Supporting Short Breaks - Supporting Foster Carers and Birth Families

David King - Supervising Social Worker, Richard Skene - Foster Carer, Geoff O’Donnell - Care Visions

There are many people who aren’t looking right now to foster on a fulltime basis but still want to open their heart and their home to children and young people who need it. The work of Short Break Carers is invaluable and supports other Foster and Birth Families at those times when it is most required.

Some common scenarios for Foster Carers being offered short break placements are:

- It may help provide support to another fostering family through times of pressure and help sustain the child’s longer-term placement
- It might be to help meet the needs for children who come and stay for a few days on a regular basis
- It may be a flexible arrangement to help support the child to continue to live at home thus sustaining them with their families and in their local community

For some Foster Carers, if they don’t have previous fostering or parenting experience- Short Break fostering is a good option to consider. It doesn’t have the same commitment as longer-term fostering. It provides an opportunity to support a number of children and young people with varied experiences and challenges. With this option the Foster Carer has the opportunity to build on their existing experiences and enhance their skills.

Within fostering, Short Breaks can support and sustain foster placements. When they are used effectively, introduced in a positive way, they can have success in supporting the young person’s long term needs throughout their childhood.

Children and young people are at the heart of everything we do. Short Breaks offer an opportunity for them to have time away to have positive new experiences and form new relationships. It also has benefits for the fostering family with whom they live- giving them some time out and time to recharge.

Through working with some of our dedicated Foster Carers who feel that they are best suited for short break placements, we have been able to work flexibly and support birth families. Through providing support by caring for their children on a Short-Break basis, this has enabled children to remain at home within their parents’ care.

Foster Carer - Richard:

We spoke to Richard, a Foster Carer who offers Short-Break placements. He and his late wife, Moira, previously used to care for children and young people in longer-term arrangements. However, since her passing and his promise to family that he would keep fostering, Richard finds that short break placements are really rewarding for him and the children he looks after.

Richard said, “Moira was the main carer, but I did all the training with her. When she passed away it was devastating for all of us. I took about a year off and decided that I would try fostering myself. My daughters suggested that respite or short breaks would be good to look at. Moira would have wanted to know that I was continuing to foster.

I have grandchildren and commitments looking after them during the week with school. But my weekends were free to offer some of my time. Short breaks don’t interfere with me being able to help with my family.  Although it is respite for the foster carers, it offers the children and young people a break from their usual environment. Having things like different meals and a different place to stay is something which I have noticed that they really enjoy. I stay close a large park which is something that they might not have on their doorstep.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of it that I can’t say that I got before when I was working in the building trade. When you see the smiles on their faces, even from playing and going on the trampoline and meeting some of the local children, it's a really positive experience.

I had one kid who would bring their bike and we would take him to the BMX track at the park allowing them to do they do something that I knew they liked. I can tell from these experiences that they are enjoying it.

Sitting about in the house, doesn’t do you much good. I do get to see my daughters and grandkids regularly, but there is time that I have, and I am not at the stage where I would want to retire from this. If I am fit enough, this is something that I want to keep doing for from some more years.”

Since the Covid Pandemic...

Since the Covid Pandemic many Local Authorities are coming to organisations like us to support birth families. The Foster Carers which we work with have found this role very rewarding in being able to help and also support children to remain at home with their birth family.

Through our work we have found our Carers are enjoying experiencince working with birth families and supporting them in this way. Both participating and committing to the child’s care plan and supporting their needs long-term. The benefits of continuous relationships can give a shared experience to a child that is just like an extended family member or extended-foster family member.

Short Breaks are discussed with the children and young people involved as an opportunity to have one to one time with your short break carer, trying hobbies and interests that you might not have been able to do.

Whether helping birth families or other foster families, it is about meeting the needs of these families to best support them and the children and young people.

Short Break fostering offers a flexible full-time Fostering alternative which can work around other commitments and schedule, often making use of days off and holidays to foster. Short Break Carers receive the same level of support and training as all other Foster Carers. If you would like more info about becoming a Short Break Carer, or would like to know more about what’s involved, please visit here.