Zoom and Teams have been integral to the way we have continued to offer support to foster carers since 2020. However, many of our fostering agencies are saying how much they’re enjoying the gentle introduction of more in-person contact.
For example, says Kayleigh Jarvis – the team at Alliance is looking forward to a summer of face-to-face outdoor events that will get everyone together –new foster carers as well as familiar faces.
“Some foster carers joined us just before or during the pandemic,” she says, “so we’ve only met in person fairly recently. This summer’s going to be about face-to-face relationships.”
The Alliance fostering family
Kayleigh is a Carer Recruitment Officer at Alliance Foster Care, a well-established independent fostering agency that’s been rated as Outstanding by Ofsted.
With headquarters in Northampton, it supports foster carers and foster children across Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Luton, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
“Our carers like the family feel,” Kayleigh says. “We have many who have been fostering with us for years – some even before we joined National Fostering Group in 2009.
This strong connection is reflected in data on carer retention, which is very positive. The independent fostering agency’s figures show:
- 67% of their foster carers have been with the agency for over 5 years
- 25% of their foster carers have been with the agency for over 10 years
The 14-strong Alliance team is well-established, with a core of colleagues who’ve been there for years. Kayleigh started as a carer engagement officer in 2017, at around the same time as colleagues Will (supervising social worker) and Hannah (office manager).
The team has also had some role changes and new recruits – one is the fostering agency’s registered manager, Alison Miller, who arrived in September 2021 to head up the team after years managing an adoption charity.
Types of fostering in the Northampton area
Foster carers in Northamptonshire and the surrounding area mainly look after foster children over the age of 8, including teenagers and siblings.
“Many are long-term placements, which is great because we have a core of foster parents who have committed to offering stability to their foster children,” says Kayleigh.
- 21% of Alliance foster placements are as part of a sibling fostering group, where carers are able to keep brothers and sisters together in the same home
- 48% of Alliance foster children & young people are in long term placements, which is also really positive
‘Many make a lifetime commitment’
People who become foster carers come from all walks of life and have a special skill set in common – they usually have experience of working with children, and they are patient and compassionate.
There isn’t a rule to say that carers must love their foster children. However, experience shows that many do.
“Foster children become part of the family and many of our foster parents make a lifetime commitment to them,” says Kayleigh. “Some stay with the family on a Staying Put placement or they might move back in with their foster family after being independent, if they need support for a while.”
With experienced foster carers making long term commitments, they often don’t have another spare bedroom to foster additional children.
There is also a critical national shortage of foster carers, so Alliance is recruiting and training more foster carers for different types of foster care to ease this shortage.
“We need foster parents who can meet the needs of a foster child at that point in their life,” says Kayleigh. “It might be a long term placement or a short term stay.”
An exciting summer ahead
At Alliance, Zoom invitations are being replaced by in-person events, from smaller local get-togethers to regional all-day get-togethers.
“There’s lots of green space around our agency, so we like to hold events here and make the most of it,” Kayleigh said. “For the big all day events, foster carers will travel from all across our catchment area. Our office is a work environment but it’s friendly, not formal, and we have a big training room.”
Upcoming summer events
As regular in-person events become the norm, Alliance foster carers will see the return of old favourites – or experience them for the first time. Events like:
- Atomic Tom, the children’s entertainer
- Various Spring events
- Graffiti events
- Teen Zone
- Summer holiday clubs
- Caring Kids – a birth children group
- Sports days
- Carer workshops – fun and creative, like upcycling
- Annual award ceremony – a formal event celebrating achievements
- Halloween trails through the woods
“There’s always something happening,” says Kayleigh. “We’ve got a mix of online and in-person events – like our evening support groups – and this might continue for a while – some people are understandably more cautious.”
“We want to get people back together. As good as Zoom and teams have been, we want to be face-to-face. We’re doing Fostering Panels in person again so we can properly introduce everyone and start building that relationship really well.
“This summer’s events will help bring us closer to our foster families and their foster children. We’ll all have met, had fun together. It makes a difference. In-person events will also help forge stronger bonds between foster carers. That’s something else that suffered during lockdown.”
Fostering in Northamptonshire
Alliance Foster Care covers this area as well as Bedfordshire, Luton, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
Like all National Fostering Group agencies across the UK, Alliance can offer better support, training and benefits to foster carers in Northamptonshire than any other provider in the region.