There’s a shortage of specialist ‘child and parent’ foster carers in Devon, working alongside birth parents to help them develop their parenting skills and keeping them together as a family.
The first few months of parenthood are a crucial time, and many people experience difficulties.
But some have additional issues to deal with, such as poor mental health, drug and alcohol misuse problems, learning disabilities. Some parents are simply very young and don’t have their own support network.
It means they sometimes need to learn to improve their parenting skills with additional support.
‘Child and parent’ fostering involves placing a baby or child and one or both parents with specialist foster carers so they receive consistent support and guidance in a safe family environment.
It enables the birth parent(s) and child to stay together, increasing the likelihood of bonding in those crucial early months together. And it also allows the parents to stay in their local area, maintain and develop links with local networks and offers them stability while they develop their parenting skills.
To families like Helen’s, it’s a service that she describes as ‘priceless’.
“At first I was ever so nervous but K (foster carer) went out of her way to make me feel at ease and reassure me,” explains Helen.
Helen and her very young baby moved in with K after difficulties early on. Helen had until then what’s sometimes described as a chaotic lifestyle. She’d had been in trouble with the police and struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.
But with the birth of her daughter, Helen wanted desperately to turn her life around, and to provide her new born with the safe and loving family environment that she’d always dreamed of.
“K, my carer, encouraged me and believed in me, which made all the difference to my parenting and ability to maintain abstinence.
“Our relationship grew and she remained professional, caring, understanding, kind, insightful and diplomatic in all situations.
“She had it all really well thought out, in terms of what my daughter and I needed – bed, cot, drawers. There was everything we could have needed, in addition to the things that we brought with us.”
Child and parent support like this revolves around strong relationships and trust between the carer and the people they’re helping. Day to day tasks that every parent has to manage became opportunities for Helen to learn and develop, with K’s support.
“We did a vast array of things including trips out with family for walks in the wood; bathing baby; family meals; supermarket shopping; and of course lots of meaningful chats.
“K’s support was absolutely priceless.
“There were times when I was low and tearful, and she perked me up and showed me real care and knowledgeable advice.
“We shared meal times with her family quite a few times. Special occasions, roast dinners at the weekend, and pizza night with everyone there – all superbly cooked!
“K’s genuine love of what she does shines through. It is so lovely to see when she is demonstrating skills, imparting knowledge or advice, or when she’s soothing and calming a fractious baby. Or just conversing with me on a one to one friendly and humorous level.
“My stay with her has been a really pleasant learning and growing experience. My daughter adores K. I’m confident that we will keep in touch.”
It’s an emotional journey for foster carers too.
Sal and Keith came to become parent and child foster carers after years of mainstream fostering.
It was a decision they made with their family, and it needed changes to their home to accommodate the additional people.
Stays are normally between 12 and 15 weeks, but can be longer if necessary, and foster carers can choose to take either single or both parents, with one or two children, usually babies or possibly toddlers.
“It’s been a good move for us,” says Sal.
“We’ve found that by working as a team, it’s been extremely rewarding. It’s intense at times, emotive and challenging, and we’ve definitely learned a lot in a short space of time, but we’ve had some excellent support from the council’s team.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the service, said:
“Running through the heart of what we do is a common goal to do everything we can to keep children safe and well, and with their families. That means supporting parents who need a bit of extra help for them to provide safe and loving homes for their children.
“The parent and child fostering service is great example of how, with the right support at the right time, real change can come about that will have a lifetime of benefit.
“To see families turned around with new starts for them all ahead, is tremendously rewarding. Please, if you think this could be you, get in touch. We’d love to talk to you about it.”