A child’s journey through foster care
May is National Foster Care Month, time to recognise the part we all play in making sure every child grows up in a safe and loving family.
To acknowledge the contribution of the dedicated social workers around the world and raise awareness about the importance of foster care, we have come together with our beloved partner Blue Sky Fostering to talk about a child’s journey through foster care in the UK and Uganda.
The concept of foster care in Uganda
The concept of foster care is far from being new in Uganda, however, traditionally children in need of alternative care options were mostly supported by their extended families, through informal foster care most commonly known as “kinship care”.
Over the last 12 years, the Government has streamlined the foster care system laws to include a formal assessment and approval of foster care parents. In the UK, there are over 400 foster care agencies such as Blue Sky Fostering, with around 75,000 approved foster carers [1].
In Uganda, there are only three organisations, including Child’s i Foundation, that provide foster care solutions for children in need of alternative care options.
Finding and approving foster carers
Today, Child’s i community volunteers are the driving force behind finding, assessing, and training new foster carers in local communities in Uganda. Through their local connections, they communicate the need of foster carers to members of their communities and make a note of those interested. Alternatively, we welcome interest through our social media presence and website enquiries.
The community members who apply to become foster carers are then assessed by our team of social workers who visit them at their homes to get to know the foster carer, their experience with children, find out if they have enough space in their home to take care of another child and if the home is safe for a child. This also provides an opportunity for a foster carer to ask as many questions as possible about the journey they are about to begin. With the support of Sarah Rocket, Blue Sky Fostering Recruitment Director, who spent time with our team in Uganda, we were able to create a robust structure around the recruitment and training of foster carers, based on the existing system in the UK.
In the UK, prospective foster parents directly express interest in fostering through agencies like Blue Sky Fostering through their websites or adverts placed in the newspapers. Blue Sky also holds virtual drop in’s where people can come and enquire about becoming carers and also have a dedicated team to help you find out if fostering is right for potential carers and their family.
Both in the UK and Uganda, those who pass the assessment are provided rigorous training and guidance on all aspects of child protection, parenting, child development, and what to expect when fostering. The training and guidance act as a support system for foster parents and is continuous throughout a foster parent’s journey.
Blue Sky Fostering empowers foster parents with therapy sessions with clinical practitioners to support them in their foster care journey. In addition, the approved foster parents go through training such as ‘understanding attachment’, ‘drug and alcohol use’, digital world, ‘managing behaviour’ as well as extensive therapeutic training.
In Uganda, in order for the prospective foster carers to be matched with a child, they must be approved by the National Alternative Care Panel, a government body that Child’s i helped set up. The panel consists of government officials, who have a broad range of knowledge, skills, and experience in foster care. Once a foster carer is approved, they are ready to provide a safe and loving home to a child in need.
In the UK, foster parents are approved by completing a Form F assessment. “At Blue Sky we are proud of how we complete our Form F assessment safely, with qualified assessors and a range of “pre-panel” training courses, to help prepare the prospective carers. Then, much like with Childs i, the carers sit in front of a panel of assessors, who will ask a series of questions, based on their Form F assessment, and again, as the team at Child’s i said, once a foster carer is approved, they are ready to provide a safe and loving home to a child in need”, shares Edmund Hill-Thompson, Training & Participation Manager.
Placing a child in foster care
In Uganda, once a child is identified to be at risk or has been left, the local authority contacts Child’s i Foundation social workers immediately to inform us about a new case and authorises Child’s i Foundation to take on the case.
Most of the children in need of foster care are newborn babies. To make sure they are healthy, our community nurse Frida provides a medical check-up and takes the baby to a hospital when needed.
At this point, our social workers look for the best foster care match for the child, depending on their age, the living arrangements of the foster care, and the type of foster care the child needs: emergency, short-term, or long-term.
In Uganda, a child at risk or who has been left is first placed in an emergency or short-term foster care whilst our social workers find a relative that can take care or trace for their families. If their family is traced but is unsafe for the child to be placed back home, then the child is matched with a long-term foster parent. In some instances, the parents may be going through long-term mental health challenges or there are no immediate family members who are able to take care of the child, then the child is placed in long-term foster care.
If a child is able to speak and understand, our trained social workers spend some time with them to get them as comfortable as possible, explaining the situation and reassuring them. As the social worker places the child with a foster carer, Child’s i Foundation provides the child with a care package that includes clothes, age-appropriate toys, milk, and food.
Once the social worker is sure that the child is safe and settling well into a new foster family setting, they start tracing for their families. They place posters in the community, place radio announcements and newspaper adverts to trace for the parents.
If a child has been taken from an unsafe home, our social workers regularly visit the family and speak to them on how best to look after the children. If the family is struggling to look after the children due to a lack of income, we support the parents with a small grant to start a business to help them take care of their family. In cases of malnutrition, we provide the family with immune-boosting food packages while our community nurse supports the family by training them on how to cook and prepare healthy, nutritious food.
If a family is found, our social workers visit and talk with the family to understand the circumstances under which they felt they could no longer be able to take care of the child. Having close connections with local Probation and Social Welfare officers is vital when tracing the family members of a child under our care. These government officials help us check the official records and make sure that the families we find are biologically related to the child. Before we place the child back into the family, we assess the family and work together with them to ensure that they overcome the challenges they are facing and that they will be able to take care of the child. We support the family with rent, food, clothing, access to medical care as well as mental health support. We also support the parents with a small grant to start a business so they can be able to earn an income and take care of their family.
If a child’s family is not found, the child is then adopted or placed in long-term foster care. While in long-term foster care, we support the child with their education, medical care, and everything they need to ensure that they are happy and thriving.
In the UK, once the local authority identifies a child that is at risk and fails to find a family member who can provide a safe home for the child, they put together a referral of the young person which includes their life’s journey. They then contact agencies like Blue Sky Fostering asking for a match. Blue sky then matches the child with a foster carer to ensure that a child’s needs are met and visits the local authority with the foster carer for placement.
Both in Uganda and in the UK, the foster parents are trained to ensure that the children in their care have a voice, are empowered, listened to, and are engaged in positive activities to give them a “leg up”. At Blue Sky, this work is overseen by Ed Hill-Thompson, who is the Training & Participation Manager, which means anything that young people feel, or share, can be fed directly into the training provided to the Foster Carers.
Collaboration at the heart of foster care
It takes a long time to build a new alternative care system and it is only through our work with the government, local partners, local community volunteers, and organisations like Blue Sky Fostering, that we are able to change the way we care for children in Uganda.
“No children at risk were placed in orphanages during the pandemic as we were able to quickly place them in safe and loving families with approved foster carers in the district.”
– Evelyn Nanteza, Project Manager Tororo
Since the beginning of our partnership in 2013, Blue Sky Fostering team have raised a whopping £49,081 to build a foster care programme in Uganda. Together, we are able to build the capacity of our foster carers in Uganda by empowering them with the expertise and techniques that they can adapt or tailor-make to Uganda needs to help them provide quality foster care to children in need.
In the past 8 years, Blue Sky Fostering has kindly shared the time and expertise of their highly skilled social workers to upskill our team in Uganda and ensure they have everything they need to provide high-quality support to vulnerable children and families. 5 social workers went to Uganda to work directly with the team on the ground on specific development projects to support the programme.
In the coming months, through our partnership with Blue Sky, we are hoping to provide our foster carers in Uganda with additional, more extensive, training about fostering young people who grew up in an orphanage to teach them interdependent living skills.
Blue Sky Fostering has also been involved in organising fun events to raise money for Child’s i Foundation’s work while engaging the children and young people they work with here in the UK. As part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award, the young people of Blue Sky Fostering have sold stuffed animal toys to raise money for the charity, so they can see how their positive actions help other young people, who may have had a similar start in life as they have. They have also completed over 10 tough mudders and mud runs with their Foster Carers and Young People, to raise funds and awareness and the Child’s i Foundation even had its own stall at the annual Blue Sky Fest, with a video link from Uganda welcoming everyone to the festival.
“I promise you there is a Child’s i vest under there somewhere!”
– Ed
This year, we are also organising a football tournament together with the Barming Blues Football Club to continue spreading awareness about the importance of alternative care options and fundraising to support the development of a social workforce in Uganda and the Blue Sky Fostering and Child’s i Foundation logo will sit proudly side by side on the front of every Barming Blues kit, for the 2021/22 season.
A render of the new Barming Blues Kit for 2021/22. A banner will also sit on pitchside with donation information for Child’s i Foundation
Together, we are changing lives and providing safe and loving families to children in need.