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“Life-changing” year for first placements on pioneering Essex County Council Therapeutic Fostering Scheme

20 November 2017

Families across Essex are celebrating the anniversary of their first placements under Essex County Council’s Therapeutic Fostering scheme, which launched in 2016. 

Therapeutic foster carers work as part of a team of professionals to support children who have previously suffered from trauma or neglect, by providing long-term placements within their own homes. 

Alison, 53, from Hatfield Peverel near Chelmsford, has been a mainstream foster-carer for 17 years, and is one of the first to qualify from ECC’s therapeutic fostering training scheme. She was matched with a teenage boy last year, who celebrated one full year as a permanent part of her family at the end of August. 

Her motivation is simple: “It’s incredibly and completely fulfilling to be able to make a positive difference to a child’s life, even more so when it’s a child that’s had a really tough start for one reason or another”.

On a personal note, for Alison whose own son is now 21, having a second chance to raise a family is “an absolute joy” says Alison: “fostering keeps you really young at heart!”

Therapeutic Foster carers have the opportunity to really change a young person’s life for the better. One child who has been in placement since June 2016 was thrilled this summer to play a key role as ring-bearer at the wedding of his foster carers.

Having never experienced a stable family environment prior to his placement, he said: “I’m so happy that they have got married and made me part of their family, something that I’ve always wanted.” 

And it’s not just the children that this kind of specialist foster care is life-changing for: the bride wrote a poem for the registrar to read out to her foster child at the ceremony, including the lines “We didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave us the gift of you. For us to have each other is like a dream come true.” 

Helping children to feel comfortable within a typical family environment is a key aspect of Therapeutic foster care. One of the girls currently placed with carers via Essex County Council suffered extreme anxiety prior to a summer holiday abroad, based on previous experience with her biological family.

Thanks to intensive support from her Therapeutic Foster Carer, this year’s trip was the fun experience that holidays should be, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. 

For Alison, it’s the little things that show big differences. “For a child who has had such a difficult start, seeing them appreciate everyday things that any parent would ordinarily do for their child, is really touching.

The child I look after is so grateful that I take him to football practice, and make sandwiches with his favourite filling. It’s heart breaking to think that after however many years on this planet, no one has put themselves out for this child before” she says.

What’s more, Alison continues “The support from the wider team that works with these children, the social workers and ECC’s fostering team, is really strong on both a professional and personal level, so it’s not something to be daunted by.”

That wider team meets on a weekly basis to discuss the children in placement, and continue to progress their development with a programme of support that is entirely bespoke to each child’s needs. 

Having initially trained in pharmacology and worked as a nurse, Alison has additional healthcare qualifications that make her particularly suitable to go beyond mainstream fostering and provide care for children with additional needs.

Essex County Council’s Therapeutic Fostering team are also keen to hear from anyone with teaching qualifications or experience of working with young people in other environments. 

Children requiring this level of foster care are carefully matched to potential carers, with increasing contact taken at the child’s pace until the time is considered right by all concerned for the child to move into the carer’s home permanently. 

“What’s great from a practical point of view is that Therapeutic Foster Carers employed by ECC are paid regardless of whether a child is actually in placement with them or not, so you know that there’s no rushing to move children on, which can result in problems further down the line” says Alison.

“The fact that these children have all been in placement for over twelve months, and have shown significant improvements in their wellbeing and behaviour in that time, is testament to the hard work and effort that the team at the council put in to make the strongest possible matches”.

Elise Lazell, Fostering Team Manager at ECC, has worked with Alison to create a film, giving more information about the Therapeutic Foster Care scheme.

“We wanted to show people just how special our Therapeutic Foster Carers are,” says Elise, “and allow them to tell people in their own words why they do what they do, and inspire others to consider joining the scheme.”

The video, which launches this week on Essex County Council’s YouTube channel, will also be promoted via social media and shown at forthcoming drop-in events where those interested in finding out more can also speak to members of ECC’s fostering team.

Cllr Dick Madden, Cabinet Member for Children said: “It is truly heart-warming to hear such positive examples of the difference our wonderful foster carers can make to some of the most vulnerable children in our county. If people who read this think they have what it takes to help turn a young life around I urge them to get in touch.”