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“We’ve never felt so much support before” – experienced foster carers Aly and Lee Dowd have shared how a pioneering fostering scheme in Portsmouth will improve foster care in the city.

 

This weekend, Portsmouth City Council will launch a new model for foster care. The Mockingbird Family Model provides additional support to carers and young people by replicating an extended family, through a network of up to ten foster families.

The families will form a constellation, with a hub home at the centre. Through the hub home, experienced foster carers – like Aly and Lee Dowd from Cosham – will support all carers and families within the constellation.

Aly and Lee have been fostering for eight years and are the first hub home with the new Mockingbird Family Model.

“We know from experience that it can take a while to build friendships with other carers,” said Aly. “But, through Mockingbird and the community that’s created, you’re instantly involved with a small group of people who are experiencing the same challenges and victories as you.”

Lee added: “We’ve been fostering for so long so you forget how you felt at the beginning of the process and how useful it is to speak to other carers and families. Having someone you can ask questions to, whether it’s about the process, how to prepare for the children and young people coming into your care or ideas of things to do, we’ve never felt so much support before.”

Eight families at varying stages of fostering are involved in the first Mockingbird constellation in Portsmouth. Some have fostered for more than 20 years, while others are awaiting their first child or young person. But, for all, having a network of families to call on is invaluable.

The model provides immediate practical support through regular meet-ups and social activities, and learning opportunities for carers to support the young people in their care. It also offers the chance for children and young people to develop relationships with trusted adults and other young people in care.

Aly said: “Children in care may not have strong friendships, particularly if they’ve moved homes a lot. This will give them chance to spend time with other people in a similar situation, as well as taking part in fun activities and events.

“We’ll be organising monthly catch-ups with the constellation and asking our young people what type of social activities they want to do. This might be a BBQ at our house, a day out or a trip away – but will always be led by the needs and wants of the group.”

Lee added: “Our home will act as the hub, so our door will always be open. Once lockdown has lifted, carers can call in for a chat or young people can have sleepovers, which we hope will strengthen friendships and increase the sense of having an extended family.

“We’ve also got a WhatsApp group that’s been really well used for sharing information and asking questions. There’s always someone on there to answer a question.”

Across the country, Mockingbird has already shown to help families support each other and overcome challenges, while also showing significant benefits to the lives of children and young people in care.

Portsmouth City Council is the first local authority on the south coast to implement the Mockingbird Family Model.

Cllr Suzy Horton, Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education, said: “Building a community of carers around children and young people to ensure a continuity of care and stable home life is vital. Many of the children and young people we bring into care may not see their extended family of cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents and family friends – so the Mockingbird Family Model aims to replicate this during their time in care. During the formative years of their lives as they grow up, attend school and build friendships, this type of support is invaluable.

“I am very proud that our city is pioneering such an advanced and innovative model of fostering.”

The Mockingbird Family Model is just one kind of foster care available in Portsmouth. There are also opportunities to foster short-term, long-term, act as a family link and/or help a young person to independence with the supported lodgings scheme.

“Lee and I talked about fostering for many years and decided to give it a go eight years ago,” said Aly. “We now wish we’d done it sooner. Knowing that you and your family have contributed to children growing in confidence, improving at school, making friends and feeling safe is such a good feeling.

“For anyone thinking about fostering for the first time I’d say to speak to other foster carers, who are all very approachable and who will give you an honest insight into the challenges and benefits of fostering. And then, if you can offer a place – whatever you can offer – go for it. You won’t regret it!”

Foster Portsmouth welcomes enquiries from people who would like to know more about becoming a carer. Portsmouth City Council’s first virtual event of 2021 takes place on Tuesday 19 January – register your interest to meet the team and some current foster carers: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJErdOGopjsvGtdBhfIaV2GBWqR5duN4v5Ea.

For more information, contact the fostering team on 023 9283 4071, visit www.foster.portsmouth.gov.uk or email fostering@portsmouthcc.gov.uk.