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42 children and young people in foster care and their foster carers have benefited from being part of Portsmouth City Council’s pioneering Mockingbird Programme, which is celebrating its first anniversary.

The council’s Foster Portsmouth service are the south coast pioneers of the Mockingbird Programme which launched in January 2021. The award-winning and sustainable foster care model comprises of a ‘constellation’ of up to ten ‘satellite’ fostering households, offering the relationships and support similar to that of an extended family.

At the heart of each constellation is a ‘hub home’ where a specifically recruited and trained hub home foster carer offers vital peer support and guidance to all the carers within the constellation, in addition to respite care in the form of sleepovers and social activities, all of which strengthen relationships and permanence.

The Mockingbird Programme has been shown to empower families to support each other and overcome problems before they develop. It has also shown significant benefits to the lives of children and young people in care by normalising foster care, minimising placement disruption and building positive links with other families.

Portsmouth City Council introduced the programme, which in the UK is delivered by leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, with its first constellation launch in January 2021. Since then, the model has gone from strength to strength and Foster Portsmouth has launched a further two constellations bringing them up to 26 satellite carers.

Satellite carer, Julie, added:

“Since joining the Mockingbird Programme, I find that I have friendship, support and a greater understanding of everyone else’s needs as well. We all work together and look out for everyone. It’s like having an extended family, so I think it works really well.”

Thanks to the community support Mockingbird provides, 42 children in the Portsmouth area have been provided with secure and stable families, and the breakdown of relationships has been avoided, meaning more of Portsmouth’s children can grow up with the stability they deserve. It has also provided vital additional support for their foster carers.

Vicky Laybourne, Foster Portsmouth’s Mockingbird liaison social worker, reported

“We have managed to support placement stability, providing children with continuity of care. They build friendships, achieve improved educational outcomes and benefit from the support of other positive adults and family time contact with birth families with the support of the hub carer outside of a contact centre in the hub home or in the community.”

Vicky continued,

“The support offered has positively impacted foster carer retention and normalised care for children though family time and lots of fun activities, reflective sessions and training for foster carers in their constellation which helps to build relationships.”

Across the UK, there is approaching 90 constellations and The Fostering Network is now recommending the Mockingbird programme expands to all local authorities so it is hoped this number will continue to grow.

Cllr Suzy Horton, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education at Portsmouth City Council, commented:

“Building a community of carers around children and young people to ensure a continuity of care and stable home life is vital. Mockingbird constellations enable both carers and children to develop good relationships and friendships in the hub home, like those found in extended families.”

Cllr Horton continued,

“Children also enjoy special occasions together such as sleepovers, helping to improve confidence, self-esteem and trust. 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 has pioneered such an advanced and innovative model of fostering.”

The Mockingbird programme is both beneficial to children and young people, as well as foster carers who are supported in providing the best possible care to their young people. It is also a cost-effective, sustainable model of foster care.

Aly & Lee, the first Mockingbird home hub carers in Portsmouth, reported:

“Lee and I have been fostering for almost eight years and we realised this kind of support was needed amongst carers and looked after children. Mockingbird ticks all the boxes to enable foster carers to support each other and for the children to feel part of an extended family. We were really excited and proud to be Portsmouth’s first Mockingbird hub.”

15-year-old Ashley, one of the young people benefiting from the programme, shared:

“I enjoy coming to Mockingbird events because it’s fun. There’s a lot of stuff to do and to hang out with friends I have met there. I enjoy coming to Aly’s most weeks to have tea and to talk.”

Fostering service leader Jackie Clark concluded,

“Here in Portsmouth, the Mockingbird programme is a game changer, both for our children and our foster carers, and we’re so proud of everything our three constellations have achieved. Our Mockingbird foster carers feel supported and we are seeing an increase in the retention of foster carers as a result.”

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer with us, please get in touch. Foster Portsmouth welcome people from all backgrounds, of all different ages, genders, ethnicities, no matter your relationship status or sexual orientation. If you think you can make a difference to children’s lives, please get in touch.”

To enquire about fostering with Foster Portsmouth, or to arrange a 1:1 with one of our experienced team or existing foster carers, please fill in our contact form, call 023 9283 4071 or email fostering@portsmouthcc.gov.uk.