Ramadan and Eid Festival Explained: Information for Carers

Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide and is regarded as a blessed month, which is observed on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. There are five basic rules in Islam which all Muslims must follow. These are known as The Five Pillars of Islam. Ramadan symbolises one of the Five Pillars and is referred to as ‘Sawm’, meaning the “Fasting during the month of Ramadan”.

At the beginning of the fasting month, Muslims will greet each other with ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ as a celebratory term. The fasting month lasts for 29-30 days each year however this is not set as fixed date, such as Christmas celebrated on the 25th of December yearly.  In order to observe Ramadan at the correct time, Muslims seek advice from their local Mosque who confirm the start and end date of the fasting period which is at dawn and sunset.

Who participates in fasting and why?

It is compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, as long as they are healthy.  Many children complete fasts to practice for later life.  There are some exemptions for fasting which may include;

  • Travelling long distances
  • Menstruation for women
  • Severe illness
  • Pregnancy and breast feeding

Advice can to taken from the local Mosque to discuss individual needs if you are unsure about your circumstances. A person who is fasting is expected to refrain from consuming all foods, liquids and abstain from smoking and sexual activity from dawn until sunset.

Ramadan is set aside as a time for reflection and increased worship. Many Muslims will visit their local Mosque more frequently, perform regular prayers, read The Quran (Holy Book) and give to charity and/or volunteer for a good cause. Ramadan is regarded as a blessed month. It helps Muslims to develop self-control, acknowledge God’s Blessings and encourages one to have greater compassion towards others, especially the deprived.

Fasting timetable

A typical routine for a person fasting includes awaking before Sunrise to eat a meal of their choice. This is known as ‘sahoor’ or ‘sehri’. The first prayer then commences after breakfast. Sunrise times differ depending on where you live in the UK and the month Ramadan falls on. This year Ramadan is in the month of May/June 2019, therefore Sunrise is at approximately 2am.  Muslims tend to return back to sleep once they have prayed and eaten before sunrise, so to preserve their energy before they continue their daily routine of work / school / college etc.

Towards the end of the day a meal is prepared prior to sunset.  Many friends and families arrange a gathering to break their fast together.  Traditionally, once the time of sunset has arrived which is known as ‘iftar’, the first food item eaten is a date. This is also the time for the fourth prayer of the day.  In total there are five prayers observed throughout the day. Many local Mosques can provide you with a timetable of sunset and sunrise times for the fasting period, which makes it easier for any person to follow.  Generally, men are expected to attend the Mosque to observe these prayers. It is optional for women to attend and not all Mosques cater for female worshipers.

Eid Festival

Once the month of fasting is complete, Eid is celebrated. Eid is a religious festival which is held on the first day following the end of Ramadan.  On this day, Muslims wear their best outfits, usually traditional clothing. Muslims visit their local Mosque to observe Eid prayer, after which they will greet each other with ‘Eid Mubarak’ meaning Happy Eid.  Once home the family get together to have traditional sweets and breakfast.  Throughout the day many will receive visitors of close friends and relatives, gifts and share food.

How to support a Muslim child/young person in foster care:

  • Support a child/young person in identifying their local Mosque. It is the young person’s choice if they wish to attend the Mosque.
  • Provide a Prayer Mat
  • Provide a Quran
  • Provide a Hijab (Head Scarf) for females and a Mosque Hat for males. A child/young person will choose if and when they want to wear this.
  • There are multiple Islamic channels available via TV networks such as Sky or Virgin which a young person may choose to watch to support their faith, especially during Ramadan and Eid. For instance, British Muslim TV sky 845.
  • Provide fresh dates for a child or young person to break their fast. This is a very symbolic.
  • Provide a Halal diet – Halal meat can be easily obtained from most supermarkets, however can also be purchased at specific Halal butchers. Standard dairy produce can be consumed such as milk, cheese and eggs.
  • Provide a meal of the child/young person’s choice once their fast is broken. This may consist of a cultural dish such bread, rice, chicken curry, kebab’s, samosas etc. This meal needs to be high in protein, carbs, fats and dairy so to ensure the young person is still receiving the recommended daily nutrients, to take them through the fasting period.
  • Eid is a very significant time in the Islamic faith and is one of the most celebrated festivities of the year. This occasion must be marked by having sweet treats such as baklava, kheer (rice pudding) and halwa (a semolina pudding). However western sweets are also enjoyed such as cookies, cakes and chocolate treats.

NFA Group Collaborate with Children and Foster Carers to Record Song Raising Awareness of Need for Additional 8,000 Carers

We’re excited to announce that NFA Group has collaborated with children and foster carers on the recording of an original new song which aims to raise awareness for fostering. We hope that the song will help to encourage people to start a career in foster care – with the UK currently in need of an additional 8,000* foster families.

More than 200 children and foster carers helped with the creation and production of the song, capturing the emotions felt by many foster children and the impact foster carers can have on the lives of vulnerable young people.

 

 

Named ‘The Light and The Calm’, the special song was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London by an ensemble of more than 40 children and foster carers, as part of our campaign to support The Fostering Network’s annual Foster Care Fortnight.

Find out how the song came to be and, more importantly, give it a listen, below.

Why We Wrote and Recorded ‘The Light and The Calm’

At NFA Group, we’re all about promoting the positive impact fostering has on the lives of children and young people in care. As part of our efforts to support this year’s Foster Care Fortnight event, which is themed around ‘Change a Future’, we wanted to do something that shouted about the importance of fostering – and help find the 8,000 foster families which are urgently needed.

Music is one of the best ways to convey emotions, ideas and important messages. It gives people a voice and allows them to express their feelings in a powerful and emotional way. It also helps people tell their story and make sense of experiences – something which we believe is hugely important for children in care.

 

 

David Leatherbarrow, CEO of NFA Group, commented: “Our song captures the important role and positive impact fostering has on many vulnerable children and how it can truly help transform young lives. Foster carers are trained and skilled experts in their field and provide an exceptional service to local communities, opening not only their home but also their heart to children in need and local to them.”

In the words of one of the foster carers who joined us at Abbey Road, the song is “a touching message about how fostering changes lives for the better”, adding that it was “a privilege to be involved”.

How ‘The Light and The Calm’ Came to Be

The story of ‘The Light and The Calm’ began back in November 2018, when NFA Group’s Emma Finch, Dan Rowles and other members of our marketing team landed on the idea of writing and recording a song to promote fostering for Foster Care Fortnight.

From the outset, we wanted the song to capture the real stories and emotions of those who have experienced fostering, and so reached out to our foster families for ideas on what the lyrics should be. We asked foster children, young people and foster carers ‘what does fostering mean to you?’, and our community responded in earnest – with over 150 people sending us their ideas about the song and what the key messages should be.

 

 

After compiling all the different lyrics and ideas which had come through from our foster families, Emma and Dan were tasked with sitting down and putting the song. When the song was finished, we took six young people to the Redwall Studios in Bolton to record the song for the first time, so that we could make changes and get the melody right before travelling to London to make the official recording.

From here, we spent a couple of weeks organising for the big day, which was scheduled for early April. We met with the ‘We Can Sing’ choir, who contributed to the backing vocals on the finished track, and ran a competition asking children to design a cover for the single – the winner of which will soon to be announced.

On 6 April 2019, we accompanied an ensemble of children and foster carers to London’s famous Abbey Road Studio, where the likes of The Beatles, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Oasis have all recorded. Recording our song in the same room as these famous bands and artists was a special and surreal experience for everyone involved, and we’re incredibly proud of the end result.

Since recording the song, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve had from everyone involved in its creation. Here, Emma tells us about some of the feedback she’s had from our fostering community:

“The project has had results beyond anything we would have expected or hoped for. I have read so many emails and Facebook posts from our carers, saying how much this project has changed their life and the children’s lives. People have told us it was their dream to go to Abbey Road, and we made it come true. Others have said talking about music has helped their young person open up for the first time – which really sums up what an amazing experience it has been, and reinforces what the whole song is about.”

What Next for Our ‘The Light and The Calm’ Campaign

We’re proud of everyone who has been involved in the writing and recording of ‘The Light and The Calm’ and want our song to be shared far and wide to spread the message of fostering. With your help, we can help raise awareness of the importance of fostering and support The Fostering Network’s Foster Care Fortnight campaign, so please share the song with your friends and family on social media.

 

 

Foster Care Fortnight 2019 will take place from 13 to 26 May, and during the event, we plan to launch our ‘8,000 Seconds’ campaign, in which we try to collect 8,000 seconds of footage of people singing or dancing to ‘The Light and The Calm’ – the same number of seconds for every new foster carer that we need across the UK.

Vicky Dobson, NFA Group’s Head of Marketing, concludes: “We are committed to dreaming big, both for the children in our care, our foster families and our employees. Creating a unique song with such a significant message and objective is hugely satisfying, but being able to offer a unique opportunity such as recording the song at Abbey Road to our fostering families was exceptionally rewarding. We have equally big aspirations for the song later this year and are looking forward to sharing more details with you in the future.”

Remember – sharing our special foster care song will help raise the profile of fostering, helping us to recruit new carers while spreading the message of how it can transform young lives. For more information about our foster care services, visit the homepage or call us today on0808 284 9211.

*6,800 in England, 550 in Scotland, 550 in Wales, and 200 in Northern Ireland. Source:

https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/media-release/2018/urgent-need-over-8000- new-foster-families-across-uk-year

What Are Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Autism spectrum disorders affect around 700,000 people in the UK, meaning that over 2.8 million people have a family member on the autism spectrum. It’s a lifelong condition that affects how people interact with others, and it can be mild or serious depending on where the person sits on the spectrum.

For families with an autistic child, everyday life can be a real challenge. Autism affects how children see, hear and feel the world around them, and different people will need different support depending on how the condition affects them.

Because autism is a spectrum condition, every child experiences it differently – and this can make it challenging for those who care for them. Foster carers can sometimes find it difficult to offer the right kind of support to autistic children in their care due to their different needs.

But, small changes and a better understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can make a big difference for foster carers supporting children with autism. That’s why we’ve put together this guide on ASD – giving foster carers the help and information they need to provide the right kind of support to an autistic child in their care.

Quick Links:

What is Autism and How Is It Defined?

Autism spectrum disorder is defined as a developmental condition that affects how people view the world around them. It’s a lifelong condition that children have from birth, and, because it’s not an illness or disease, it can’t be cured.

Autism is very common, with 1 in 100 people on the autistic spectrum. Signs and symptoms of the condition vary from person to person, which is why an early diagnosis is so important for children with ASD.

For many autistic children, the condition causes the most difficulty when they’re interacting with other people. Everyday interactions can be overwhelming, and they can struggle to build a rapport with those around them – even their closest friends and family.

Diagnosing ASD early is important to ensure children get the developmental support they need from a young age. However, because it’s not a physical condition, autism can be very difficult to spot, and many people often mistake the signs for behaviours that a child will grow out of.

Diagnosing autism is very complicated, requiring many tests to define where the child sits on the spectrum. Depending on the outcome, autism specialists will suggest strategies to help the child live life to the fullest.

What Are the Most Common Signs of ASD in Children?

While children exhibit ASD in many different ways, most autistic people share common behavioural traits. As a foster carer, understanding these traits could help you identify autistic behaviours in your child.

Here, we look at the five behavioural traits which children with autism may exhibit.

Social Communication

Autistic children can find it difficult to interpret both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions, humour and emotions. They may also struggle to communicate verbally or non-verbally. For this reason, autism specialists often suggest sign language or visual symbols as a way of communicating clearly with very young autistic children.

Social Interaction

Given the communication problems touched on above, many autistic children struggle to interact with others. They can easily misinterpret another person’s feelings, meaning or intentions, and can appear insensitive. They may seek time alone and become ‘overloaded’ by social situations, or may talk at length about their own interests, dismissing customary forms of conversation and interaction.

Repetitive Behaviour and Routines

Because autistic children can find new situations stressful and overwhelming, they sometimes enjoy a set daily routine. This helps them avoid unpredictable scenarios in which they can become confused and anxious. Even simple things like requesting the exact same breakfast every morning could indicate autistic traits.

Highly-Focused Interests

Many autistic children develop highly-focused interests from a young age – it could be music, drawing, animals, or a particular colour. Often, the interest may be unusual, and this can cause problems at school or make it difficult for them to make friends. As with repetitive behaviour, children often become fixated on a particular subject because that’s what makes them the happiest and most comfortable.

Over or Under Sensitive

Autistic children may experience sensory sensitivity, in which they grow over or under-sensitive to taste, touch, sounds, light, colour or pain. The most common type of over-sensitivity is sound, in which quiet background noises become overwhelming and difficult to block out. Whatever they become sensitive too, it’s important to avoid this where possible as continued exposure can cause anxiety or, in some cases, physical pain.

Remember, children exhibit autistic traits in many different ways, so it’s important to make a note of any behaviour you find unconventional and seek a professional diagnosis if you are concerned.

Support Strategies for Foster Carers, Parents and Guardians

Caring for a child with autism can be challenging. There are, however, several recognised strategies that can help you provide the right help and support to your child – and we’ve touched on a couple of these below.

SPELL

SPELL is the National Autistic Society’s framework for responding positively to children on the autism spectrum. It stands for Structure, Positive approaches and expectations, Empathy, Low arousal, and Links. Basically, SPELL emphasises the need to change our approach to autism, so that we can provide the right support, help, communication and interaction to everyone on the autism spectrum – whether they have ADHD or Asperger syndrome.

TEACCH

Like SPELL, TEACCH is recognised by the National Autistic Society as one of the most positive strategies parents and carers can use when interacting with an autistic child. TEACCH stands for Teaching, Expanding, Appreciating, Collaborating, and Holistic, and it prioritises building understanding around the ‘culture of autism’ and the use of visual structures to aid development, learning and communication.

Social Stories

One of the newest coping strategies recommended by the National Autistic Society, Social Stories is a series of visual stories, created by Carol Gray, which aim to help autistic children understand social situations through visual learning. Since they were released in 1991, Social Stories have proved extremely helpful in developing greater social understanding for autistic people, and families are encouraged to create their own comic strips and storyboards to help children develop their social skills.

Helpful Resources

There are lots of resources available online offering advice on how to provide help and support to children with autism. Here, we list our recommended resources for foster families:

  • National Autistic Society – The UK’s primary autism charity, offering a broad range of information and advice, as well as a confidential helpline.
  • Resources for Autism – A registered charity which aims to provide practical services for children and young people with autism.
  • Child Autism UK – The UK’s largest dedicated charity for children with autism, offering a range of support guides and advice for children and their families.
  • NHS autism support groups hub – The NHS’s autism support hub, which can help families find support groups and services in their local area.

At Alpha Plus Fostering, we provide complete training and support to all our foster carers, so they can provide an effective and supportive home for children with autism.

For more information on how to foster with us, register your interest here or call us today on 0808 284 9211 .

Bridge to Foster — Working with Lancashire Council

Kids running up long stretch of road

In Lancashire, there are a number of young people desperate to be given a chance of family life who aren’t quite ready for standard foster placements. If we don’t meet their needs, with special types of foster carers, then residential care is their only available option.

To keep these young people out of children’s homes, we need carers with the skills and resilience to help them, backed up by enhanced, specialist support.

Imagine a child who has only ever been failed or rejected — when they act up or test boundaries, it’s to see if they’re going to be let down once more.

It’s important to understand their behavior is rooted in previous experience, not an inherent need to be difficult or challenging.

These young people are not beyond help or broken — but they need extra support, love and patience, in order to hopefully thrive.

Which children are affected?

There are three main cohorts of young people identified as potentially suitable for Step Down into Fostering:

  • Those who ideally shouldn’t have been placed in residential care in the first place — but were, due to unavoidable shortage of suitable placements
  • Those in residential as part of their intended care plan during support and assessment phases but who are now ready to transition to a foster family
  • Much less common but still valid — those not currently in residential care but expected to be imminently unless a suitable placement is secured

Overall, it’s currently about a 50:50 split between pre-teens (9-12) and older (13-15) — mainly boys but this may change in future.

And unfortunately, once any child is placed in residential care, it’s almost as though the clock is ticking.

While there are many exceptional children’s homes, they represent a higher risk of young people becoming institutionalised or led astray than a family environment.

Every effort is made to give those in residential care all they need — but if a child has a chance at a loving family home, we want to give them that.

Put simply, it’s our aim that any child who can be supported in a fostering placement will be.

Happy single mother laughing piggybacking little girl at home, smiling mom and daughter having fun playing looking at camera, cute sincere adopted kid embracing new mommy head shot portrait

How does Step Down into Fostering Work?

A successful foster family placement will always be the best outcome for the child, the social worker and the Local Authority.

But to make sure this happens in these more specialist instances, a proactive, enhanced approach is required.

Once a young person has been included in the Step Down into Foster programme and a suitable carer has been found, there’ll be a window of introduction.

This period of two to four weeks will involve introductions between foster parents and children as well as specific training on the child’s needs.

The enhanced support related to these placements includes clinical therapeutic provision for carers and tailored training to the needs of the placement.

There is also the potential for more frequent contact with supporting social workers, even on a daily basis if required.

Adjusted allowances may also reflect the extra challenges presented in certain circumstances.

From the Council’s point-of-view, we’re committed to prioritising these placements, receiving regular progress updates and addressing issues as they arise.

If there are any unforeseen problems, providers will have fast access to someone on the local authority team who can support.

How successful is Step Down into Fostering?

We’ve seen even better results with the programme than we expected since it was implemented.

Every single placement that has incorporated the proper preparation period has gone on to be a successful one.

Unfortunately, these successes are only based on smaller numbers so far and we need to show that Step Down into Fostering can be scaled up.

And for that, we need more carers who are strong, resilient and can give a young person a sense of peace and ultimately, belonging.

It’s not easy at first — maybe you’ll need to show love and understanding with zero expectation of getting it returned.

And maybe you won’t be their ‘forever family’ — but after several months, or a year — you could be the reason they ultimately find one.

A Step Down into Fostering role will never be simple — but considering how the children are starting to thrive — it’s an immensely rewarding one.

Foster Care Woman and Boy Child Talking inside a retro home

Who can be a step down foster parent?

Experienced carers who have successfully completed challenging placements before are obviously well placed to help these vulnerable young people.

And to make sure we give the children the best possible chance, we’ll always consider carers that aren’t immediately available, if they’ve got the skills needed.

But experience of fostering isn’t a prerequisite — evidence suggests that exceptional people from sectors such as education or therapy are suitable.

We’ll always aim to place a young person as close to home as their care plan allows but if there’s a viable placement further afield, we may well consider this.

To give these children a chance at family life instead of residential care is only possible with heroes like these carers — and we need more.


 

To learn more about Bridge to Foster placements contact us on 0808 284 9218 to discuss further.

Anette McNeill is the Policy, Information and Commissioning Manager at Lancashire County Council.

NFA Group is proud to be a selected tier one provider of the specialist types of foster carers required for Step Down into Fostering.

To learn more about Bridge to Foster placements contact us on 0808 284 9218 to discuss further.

Anette McNeill is the Policy, Information and Commissioning Manager at Lancashire County Council.

Understanding the fostering placement matching process

Young girl talking to a counsellor at home

Placement social worker Melissa provides an introductory explanation of how foster placement matching works.

When you’re approved to become a foster parent, it’s an exciting time — you’re a step closer to changing not just your life but those of vulnerable children.

But to ensure your placement is as positive an experience as possible for you, your family — and each young person — the matching process is an important step.

What happens after my panel assessment?

After panel, an Agency Decision Maker (ADM) will use the minutes and recommendations from the panel meeting to make the final call on approval.

Once a positive decision has been made, we’ll check again their availability to start accepting placements.

For sibling groups particularly, the shortage of suitable homes means that ‘the sooner the better’ applies for new carers.

But the best placement is more important than the fastest one — and holidays, notice periods and other domestic changes can all delay a carer’s start date.

Once you’re ready to welcome a young person into your home, referrals from the local authority will be assessed for the most appropriate match.

You’ll also be introduced to your supervising social worker (SSW), who will complete a comprehensive and helpful induction with you.

Woman answer questions of outreach worker with paper in door

And you’ll typically be given a ‘buddy’ — a more experienced carer who can offer help and advice during your introduction to fostering.

How are foster placement matches decided?

Successful matching will always depend on good assessments, high levels of information sharing and careful decision making.

Ultimately, the strongest potential matches will be based on whether the skills and experience of the carer meet the assessed developmental needs of the child.

Huge importance is placed on understanding each young person’s situation before matching, so information gathering about them is vital.

We find out as much possible — both from a positive and potentially negative point-of-view — to help inform the matching process, such as:

  • Pre-care history
  • Age
  • Ethnicity and cultural needs
  • Language barriers
  • Details of previous placements (number, duration, reasons for ending)
  • Developmental needs (health, education, emotional and behavioural)
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Special needs due to disability (physical or learning)
  • Any behaviours displayed, triggers and potential risks

All of these aspects will be discussed with the foster parent prior to a placement starting, so they’re fully aware and better prepared.

Some carers will have been exposed to the realities and rewards of helping young people, through close friends and relatives who foster.

Family are having a water fight together with water pistols in the garden.

When the referrals team comes to assess a new foster parent, important factors considered during the fostering matching process will typically include:

  • Household dynamics (pets, other family members — particularly birth children or grandchildren)
  • Carer attributes and temperament
  • Transferrable skills
  • Capacity for empathy
  • Resilience
  • Potential for further development and training
  • Transport capabilities

Location and travel can play a big part in matching, as logistics are important — especially for school runs with younger children.

Often, it’s a requirement that a child continues at their current education provision and maintains any contact agreements they may have.

Although the team can specify a distance radius, carers can feed into this themselves, as their knowledge of local traffic and transport is more accurate.

Mother fastening child safety seat belt in the car

Any wishes and circumstances you express during the matching process will also be taken into account.

Provided you agree with the match once you’re satisfied you’ve been given the relevant information you need, your SSW will be informed of the decision.

An offer will be sent to the child’s local authority and their social worker will ultimately make the final decision over the matching process.

Do children have any say in placement matching?

Ideally, a young person will have the opportunity to visit their potential new home beforehand but some emergency placements mean this isn’t always achievable.

Most importantly, we’ll always conduct any fostering placement in line with the National Minimum Standards (NMS) for Fostering Services.

The ‘wishes and feelings’ section states that any fostered children must:

‘…know that their views, wishes and feelings are taken into account in all aspects of their care; are helped to understand why it may not be possible to act upon their wishes in all cases; and know how to obtain support and make a complaint.’

But regardless of NMS legislation, our priority is to ensure young people aren’t ignored or marginalised during fostering placement matching.

What happens next?

Throughout any placement, you’ll receive unrivalled support and your feedback will help shape the matching process for your next placement if required.

If your preferences as a foster parent change based on your experience and confidence gained, these will all be taken into account.

Hopefully this has made the fostering matching process clearer but if you’ve any questions, please contact our helpful team online or call 0808 284 9211.

Screen Time Guidelines

The Chief Medical Advisers to the government have studied independent research carried out by University College London, on ‘screen-based activities’, including watching videos online, social media use, gaming and similar activities, in connection to the mental health of children and young people.

What does the guidance recommend parents do?

There are several clear steps for parents, which the chief medical officers say will help keep children safe and healthy.

These include:

  • not using phones and mobile devices at the dinner table – talking as a family is very important for development
  • keeping screens out of the bedroom at bedtime
  • talking as a family about keeping safe online and about cyber-bulling and what children should do if they are worried
  • not using phones when crossing a road or doing any other activity that requires a person’s full attention
  • making sure children take a break from screens every two hours by getting up and being active
  • policing their own use too – parents should give their children proper attention and quality family time and never assume they are happy for pictures to be shared

 

UK Medical Advice

 

They also added that industry must do more to keep children safe. The evidence does not prove a clear link between screen-based activities and mental health conditions. But children are being exposed to inappropriate content, sadly highlighted by the link between Instagram and the suicide of Molly Russell.

Digital technologies can be a force for good, aiding online learning, socialising and helping people manage health conditions.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical adviser wants to see technology companies invest in systems that properly vet the ages of users – a number of platforms require users to be 13 but these were not properly policed, she said.

The guidance is also critical of what it calls “persuasive design”. This refers to techniques used to encourage addictive behaviour, including collecting likes and rewards for performing actions such as sharing pictures.

She would like social media companies to develop better algorithms to push positive content to users. For example, when people search for “Self-harm” or “suicide”, should generate content that promotes help-lines and where to go for support.

Facebook has welcomed the guidance and said it wants people to be safe online. Twitter has introduced 70 changes in 2018 to provide healthier and safer content.

The ThinkUKnow website is the online education programme from the National Crime Agency with age appropriate content for Children and adults: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk

There’s also helpful tips for children, young people and adults at https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/

So glad we kept sisters together | Fostering siblings

Kids petting horse behind gate

To mark Fostering February, we asked Michael to tell his story of 12 months since fostering siblings.

It’s just over a year since we welcomed sisters M__ and E__ into our home — in the early hours of one winter morning.

Coming from an inner city environment, the girls were understandably unsure at first about our countryside location.

Today, they’re perfectly happy outdoors or playing with our ‘pack’ of four pugs — and are now living with us as a permanent placement.

Pugs running in snow

But we didn’t get to this point as a family overnight — once me and my wife Louise decided we wanted to foster, we had a lot of research to do.

Starting our fostering siblings journey

One of our oldest friends has been a foster parent for years, so we knew what a difference it could make to vulnerable children.

When we started looking into it, we spoke to a number of IFA’s — but it wasn’t until we got in touch with our current agency that it felt ‘right’.

They gave the impression of a ‘family’ environment — friendly contact, helpful information and a lovely initial visit.

It’s been a learning curve — we were apprehensive about our final panel meeting but needn’t have been.

Same with the first LAC meeting we went to — lots of new people, plenty to take in — but not scary at all once you’re there.

And we quickly revised our initial aim not to foster anyone older than our sons, R__ and M__, instead deciding to assess placements on their own merits.

We’re glad we did, as the girls are benefitting from having brothers — and vice versa — plus the age gaps aren’t that big anyway.

Kids being pushed in a swing

Although neither of the girls were in education when they came to us, we got to work enrolling them in local schools.

While waiting for their places to be confirmed, I was able to spend time with them — I’m self employed and mainly work from home.

And although time with the dogs and enjoying various craft activities was great, it was a relief when the girls were able to join their new schools.

Both sisters have flourished — especially considering how much school they’ve missed out on — and E__ is predicted top grades in every subject.

Making new memories – keeping siblings together

It’s not all work though, we’re a very ‘doing’ family — all of the kids have had a go at steering our canal boat during trips away.

Kids playing in the snow

And you’ll often find me up above the treetops — I’ve got a microlight aircraft and also fly powered parachutes.

Louise and I both qualified as pilots years ago in the US and we love getting up high and enjoying the views of Rutland Water and the surrounding countryside.

E__ has already been up for a flight — and we’re even working on persuading our social worker to strap in when she visits during warmer weather!

And now we’ve sorted out the girls’ passports, we can’t wait for our first family holiday abroad — Sri Lanka this Easter.

Giving more children a chance

This last year has been fantastic — the girls are as good as gold and we love them to bits — I would recommend fostering to anyone.

The training has been excellent, we’ve been given all the support we’ve needed and everyone we’ve met has been a huge help.

And our social worker Paula is great — nothing is ever too much trouble for her — but she’s also the one who told us the most heartbreaking thing.

Kids walking in snow

At the ‘Skills to Foster’ course we attended, we found out not only how many kids need help — but also how many a month unfortunately can’t be placed.

Louise and I were lucky to have the childhoods we did — and we’ve done what we can to make sure the girls have the best we can give them.

But it’s important to share our experience — so other people will see how much the girls have enriched our family by coming to live with us.

And hopefully someone will be inspired to change a vulnerable young person’s life — and change their own at the same time.

There’s no better time than now, during Fostering February.

If you’d like to know more about how you could help brothers and sisters who need each other stay together, please contact us online or ring 0808 284 9211

7 lessons I’ve learnt from introverted children

Caring for introvert children

If you care for a quiet, shy or ‘less sociable’ young person, this knowledge gained working with foster parents who care for introverted children may help you support them.

Courtesy of NFA North West training manager Kath Hamblett.

 

1. Introverts aren’t aloof

Some children may exclude themselves simply because they’re frightened of forming an attachment.

If you’ve often been let down by adults, the relative sanctuary of your bedroom may feel more solid than promises made by ‘new’ people.

Carers can refer to their training — particularly the importance of sensitivity as detailed in the ‘Secure Base Model‘ to help children manage these feelings.

By tuning into what young people might be feeling, a foster parent can start to understand introvert behaviour and offer the right support.

2. Introverts aren’t boring

A young person might be reluctant to join in or try something new — that doesn’t mean they’re no fun.

They may have been punished or abused for ‘failures’ at tasks and activities in their past — so sticking to the familiar makes sense.

The empathy to see that a lack of participation doesn’t always mean a lack of ambition or ability is an important carer attribute.

And by being patient and encouraging, they can give a young person the best chance to explore how much they want to ‘join in’.

3. Introverts can reach out

Take opportunities to establish (and build on) trust whenever these are presented if possible.

If a child wants to play lego with you rather than go to bed, maybe some shared bonding over bricks would be more beneficial than a strict routine at that time.

By allowing such interaction, you can provide a safe space for a young person to play, explore and share with you.

And as the relationship develops and trust grows, it should become easier to introduce clearer defined routines.

4. Introverts aren’t robots

A perceived lack of emotion may not tell the whole story — some children simply haven’t known a nurturing environment to help them understand their feelings.

If a young person hasn’t learnt what an emotion means, they may not even know if they’re mad/sad/glad/scared — let alone how to express this.

Be there for them and leave no doubt that they’re a member of your family, to develop a sense of belonging.

As the young person becomes more comfortable with their environment, they may learn how to recognise and express emotions by seeing others do so.

5. Introverts aren’t broken

You don’t need to ‘fix’ an introverted young person by keeping them permanently occupied or frequently placing them in social situations.

Sometimes, quiet or alone time is hugely valuable — especially for children who need time to process a lot of unfamiliar information.

A new home, new family, new school — even new feelings — can be a lot to deal with — so be available but recognise the value of space.

If you can give this support, a young person can start to associate that solitude with reflection, rather than exclusion or punishment.

6. Introverts may have history

When involving an introvert in a group or family event, consider that you may need to manage expectations.

Just because a party or barbecue means a good time for most, such occasions could have different associations for a looked-after child.

Violenceneglect, abuse — be aware that something most people look forward to may be linked to a previous bad experience for a young person.

So they may appear more anxious than excited at the prospect of a get-together, particularly one with lots of people, alcohol or an unfamiliar location.

Address concerns by explaining what goes on at such occasions in your family — and maybe even dig out a photo from a previous similar event.

7. Introverts may need ‘guesswork’

An introverted child’s lack of visible confidence may go hand-in-hand with not understanding consequences.

When kids are told ‘don’t run with scissors’, ‘hold hands to cross the road’ and ‘take off coats indoors’ — they learn about cause and effect.

But without this understanding of reasons for actions, a young person may not understand why they’re being asked to do (or not do) something.

Using ‘guesses’ to prompt them to question themselves can encourage them to understand the causes and outcomes of certain behaviour.

Try phrases like: ‘I guess you wanted to stay in your room rather than eat with us because you’re feeling upset about XXXX’, to start the process.

So… one step at a time

So a child who isn’t the ‘life and soul’ doesn’t need to be forced to change, they need acceptance and availability.

Remember — ‘quiet’ is a subjective term and someone who seems withdrawn at first in your home may be dealing with much more than they’re used to.

Maybe a one-to-one game of cards will be all they can deal with initially — but give them opportunities to learn the value and fun of spending time with others.

With time and luck, the young person will become an important part of your family who can also spend time apart without being seen as rude or sullen.

 

Find out more about the Secure Base programme and other specialist training available for carers by calling 0808 284 9211 or if you prefer, contact us online.

To see when you can talk to some of our friendly staff in person about training and support, see our latest events near you.

Introduction to attachment and foster care | Joe Nee

Expert in attachment theory Joe Nee highlights some of the impact a child’s attachment experience can have on them and their foster families.

As children develop, from conception to adulthood, they need support from those responsible for protecting them during this journey.

When going through the various stages in this developmental process their experience of attachment plays a crucial role.

This continues throughout the young person’s development, from absolute dependence, to independence and autonomy as an adult.

And the different needs of children at each stage demand differing responses from those charged with their care.

Each develops at their own pace — from being unable to let their main carer out of their sight to the ‘terrible twos’, ‘sibling rivalry’ the ‘lazy teenager’ and so on.

Studying how a child attaches to their parents/carers helps us understand how this process is affected by the nature and quality of our early experiences.

This is particularly true of children who have experienced early trauma and/or neglect.

All children need to develop a secure emotional attachment to their parents or their primary/main carer at an early stage.

Stressed young mother sitting on her sofa whilst feeding her baby son. She has her head in her hand and is surrounded by mess

Young people may seem ‘unable’ to learn, or understand consequences, behaving in ways that seem to guarantee they won’t get what they want.

They may even feel responsible for their problems and those of their parents, believing themselves to be ‘bad’ or deserving of punishment.

The quality of the attachment relationship a child develops with their key caregiver is a good indicator of their ability to cope and adapt.

And as the child grows, this relationship means they continue to view this caregiver as a potential source of comfort in any stressful situations.

Unfortunately, this can continue to be the case even if the caregiver proves to be abusive, neglectful, fails to protect them, or their life seems to be in chaos.

For foster parents, this can clearly prove a challenge, as the child seeks comfort and approval from whichever caregiver to whom they have been attached.

The effects of attachment on foster parents

Attachment relationships are a biological inevitability, designed to ensure a child’s protection and survival.

But a child or young person’s ability to attach and form a bond with a caregiver often depends on the type of care they received from others earlier in their life.

It’s important that foster parents get appropriate support to promote healthy attachments for the children and young they care for in their family.

And where young people are removed from birth parents permanently, it’s vital that the appropriate matching and training takes place.

Foster parents looking after children who have disorganised or extremely anxious attachments can experience similar emotional upheaval.

Of course, fostering can be challenging at any time — but the stress involved in caring for some children can have a serious impact on the placement success.

In such situations, support from social and/or professional networks is typically a major factor in alleviating carer stress.

Particularly important is access to timely and effective support from social workers and other professionals.

Research has shown that the absence of this can exacerbate the strain on carers and their families.

Meeting a young person’s needs

Some younger children with a history of maltreatment can respond quickly to changes in their emotional environments, forming secure attachments to carers.

But research and experience tells us that this will not always be the case with certain children.

Some appear to resist support, continue to distrust adults and seem unable to seek care or comfort when distressed.

In these cases, if foster parents wait for a ‘signal’ or sign from a child to provide care, the young person’s needs may remain completely unmet.

We know that looked after children benefit greatly if they can develop secure attachments with their caregivers.

To enable this for those with attachment or trauma issues, foster parents can aim to engage with them at their emotional age (rather than chronological).

In order to ensure that young people with attachment issues are cared for most effectively during foster placements, several measures can help:

  • Capacity of prospective carers to recognise/tolerate difficult behaviour and remain sensitive/responsive to a child’s needs should be evaluated
  • Regular training and support to ensure carers can reflect on a child’s behaviour with reference to their needs rather than react immediately to their behaviour
  • Carer access to reflective space and non-judgmental listening to promote sensitive, responsive care and alleviate the strain on all concerned

Mother and teenage daughter having an argument

Any professionals, including foster parents, who are asked to care for or work with looked after children should have basic but specific training.

This should concern the impact of early attachment issues and trauma on those children.

And the support available should be proactive — not crisis driven or occurring only when stress levels are unacceptable.

Attachment and teenagers

A young person may appear to be settled, happy and thriving in a foster family environment.

But one of the triggers that can disrupt the situation for all concerned can be the onset of puberty.

The stresses and confusion for a young person during this time and their teenage years, can pose problems in terms of changing behaviour.

Another potential influential factor is young people’s vulnerability to harmful external influences.

A teen’s early experiences of mistrust, inappropriate attachment and confusion about relationships can make them an obvious target.

The potential threat of controlling relationships, sexual exploitation or gang associations increase for those with an inability to manage social relationships.

Learn more about attachment

Understanding the impact of attachment and how it can affect the fostering experience for young people and carers is important.

Find out more about the available training and support available by using the bibliography below, contacting Alpha Plus or see further resources on attachment from the Fostering Network.

About the author

Joe Nee is an independent psychology professional with extensive experience in the education and child protection sectors.

He has worked with local authorities, government departments, the police, prisons and voluntary organisations throughout the UK.

As a renowned authority on child protection, families, fostering and adoption, his expertise as a consultant is both insightful and invaluable.

Bibliography

  • Dozier M, Albus K and Bates B (2001) Attachment for infants in foster care: the role of caregiver state of mind, Child Development, 72, 1467-1477
  • Dozier M, Peloso E, Lewis E, Laurenceau J P and Levine S (2008) Effects of an attachment-based intervention on the cortisol production of infants and toddlers in foster care, Dev Psychopathology, 20, 845-859
  • Fonagy,P. and Target, M. (2002) Early Intervention and the Development of Self Regulation. Psychoanalytic Inquiry. V 22,Issue 3
  • Furnival, J. Practice with looked after children and young people IRISS Insights no.10. May 2010
  • Hughes, Dan (2006) Building the Bonds of Attachment
  • Holmes, J (2001) The Search for the Secure Base: Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy. Routledge
  • Hosking G and Walsh I (2005) Wave Report 2005: Violence and what to do about it, Croydon Wave Trust
  • Kochanska G, Barry RA, Stellern SA and O’Bleness JJ (2009) Early Attachment Organization Moderates the Parent Child Mutually Coercive Pathway to Children’s Antisocial Conduct, Child Development, 80, 1288-1300
  • Millward R, Kennedy E, Towlson K and Minnis H (2006) Reactive attachment disorder in looked-after children Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, 11(4)
  • Steele M (2006) The ‘added value’ of attachment theory and research for clinical work in adoption and foster care, in J Kenrick (ed) Creating New Families Therapeutic approaches to fostering adoption and kinship care, London: Karnac Books
  • WilPerry B and Hambrick E (2008) The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, Reclaiming children and youth,17(3)
  • son K (2006) Can foster carers help children resolve their emotional and behavioural difficulties? Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 11(4), 495-511
  • Zeanah C (2001) Evaluation of a preventive intervention for maltreated infants and toddlers in foster care, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(2), 214-221