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Bridge to Foster — National Fostering Group working in partnership with Lancashire County Council

Bridge to Foster — National Fostering Group working in partnership with Lancashire County Council

In Lancashire, there are a number of young people desperate to be given a chance of family life who aren’t quite ready for standard foster placements. If we don’t meet their needs, with special types of foster carers, then residential care is their only available option.

To keep these young people out of children’s homes, we need carers with the skills and resilience to help them, backed up by enhanced, specialist support.

Imagine a child who has only ever been failed or rejected — when they act up or test boundaries, it’s to see if they’re going to be let down once more.

It’s important to understand their behavior is rooted in previous experience, not an inherent need to be difficult or challenging.

These young people are not beyond help or broken — but they need extra support, love and patience, in order to hopefully thrive.

Which children are affected?

There are three main cohorts of young people identified as potentially suitable for Step Down into Fostering:

  • Those who ideally shouldn’t have been placed in residential care in the first place — but were, due to unavoidable shortage of suitable placements
  • Those in residential as part of their intended care plan during support and assessment phases but who are now ready to transition to a foster family
  • Much less common but still valid — those not currently in residential care but expected to be imminently unless a suitable placement is secured

Overall, it’s currently about a 50:50 split between pre-teens (9-12) and older (13-15) — mainly boys but this may change in future.

And unfortunately, once any child is placed in residential care, it’s almost as though the clock is ticking.

While there are many exceptional children’s homes, they represent a higher risk of young people becoming institutionalised or led astray than a family environment.

Every effort is made to give those in residential care all they need — but if a child has a chance at a loving family home, we want to give them that.

Put simply, it’s our aim that any child who can be supported in a fostering placement will be.

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How does Step Down into Fostering Work?

A successful foster family placement will always be the best outcome for the child, the social worker and the Local Authority.

But to make sure this happens in these more specialist instances, a proactive, enhanced approach is required.

Once a young person has been included in the Step Down into Foster programme and a suitable carer has been found, there’ll be a window of introduction.

This period of two to four weeks will involve introductions between foster parents and children as well as specific training on the child’s needs.

The enhanced support related to these placements includes clinical therapeutic provision for carers and tailored training to the needs of the placement.

There is also the potential for more frequent contact with supporting social workers, even on a daily basis if required.

Adjusted allowances may also reflect the extra challenges presented in certain circumstances.

From the Council’s point-of-view, we’re committed to prioritising these placements, receiving regular progress updates and addressing issues as they arise.

If there are any unforeseen problems, providers will have fast access to someone on the local authority team who can support.

How successful is Step Down into Fostering?

We’ve seen even better results with the programme than we expected since it was implemented.

Every single placement that has incorporated the proper preparation period has gone on to be a successful one.

Unfortunately, these successes are only based on smaller numbers so far and we need to show that Step Down into Fostering can be scaled up.

And for that, we need more carers who are strong, resilient and can give a young person a sense of peace and ultimately, belonging.

It’s not easy at first — maybe you’ll need to show love and understanding with zero expectation of getting it returned.

And maybe you won’t be their ‘forever family’ — but after several months, or a year — you could be the reason they ultimately find one.

A Step Down into Fostering role will never be simple — but considering how the children are starting to thrive — it’s an immensely rewarding one.

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Who can be a step down foster parent?

Experienced carers who have successfully completed challenging placements before are obviously well placed to help these vulnerable young people.

And to make sure we give the children the best possible chance, we’ll always consider carers that aren’t immediately available, if they’ve got the skills needed.

But experience of fostering isn’t a prerequisite — evidence suggests that exceptional people from sectors such as education or therapy are suitable.

We’ll always aim to place a young person as close to home as their care plan allows but if there’s a viable placement further afield, we may well consider this.

To give these children a chance at family life instead of residential care is only possible with heroes like these carers — and we need more.

To learn more about Bridge to Foster placements contact us on 0808 284 9218 to discuss further.

Anette McNeill is the Policy, Information and Commissioning Manager at Lancashire County Council.

National Fostering Group is proud to be a selected tier one provider of the specialist types of foster carers required for Step Down into Fostering.

To learn more about Bridge to Foster placements contact us on 0808 284 9218 to discuss further.

Anette McNeill is the Policy, Information and Commissioning Manager at Lancashire County Council.

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