In 2004, Ismail Amaan and Munaf Zina set out on a mission to provide Muslim foster homes for Muslim children by founding Foster Care Link. "We saw a gap," says Amaan, Foster Care Link's director. "There were agencies that specialised in finding Jewish families for Jewish children and Christian-based organisations for Christians, and we thought there was a gap there for our community."
Since then, the agency has grown steadily, expanding beyond its London origins with a Manchester office and now, after a decade of work, landing its first "outstanding" rating from Ofsted.
A key reason for its Ofsted success is the well below average level of placement breakdown. Amaan puts this down to the agency's attention to detail when it is assessing and supporting placements. "We look at the young person's background and what they are used to in family life," he says. "So if it's a Bengali speaking child, we try to find Bengali carers so that when they go into that family, the food is exactly the same as they have had it before, as is the dialect of the language. That way, it's like going into an extended family and they can settle really fast."
The agency also identifies the support foster carers may need before the child moves in. Sometimes even basic support makes the difference, says Amaan.
"We have one family with three children and the youngest needs a lot of attention that means there could be tension in the placement," he says. "So every week, we have a youth support worker go in who takes the child out to the cinema or for a meal, so the rest of the family can have respite. It also gives the young person a behaviour target to achieve for that weekly treat. It's very simple, but it really works."
Another example is a foster family with three children of their own with enough experience and a house large enough to accommodate up to three foster children. Knowing that running such a large household would be challenging, the agency arranged for someone to come and do the cleaning and laundry each week, allowing the family to focus on the young people. "We go that extra mile to ease the process and all that contributes to the stability of the placements," says Amaan.
The service backs this up by limiting its social workers' caseloads to eight to 10 families, ensuring that they can get to know the carers and issues well.
Ofsted was also impressed by the agency's work with unaccompanied asylum seeking children. "When we started, we didn't factor in unaccompanied asylum seeking children. But once we got established, it became a big issue because we were getting so many referrals of young people who were coming from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria."
To accommodate the need, Foster Care Link trains its foster carers in Home Office processes and helping these young people adjust to life in Britain. "A lot of our carers are British and when you have a young person coming in from another culture and country, they come with a particular set of cultural expectations," says Amaan.
"We found that they have to be prepared for independence in a very particular way. They are so used to, for example, having women looking after them that we need to have very strict guidelines on preparing them for adulthood so that they know things like how to cook so that at 18 they are not shocked at having to go into the world and doing these things themselves."
- Name: Foster Care Link
- Locations: London and Manchester
- Description: Foster Care Link is an independent fostering service that seeks to provide foster carers for Muslim children. The agency has worked with local authorities throughout England and Wales both as a supplier of carers and in an advisory capacity. At the time of its inspection, the service had 24 approved foster families offering short-term, long-term, emergency and parent and child placements.
- Number of children: 21 in placement
- Ofsted inspection number: SC049096
Vary your training. "It is so difficult to engage carers in constant training, so be varied in options for self-development," says Amaan. "Use tools such as online courses and half-day workshops mixed with mandatory full-day courses." He also recommends providing "a very good lunch" so carers look forward to the courses.
Tailor the support. "As a specialist agency, the language skills and cultural knowledge in our team is essential to engage with and provide bespoke support," says Amaan. "Low staff-to-carer ratios mean that we know each child and family's situation extremely well and can support them proactively."
Embrace smartphones. Foster Care Link's carers can access guidance as PDFs through its website and the service is creating audio guides for children to use on their phones. "People need to access information and if they have it at their fingertips, they are more likely to access it," he says.
Portfolios impress Ofsted. "Prepare a portfolio highlighting the best outcomes and improvements in children and young people," say Amaan. Foster Care Link's portfolio included achievement certificates and extracts from school reports, plus evidence of low starting points, high-quality work and exceptional outcomes.