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A therapeutic fostering placement service for children with complex needs and sibling groups

We-Foster is a therapeutic fostering service to complement our existing adoption service, i-Adopt, as a way of helping children access a better future sooner.

Family Futures has a research-based, proven approach to offering therapy to adopted children and parent support to their adoptive parents. Based on our clinical experience, we believe that if children during their time in short-term foster care had access to the same level of therapeutic care and support that they would get once they were placed for adoption, the negative impact on their development would be reduced and their capacity to feel safe and trusting of carers and adoptive parents would be greatly enhanced. This critical, early therapeutic intervention changes the child’s life course.

Why is We-Foster needed?

The rationale for providing this service for children in foster care, some of whom are to be placed for adoption, is as follows:

  • these children are still traumatised and need a genuine therapeutic foster care service
  • these children have experienced variable quality of care in foster care
  • they have not had a comprehensive assessment
  • they haven’t had any therapeutic intervention
  • they have lived in legal limbo and uncertainty about their future
  • have lived in a culture of denial and silence about their pre-care life experience
  • have often had re-traumatising contact arrangements
  • continue to live in dysfunctional sibling relationships

To repair the developmental damage

Taken together, this cocktail of institutional deprivation leaves children developmentally traumatised and this trauma is then transplanted into the adoptive home when children are placed with adoptive families. Critical and valuable time has been lost when positive interventions could have taken place that would have begun to repair the developmental damage.

More effective support for foster carers

It is also important to note that we don’t believe foster carers are treated with the respect and support that they deserve and that the training and support of foster carers is crucial to all parties in permanency. We would like our We-foster service to model a way of working in partnership with foster carers and provide a training and support service to foster carers of the highest standard.

Early intervention when children first come into care

Just as setting up an Adoption Service seemed a logical extension to providing a post adoption service now seems a good time to set up a therapeutic, short-term, and potentially long term, fostering service for children.This service would aim to address the trauma of significant harm these children have suffered and also the deficiencies of the current fostering services available to children so that any issues the children we are placing with our adopters are going through, is addressed right from the beginning of coming into care.

Therapeutic assessment

The fostering service, like our adoption service, would be underpinned by our core service, the NPP Assessment and Treatment Service. This will ensure proper assessments of both foster carers and children.

We will apply the same rigorous psychological profiling for our foster carers as we do for our adopters. We will also ensure the children are properly assessed very early on in placement which will give us the opportunity to address such issues as sibling attachments and placements and contact arrangements.

Healing from Significant harm - a missed opportunity

Every child who is placed for adoption today has had a court decide that they’ve been caused ‘significant harm’ whilst in the care of their biological parents. The thresholds for significant harm are high because the consequences of this Care Order mean that the biological parents no longer have any legal responsibility to their child. What is meant by significant harm is that the child will have suffered some form of:

  • neglect over a considerable period of time despite attempts by social agencies to improve the situation
  • physical harm where there is evidence of bruising, cuts or broken bones
  • emotional abuse where there is evidence that the child’s development has been significantly impaired by lack of nurture and care
  • sexual abuse where a child, tragically even an infant, may have been abused by a member of the family or by strangers

The timespan from removal from this environment to the court making a decision for a care plan of adoption can be up to 2 years or sometimes longer. During that time the child will have been in short-term foster care often with contact with birth parents on a frequent basis. This in itself can be traumatic as a period of great uncertainty for the child as to their future.

Even when the quality of foster care is good it remains fairly functional, providing the child with accommodation, food, clothing and safety. Foster carers are not expected to be substitute parents or to form close attachments to the children in their care.

Despite the child’s history of abuse and neglect, it is unusual for there to be any form of therapeutic help for the child which will help them make sense of the past, the present and the future.

A new start for foster care - therapeutic healing

The post traumatic scenario for the child has been described in the literature as Developmental Trauma. This is not a medical or psychiatric diagnosis but a constellation of consequences for the child’s development. Every aspect of the child’s neurological, physiological and psychological development will have been impaired by the significant harm they have been subjected to and by the institutional emotional neglect and uncertainty they experience in foster care.

For those children for whom the plan becomes adoption, they would then be found adoptive parents with whom they are matched and placed. Our experience of supporting adoptive parents in this situation has been that the children placed with them are still highly traumatised, suffer from developmental trauma and the new adoptive parents are often poorly prepared for the task therapeutically of re-parenting’ their child’.

A smooth transition to an Adoptive family

We would envisage there being a smooth transition for the child, between their short-term foster home and their new Family Futures adoptive family or other form of permanent placement. Therapeutic support and intervention could be provided from day one, when the child comes into care. We believe this is what is genuinely in the best interest of children coming into the care system. It will help:

  • Reduce the stress and trauma experienced by the child whilst in foster care.
  • permanent placements to be found more quickly once a care plan is agreed.
  • increase the number of children who are deemed adoptablebecause of the positive benefits of therapy.
  • placement stability as the task for adopters and permanent carers caring for children should be made somewhat easier as they will have a much clearer picture of their developmental needs and a history of therapeutic intervention.

In our view this would be the ideal model for a therapeutic permanency service. We may then at some point consider recruiting and providing long term permanent foster carers. However at the moment the obvious gap in our circle of care, is short-term fostering so this would be the first step.

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