support system for both our children and our foster carers and we’re so proud of the achievements of all of those involved.
Our Mockingbird foster carers feel supported because this extended family model provides a high level of stability to children and young people and strengthens relationships between everyone in the child’s network, including birth families and social workers. It’s been so successful that we are introducing a further hub in June 2022, which will give us six Mockingbird hubs.
According to UK-wide statistics, 18.5% of foster placements would have broken down and 10% of carers would have resigned if they hadn’t been supported by the Mockingbird Programme, which shows what a life-changing impact it is having. It’s also having a positive benefit on resources, avoiding the estimated £3.4m cost caused by relationship breakdowns between May 2018 and March 2021.
Our first hub foster carers have been supporting the scheme for the past four years after we secured funding from Fostering Network in 2018 and introduced our first hub. This hub continues to provide support to seven families consisting of 12 parents and 12 children.
The hubs have become like extended families, providing help such as picking up children from school, providing respite care through sleepovers, day trips, festive celebrations at times like Christmas and Easter and coffee meetings involving supportive chats. The hub foster carers also attend all the professional meetings relating to the children, building long-term connections to children on the hub.
Group events involving the whole hub take place regularly in which all the children have the chance to meet socially and take part in lots of different activities. These provide the children with the opportunity to forge meaningful friendships and potential life-long relationships.
There are approximately 1030 children and young people in care in Hertfordshire and many of these children need the love and support of a foster family. We are always seeking new foster carers and welcome people from all backgrounds, ages, genders and ethnicities, regardless of their relationship status or sexual orientation.
The essential prerequisites to becoming a foster carer include being over 21 years of age with a spare room and a strong desire to offer a loving and supportive home to Hertfordshire’s diverse population of young people. We are enormously proud of our current foster carers for the incredible community role they play in supporting our young people to lead full, stable and fulfilling lives, helping them to achieve their potential through providing a strong and supportive foundation.
I’ll leave the final words to two of our wonderful foster carers who perfectly sum up the positive impact the Mockingbird Programme is having on our fostering communities:
Foster carer Jools
‘Mockingbird is as much about the carers as the children because the carers need support as well, and that leads to happy children. The families in our hub become like extended families. It’s an amazing programme, as it creates a community.”
Foster carer Gloria,
‘I really value the Mockingbird scheme, it’s great for both the foster carer and the child. I’ve been a foster carer for over 20 years, so I know the difference it has made to fostering.
‘There’s such excellent support, it really is like an extended family. I meet with the other foster carers regularly, and the children have the chance to take part in lots of activities. It means that the children can mix with other like-minded children and feel totally at home.’
Miranda Gittos is head of adoption and fostering at Hertfordshire CC