“We know how important it is for children to be in a family environment, whether that is with their own family or with a foster family and that’s why, across our residential schools and our children’s homes, we’re focused on helping children make that positive step when it’s appropriate for them – it’s something we plan for from the day they arrive. The aim of Step Down to Family Living is to enable young people to move back to family living as quickly and effectively as possible.
“We know there are too many children in the UK who have experienced multiple foster placement breakdowns and who have been separated from their families for long periods of time. Some of these children and young people may be placed in residential services like ours. aims to ensure this is for a short period of time while we prepare children and young people to return to family settings.
“Our Step Down to Family Living Model is designed to help stabilise the child and equip them with the skills they need to thrive within a family home environment, with less supervision than in residential settings.
“It’s based on a philosophy of four P’s; planning, placement, phased transition and post transition. Many of the children we support benefit from being in residential care and the enhanced level of support that comes with it – we have additional therapeutic support available on site for example - however, there is a group of children who have care plans which suggest foster care is a more beneficial pathway for them.
“An example of our pathway being successful can be seen at Wood Grove, one of our residential children’s homes. Recently we had three young people, all at around the same time, who all returned to a family living environment – whether that was with grandparents or other close family members. It even included a young person who it had been thought would need long term mental health care, but they returned home too. Close and sustained family work, rebuilding relationships and nurturing them have been key to their success here.
“Wood Grove has had particular success in supporting younger children and their families, while Heysham House, another of our residential children’s homes, also has a great track record in supporting children to return to their home area, to family or indeed, supported independent, living - but at the other end of the age scale.
“Heysham tends to support older children and their wraparound therapeutic clinical support, as well as extensive knowledge of supporting young people at risk of exploitation, are a huge part of helping the young people be ready for that next step. There’s a focus on learning the skills needed for independence, with an underpinning of a team approach to therapy and support, drawing on the skills of the home’s in-house Clinical Psychologist.
“Our residential schools too – High Peak School, Wings Notts and Wings Cumbria – have also had great success in supporting young people to return home. Again they have in-house clinical support available for all young people, and again, they work very closely with families and carers to rebuild bonds, trust and relationships.
“To help these young people achieve their goal of a return home, a clear plan is in place from the outset and we believe absolutely in being open and honest with the child about what the plans and timescales, and then progress against both of those, are. It builds trust and helps prevent placement breakdown. We do this to try to protect them from further negative experiences. We also work hard to stabilise the child, who has often had repeated placement breakdowns and is very distrustful of the system, and aim to help them re-engage with formal education as quickly as we can.
“Our homes really embrace and enable children to stay in touch with their families and to bolster those relationships. We work with and support both ‘sides’ – parents or carers can’t simply expect their children to “change” dramatically, even if that’s what they want and it’s not up to the child to do all the “work”. Through consistent support and work with families, we help them understand that there’s work to be done on both sides to help the child, and the family, make the progress they need to successfully return home.
“We created our model alongside children, families, therapeutic professionals, commissioners and a national fostering agency to make sure we had the views and experiences of all the key people in the process, and to create something which has the child’s best interests at its core.
“Our aim from Step Down to Family living is to ensure it provides a clear structure and process for children and young people to progress through and to achieve their overarching goal of stepping down to a foster care placement or returning to their families.
“Many of our young people stay in touch after they leave our residential services and we love hearing from them. We know they have had positive experiences with us, because they tell us and they see us as part of their family, and part of what has helped them move on. We get invites to graduations, to weddings. They also come back to speak to young people currently in care and talk about how it can work for them too, they have been where they are they have moved on successfully. It’s very inspiring.”