User evaluation of fostering services - ideas from practice
By children and young people
NORFOLK has a 'Kids In Care Together’ group of looked-after young people 'who are trying to improve the life and name of those already in the care system.' It has an innovative website, www.kict.norfolk.uk/kict, which contains helpful details for looked-after children and young people. The group provides consultation and advice to the department, and has a direct impact on policy and practice evaluation and change. Members of the group participated in a review monitoring the implementation of a survey about the views of Norfolk looked-after children. It has produced two publications, 'The View From the Front Revisited’ & 'Moving On Up: Young People’s Views on Leaving Care in Norfolk’. External link: www.kict.norfolk.uk/kict
CAMBRIDGESHIRE has a 'Just Us Group' of looked-after children, which meets monthly and operates in three localities. They were consulted during the Best Value Review and contribute to designing staff training and information for other looked-after children.
WESTMINSTER has produced a video of fostered children talking about their experience. It is used to inform foster carers, social workers and managers and local authority members.
KINGSTON has a website that enables fostered children to contribute to their 'Looked After Children’ review forms as well as emailing messages to their social workers.
By foster carers and their own children
CAMBRIDGESHIRE has a system in place for senior managers to go back to the 'shop floor' by spending periods alongside foster carers and social workers.
WEST SUSSEX foster carers are asked to comment on what works after a child has been in placement for two years.
LEEDS conducts exit interviews 'to give foster carers who have recently left an opportunity to provide feedback on their former fostering experience'.
WESTMINSTER has produced a video of foster carers talking, which is used for training and informing all levels of social work staff. The authority has also undertaken a questionnaire with foster carers, seeking their views on the type of support they value.
NORTH WEST FOSTER CARE ASSOCIATES has also completed a 'meeting the needs of foster carers' questionnaire with their carers.
Some agencies have established formal and representative meetings between foster carers, social workers, senior managers and, occasionally, local authority members.
BEXLEY has a Foster Executive.
WARWICKSHIRE has a Foster Care Development Group.
LEEDS has a Foster Care Liaison Group, consisting of the director and assistant director and other managers alongside foster carer representatives. The director chairs the group and a foster carer is the vice-chair. A range of topics are considered, for example, issues for Asian carers and payments for skills. Group members believe that this work has 'led to a greater understanding on both sides.'
Foster carers are members of the Board of Directors in some independent fostering providers, for example, COMMUNITY FOSTER CARE and EAST LONDON FOSTER CARERS.
By parents and birth family members
FAMILY RIGHTS GROUP was commissioned by three London boroughs to undertake interviews with parents of looked-after children as part of their best value reviews. Parents from a range of backgrounds were interviewed and their views and messages to service providers informed the review. Copies of the collected messages and views of all the parents interviewed are available from the Family Rights Group.
CHESHIRE included an evaluation exercise for 'people with parental responsibility', in addition to separate exercises with looked-after children and foster carers, as a part of its Foster Care Review. Parents and others were asked by means of a questionnaire to specify areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the fostering service and their responses informed a review of the service.
Some agencies have incorporated parents in the training of foster carers and social workers such as:
- BRADFORD's Support Care
- The former LOTHIAN REGION SOCIAL WORK DEPARTMENT which included parents of looked-after children in preparation training sessions for foster carers, which was considered helpful in developing 'working relationships based on understanding and listening to one another. This in turn anticipates the kinds of negotiation and advocacy skills which will assist parents and carers alike in the formal meetings which consider and review the needs of children' (Sellick and Thoburn, 1996:47)
- KINGSTON, which includes the contributions of parents for the annual review of foster carers.
Using information communication technology
The Who Cares Trust has recently launched CAREZONE, a secure online service for children in public care, with the aim of encouraging local authorities to use technology to create joined up, online services that work seamlessly across social services, health and education. Within CareZone each user is given secure access to their own individual CareZone virtual world, where there is information and support from a wide range of resources, access to a secure community of other CareZone users, and secure online storage for personal information. There is also a CareZone grid for learning, which provides each child with online educational support.
The Tunnel Light project 1, set up in April 2001 by LINCOLNSHIRE SOCIAL SERVICES, harnesses the Internet to strengthen contact between Social Services staff (Family Placements Service - Lincolnshire) and Foster Carers, Adoptive Parents, Children Looked After and the general public. The creation of a website, www.family-lincs.org.uk, has been the centrepiece of the project and the delivery platform through which communication has been maintained.
External link: www.family-lincs.org.uk
The project has been a cross-agency partnership - local authority with the not-for-profit sector. 'Advice Lincs’ has provided consultancy on project implementation and hosts the site on their servers. They are a pan-county advice and support service.
The aims of the project were:
- the creation of appropriate e-support between families and Lincolnshire’s family placement service
- the establishment of 'e-communities’ between foster families and looked-after children
- to provide alternatives to traditional education and training opportunities, the development of management policies as part of the local authority’s e-government agenda and to provide the general public with information regarding access to fostering and adoption services
- to establish an alternative means of communication in what is a large rural county.
Lincolnshire wanted to make sure young people in public care have safe access to the Internet by providing them with the necessary technology so they have the same educational and recreational opportunities other children have in their own families.
The project initially engaged with 15 'pioneer’ foster families. Selection was based on 'novice’ computer users and each family was issued with a laptop computer, a web-cam, a printer and software. Participative strategies have been adopted to inform project design and roll out by engaging foster carers and young people in the design, story boarding and implementation of web-based services and overall evaluation of the project.
The involvement of foster carers and young people throughout the process provided a very valuable dimension to this local authority’s thinking in terms of presentation of information to the general public, the sort of resources carers require, and their training needs.
One young care leaver was provided with the opportunity to develop their information communication technology skills through a NVQ training scheme in conjunction with Advice Lincs. This was intended to provide a springboard for new career opportunities.
Email enabled one child to maintain contact with her carers. As a Tunnel Light Project member has noted:
'One of our [Lincolnshire’s] foster children spent many years with a foster family who returned to Uganda. It was such a wrench for this little girl but they can keep in touch by email, it’s just brilliant!'