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Spotlight on Fostering in the South West: Meet the Team

24.09.19
Spotlight on Fostering in the South West: Meet the Team

Our National Fostering Group South West foster care service is inclusive of Devon, Cornwall and Plymouth, where there are around 1500 children in care as a whole, with 1100 of these in foster care.

National Fostering Group foster carers currently provide nurturing, expert care for over 100 of these children and young people locally. However, there is still a shortage of loving and nurturing fostering families available.

Do you currently reside in South West England and want to help improve the lives vulnerable children forever? It only takes a few seconds to make an enquiry with us today. A member of our friendly fostering support team in the region will then contact you as soon as they can with more information.  

Read our staff profiles below and discover more about how some of our experienced South West staff will be able to support you throughout your fostering adventure!

Richard Woodward – Business Development Director (NFA Group)

I am the Business Development Director for NFA Group. I joined the organisation in November 2017 after spending 15 years working for local authorities, planning and delivering services for children and their families.

NFA Group has been providing fostering services in the South West for many years, with two of our fostering agencies delivering excellent outcomes for children and young people from the area; National Fostering Agency (NFA) and Pathway Care Fostering.

At NFA Group, our proposition is “Children are the heart of everything we do”, and we take this very seriously. Working in partnership with local authorities, we are trying to ensure that children requiring care in the South West are placed as close to their home communities as possible.

However, to do this we need to recruit and train more foster carers to be able to support and care for some of the most disadvantaged children in our society.

I have been involved in delivering children’s services myself for over 18 years. This helps me to understand how vitally important this work is and the impact that good care can have on a child’s future life opportunities.

Being a foster carer is not easy. However, it is hugely rewarding when you see the progress that children in your care can make when you welcome them into your home.

NFA Group try and make it as simple as possible by supporting our foster carers all the way, not just for the duration of the assessment process, but throughout their fostering adventure.

We also provide generous allowances for carers and children, specialist training and local activities and events for the whole family to enjoy.

Our carers have their own dedicated supervising social worker (SSW) who is an expert in fostering. They are there to offer as much support as required, backed by the wealth of experience found among our agency staff in the South West.

So, if you are reading this and are interested in becoming a foster carer, or know someone who is interested in making a life changing difference to a child, please get in touch today.

Toni Howell – Referrals Coordinator (Wales and South West Referral Hub National Fostering Agency)

I am the Referrals Coordinator at NFA Group. I cover the South West regions and represent both Pathway Care and the National Fostering Agency (NFA).

My role is to help local authorities in the region to find the best homes and foster carers for children in care. We speak directly with local authorities, foster carers and social workers to find the best match for each child.

The types of foster care referrals we receive can be varied. We have requests for children of all ages that need a new place to live, ranging from newborn babies to teenagers who are preparing for life as an independent adult. There are also instances of parent and child placements, where carers work directly with the parent to help them support the child, as well as requests for sibling groups and unaccompanied asylum seekers.

The duration of placements also differs, and can range from short-term respite breaks to children becoming an integral part of a foster family long-term. Some of our carers also have specialist skills, so are able to foster for children who have learning needs or physical disabilities. This is also something that our carers can choose to specialise in through our comprehensive, ongoing training opportunities throughout your time as a foster carer.

When working within the referrals team, we give careful consideration towards placing a child with our carers. We will look at factors such as;

  • The carers’ household and family members such as amount of birth children
  • Location in terms of the surrounding community and available education services
  • Transferable skills that carers may already have from previous life or career experience

This matching process is vital for a child to remain in as stable and long-term a placement as possible. It is also an opportunity for our carers to be able to achieve positive outcomes and make the most of their fostering adventure.

I’ve learnt that each foster carer will have a different experience to another. They all face various challenges, but what is always certain is just how rewarding it is once each challenge is overcome and achievements are made.

We have truly amazing carers who have changed the lives of children. This has been possible by providing loving care, stability and being overwhelmingly supportive of the children and young people in their care in order to better their future.

Within the NFA Group, the carers have an excellent support system from our staff and also from other foster carers. I’ve been able to attend support groups which are arranged for foster carers to meet up and share their stories of foster care, while I’ve also attended events for the children, which are always great fun.

I love my job because it is so rewarding knowing that we are part of the process of helping find a child a home where they are safe from harm and can be loved and nurtured.

It’s also great hearing feedback from carers about their experience and knowing that the child is thriving in their care. Everyone I am in contact with, from social workers to management, are child focused, which is why the agency works so well!

Sharon Woodhams – Carer Engagement Officer (NFA)

I am the Carer Engagement Officer for Devon, Cornwall & Plymouth. My two main tasks are to help people who are thinking about become a foster carer to get the information they need and ask any further questions they may have.

Most applicants will have been considering getting involved in foster care for years, and such a big life change does take a lot of thought. We are always very happy to answer questions, no matter how big or small they may seem, as it helps applicants to build a picture of fostering. This can include all of the challenges, the joys and the processes involved, so that they know what to expect.

My second task is to engage with our foster carers, which we do in a variety of different ways, including recently holding a ‘mindfulness’ taster session. The aim of this is to help our carers find ways to look after themselves and re-charge their batteries. Another example involves two of our existing carers, who met with some people who were keen to find out more about fostering, and helped them to get a real picture of what life is like once they are approved.

I can say with complete honesty that I have gained a great sense of satisfaction from my job. Having worked as a social worker in various different contexts during my career as someone who was unable to grow up with my own birth parents, it is a great thing to play a part in finding safe and nurturing homes for children and young people. I feel very lucky to work alongside others who, regardless of their job role or status, care very much for the wellbeing of children.

Abigail StuddCarer Engagement Officer (Pathway Care)

I am a Carer Engagement Officer for Pathway Care South West, part of the NFA Group. I joined the organisation in 2014 initially as the Placement Officer and changed roles in 2018.

Whilst working as a Placement Officer I was given insight into the children coming into care and what they have been through in their short lives. I could see the amazing difference foster carers can make to a child’s life and how important this work is. We work closely with local authorities to ensure the best possible match is made so that it is right for both the child and the foster carer.

I am currently working on the other end of the spectrum, with the foster carers themselves. This role has really shown me how caring, passionate and resilient they are. Fostering is not easy, however we pride ourselves on the level of support we provide and we are there every step of the way.

Recruitment and training is vital, and part of my role is to ensure potential foster carers are fully supported through the assessment process and after panel. I feel that it is important the carers are looked after, to ensure they can provide the best care to the children and young people.

Victoria SmithSupervising Social Worker (Pathway Care)

After gaining my social work degree back in 2004, I always knew my passion of helping children achieve their full potential was the right path for me. I initially worked as a local authority social worker for children and families, and over this time assisted young offenders, children living with their families and children living with foster carers.

When looking back on my early career, I recognised the lack of foster carers available and how this subsequently impacted on children in care. I managed to convince my mum and step dad to sign up as foster carers, who have gone on to foster pre-school children and even adopted some of them over the last 13 years. Being part of a foster family and welcoming a number of children into our family home has given me a little insight from the other side.

Towards the end of 2015, I decided to leave the local authority and moved to Pathway Care Fostering. In my opinion, Pathway Care offers young people the right carers who are able to offer a caring and supportive home for as long as they need it. Pathway Care Fostering have always encouraged me to explore my own development, so I have enjoyed the opportunity to train foster carers and facilitate foster carer support groups.

I am also our team’s Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Champion and have been supported to develop my knowledge base around safeguarding of children in order to fully inform and support our carers and young people on the subject. I really enjoy expanding my skills to help my carers, and feel completely supported by my manager and operations manager to be able to professionally explore current research and training opportunities.

Pathway Care Fostering has a great team of workers and carers who go above and beyond to help improve opportunities for young people and to support them unconditionally to reach their full potential. It’s an agency I am very proud to work for.

Janet DelaneyRegistered Manager (Pathway Care)

I am the Registered Manager and also the Operational Manager at Pathway Care Fostering. I have spent over 20 years working for local authorities, initially as a social worker working with both children in need, children in care and within child protection where I liased with the police on a regular basis.

In 2001, while still working for the local authority, I was promoted to become an independent safeguarding and reviewing officer. This role meant that I was responsible for ensuring care plans for young people in care were effective and carried out accordingly. The role involved challenging the local authority and assessing the quality of work undertaken.

In 2015, I joined Pathway Care, initially as a manager, before becoming appointed the operational manager and registered manager.

We cover South West England, with our main focus points being Bristol, Western- Super-Mara, Taunton, Tiverton, Exeter, Devon and Plymouth, with a select number of carers based in North Devon and Cornwall and the surrounding areas of Bristol and Somerset.

In 2017, we were acquired by the NFA Group. Whilst retaining our own identity, when working within the local communities occupying the South West, we are now able to access all of the benefits which come from being part of a nationally recognised agency.

Children are at the heart of everything we do, and by supporting our carers, we in turn support our young people to meet their aspirations and fulfil their goals. We provide a range of fostering and post residential care services, including providing safe and nurturing foster families for parents and child, children with disabilities, unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), as well those needing respite, short-term or long term placements.

We empower our foster carers to look after children and young people to the best of their ability. This is done through regular supervising social worker contact, local support groups, basic and specialist training, and social events for foster carers. Much of the work we do revolves around empowering our foster carers so that they feel truly integrated in their local fostering communities.

Our children and young people come with their own unique story, background and specific needs, so we require carers who have the passion and understanding to help improve their lives for the better.

From the time someone expresses an interest in fostering, we are there to support them in making informed decisions, including talking to carers informally, to setting up those who have started the assessment process to a foster buddy, who is an existing foster carer that is able to help applicants through the process.

If you are reading this and feel you would like to find out more about fostering, please make an enquiry with us today. We have our friendly carer engagement officers, who are there to talk to you and respond to any questions you may have.

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