Creating the Best Fostering Agency: the importance of participation and advocacy
We spend a great deal of time thinking about how we can make AFA Fostering the very best fostering agency it can be. By “the best”, we mean the agency which gives children in need the most positive experience, that gives foster carers the best support and ultimately helps make happy lives.
We believe that the voice of the child is vital in ensuring that their needs are met. During 2018, we spent time consulting with young people in the agency. As a result of those discussions, we’ve made some really positive developments around participation and advocacy.
The importance of participation at AFA Fostering
We aim to include and involve children and young people in the development of the agency by encouraging participation in the recruitment of staff, requesting feedback on the services provided and consultation on new initiatives. That way, we can be confident we’re putting the needs of the children at the heart of everything we do.
Here are some examples of how we do just that:
- The central list for the AFA Fostering Panel has an independent member with recent experience of being looked after, two members who were fostered as children and one panel member who grew up in a family that fostered
- We asked young people what our fostering panel should ask prospective foster carers so we know we’re finding out about the qualities that young people felt were really important
- Our Skills to Foster preparation course includes a young person with care experience as a facilitator. One of our Looked After Children is a visitor to the course
- Young people whose parents are carers are invited to attend AFA training courses just for their age group. There is a Fostering Friends group for these children where they can share their thoughts and views so we have a better understanding of their needs
- We have a Children’s Consultation Group (CCG) which aims to record the experience and views of looked after children and considers how to involve young people of all ages in the development of the service. They also help those who work with looked after children to have a better understanding of their experiences
- The CCG has created a ‘Welcome Box’ which is given to all children when they move into a placement
- Any child that we are responsible for is welcome to contact one of our Directors who will gladly listen and respond to queries and suggestions
- Our Placement Managers are accessible to both children and young people being fostered, as well as sons and daughters of foster carers and can offer support and advice
- Our CCG and Fostering Friends have designed feedback forms for children of different ages. These can be used to share views when the carer’s annual review comes around, or at any time.
We really value and enjoy the participation of these children and young people. Their views are vital in helping us make sure we’re doing the right things for looked after children and fostering families.
Our foster children’s Advocacy Service
Discussion with children, carers and also with one of our trainers highlighted the importance of Advocacy being available for all our Young People.
When working with large organisations like Local Authorities, a child’s voice can get lost. That’s why advocates are so important. An advocate can help a child or young person make a complaint, or tackle any other issue in relation to their care. They can accompany them to reviews or other meetings to ensure their voice is being heard.
We introduced a formal Advocacy Service that gives children the opportunity to express their views to someone entirely independent and who has direct input with their Social Worker. We take great care to ensure young people understand that this support is available to them at all times, and remind them of that at regular intervals.
Our carers are supported and encouraged to advocate for children in their care. They are also encouraged to help them to share their wishes and feelings openly with those in the team around them.
Helpful resources for foster carers
AFA funded the publication of a book called “Pilchard’s New Family” by Leon MacLean and Paul Harris. This is given to all our newly approved carers. It helps them to provide information and support to children in their care.
The Children’s Consultation Group have helped to design leaflets about bullying and taking risks. They have been written for two different age groups and include details of where children can get support and help if they need it. The CCG have also designed an introductory leaflet about the group and created a ‘Welcome Box’, which is given to all children when they move into a placement.
The Fostering Friends group has also been involved in creating resources, which can be used in the assessment and support of foster families. This includes leaflets, information packs, a game and a book, which shares the experience of a child living in a fostering family.