Therapeutic Fostering plays a vital role in supporting traumatised and disadvantaged children, however finding the right setting for this work is crucial. We met with Kim Kitney, Children’s Champion on one of Medway Council’s Therapeutic Fostering Teams, to hear about her work, and how Family Hubs are part of the solution.
Therapeutic Foster Care
Kim Kitney and her colleagues, in Medway Council’s Therapeutic Fostering Teams, support children and young people to process and manage their emotions effectively, and facilitate their psychological, behavioural, social and educational development. Having experienced significant trauma, disruption, abuse and neglect before entering the care system, many need the wrap-around support of a team of adults, as well as foster parents, so they can progress and fulfil their potential.
Kim works with children for an initial six-week period, using a range of creative, dynamic approaches and activities, and continues for longer if needed. As well as working with foster children, she meets with birth children in foster families, so they can understand and relate to their foster siblings.
Shortage of settings
A challenge Kim and her colleagues have faced, is the lack of available and appropriate spaces for therapeutic fostering sessions. Conducting sessions in school or local coffee shops can be adequate, but neither environment maximises the potential of the time spent together. If they meet at school, there can be shame and stigma for the child, who may not want their classmates to know they are in foster care. However, a coffee shop is neither private nor flexible enough for a child to open up over an activity.
Therapeutic fostering often involves creative activities, giving children opportunities to learn new skills, such as cookery, crafts and painting, or playing games. Kim says,
‘My best conversations are when children are distracted or relaxed’.
This can start in the journey to the venue, where the car offers a safe space to talk informally and without direct eye contact. However, Kim prefers to travel a short distance, so she can optimise the time at the venue. Finding somewhere welcoming, comfortable, well equipped and local can be a challenge.
How Family Hubs can help
When Kim discovered Medway’s Children and Family Hubs, she realised she had found a solution. She first came across the Gillingham Children and Family Hub, and found the welcoming atmosphere, and comfortable, flexible rooms – with space and equipment for craft and cooking – were the perfect environment to work with children and young people, without taking them far from school. Since then, she has begun to use other Family Hubs in Medway.
She realised with one young person that he had been to the hub before, when he had first been taken into care. Initially, Kim was concerned about negative associations however the young person soon reassured her. Kim explained,
‘He remembered it as the place where people rallied around him, were really loving, got him drinks and sat him on a sofa. He remembered that as a good experience … something that could have been quite traumatic. But because the atmosphere was right, it took the fear away as well. That might sound quite dramatic, but with children in trauma, if you can give them somewhere calm and where they don’t feel trapped, it makes a huge difference.’
It’s not by chance that Family Hubs can have such a positive impact on children and families. Local authorities and their delivery partners have worked together to create venues that can serve multiple purposes to achieve diverse goals, by incorporating the following assets:
- A relational culture and atmosphere: professionals working with young people need to places to meet which give a warm, friendly welcome, and provide calm, comfortable rooms, where children and young people feel safe to open up and speak freely. An environment which is too formal or clinical, or is not age-appropriate, can compromise a session’s effectiveness, and even be triggering if the child or young person feels trapped or reminded of traumatic past experiences.
- Accessibility – local and open: every locality needs a Family Hub, so that children and families do not need to travel far, whether to reach out for help or to receive a service. A local Family Hub network includes other delivery sites – whether public, voluntary or private sector led – which are recognised as places which practitioners can use for group or one-to-one work, so that children and families do not need to undertake long journeys, including in rural areas. Extensive opening hours are important too. Many local authorities are working towards Family Hubs being open seven days a week, daytime and evening, so they are well used, and all families can access help and services, delivered by public, voluntary and private sector organisations.
- High awareness: communication about Family Hubs, (and delivery sites), to communities and professionals, is essential for the potential of Family Hubs to be realised. However, it can be an element in service design which receives the least attention. Effective communication to raise awareness involves identifying each target audience (families, professionals, delivery partners cross-sector), considering the mix of media and messaging to engage each, developing signage, and ensuring that external and internal comms are executed well.
- Flexible spaces equipped for multiple purposes: Family Hubs offer a range of room sizes, which are flexibly furnished and equipped to cater for different age groups and purposes, throughout the week, from small, more intimate rooms for one-to-one work to larger rooms for group activities, with access to kitchens for cooking activities, and clinical rooms for use by health partners. Many local authorities have successfully adapted children centres from early years environments, to Family Hubs that can be used more diversely. The London Borough of Brent is one of several local authorities who report successful conversion of children’s centres to Family Hubs for 0-19s, where young people are happy to drop in and seek help. Gail Tulley, Strategic Director for Children and Young People explained how this began:
‘After our launch event, a group of 16-year-old boys were playing basketball outside. They came in to finish off the event leftovers and began sharing things that were on their minds. The staff followed up and those boys and their families are now getting the help they need’
- Easy to book: Practitioners need booking systems that are easy to access and use, whether online or by phone. Practical efficiency, paired with positive working relationships between hub staff and visiting practitioners, is fundamental to integrated working which the Family Hub approach upholds.
Therapeutic fostering and other services supporting children and young people need ready access to the right venues. Through using Family Hubs (and other connected delivery sites), practitioners and their clients can work together more effectively and access the wider benefits of the Family Hub approach, summed up in the Department of Education’s three pillars of Family Hubs – better ‘access, connection and relationships’. As Kim Kitney observes:
‘When you walk in the Chatham Family Hub is lovely, it’s welcoming… If more young people experience these different places that are for them, I think we’d get a lot further in our work’.