Mockingbird foster care to expand

By Derren Hayes

| 03 October 2019

An innovative approach to foster care that originated in the US is being expanded to 10 local authorities in England as part of a Department for Education funded initiative.

Through the Mockingbird approach, foster carers can get support from mentors during difficult times. Picture: Mockingbird Society

The Mockingbird Family Model, delivered by The Fostering Network, brings foster families together in groups, centred around one experienced foster carer who lives nearby to act as a mentor. Based on a model developed in 2004 in Seattle, it gives foster carers a support network to turn to during difficult times.

Latest DfE analysis shows that the Mockingbird approach has saved £2.4m in costs since being introduced in a handful of English councils in 2015 as part of the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme.

The expansion will see it introduced in 10 new areas - Sheffield, East Cheshire, Warrington, South Tyneside, Barnsley, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Stoke-on-Trent - as part of the DfE's Supporting Families; Investing in Practice programme.

Announcing the expansion, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Foster parents give stability to children who have often experienced nothing but trauma and chaos at home, giving them opportunities that most of us take for granted. The unique circumstances they face in becoming a new family means they need daily support from people who understand the challenges, offering them much-needed advice and respite when they feel isolated or alone.
 
"Expanding the Mockingbird Family Model into new areas builds on a programme we know has real value to foster families, helping them to form vital communities so that parents can rely on one another through tough times and vulnerable children get the safe, supportive home life they deserve."

From April 2015 to March 2016, Mockingbird was trialled in 18 "constellations" involving 252 carers and around 200 children, run by Tower Hamlets, Oxfordshire, Calderdale, Leeds, Greenwich and Stockport councils, Doncaster Children's Services Trust and independent provider Heath Farm Fostering in Kent.

Kevin Williams, chief executive at The Fostering Network, said: "We're delighted that the government is showing confidence in the Mockingbird programme and the difference it is making in the lives of fostered children and young people, as well as the foster families caring for them. This extra funding will allow us to bring the benefits of Mockingbird's extended family model to many more foster families across England and to get further insight into the impact of the programme."

The DfE has also launched new projects in 18 council areas to support vulnerable children coping with chaotic home lives as a result of their parents' problems with mental health, domestic violence or addiction. Announced in April and backed by £84m secured in last year's Autumn Budget, these projects reaffirm the core principle of the Children Act 1989 that where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.

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