How we took the lockdown pressure off our foster carers

How we took the lockdown pressure off our foster carers

Cllr Susan Gambles

Councillor Susan Gambles - Lead Member for Youth Opportunities

With the lockdown set to continue for the near future at least, many families are feeling the pressure of spending 24 hours a day together.

This pressure may have a significant impact on our foster carers, who even before lockdown, were doing a fantastic job in often challenging circumstances.

The public health emergency has already led to an increased demand for foster carers across the UK, with Covid-19 and associated measures affecting some families’ capacity to care for others, due to financial reasons, illness or self-isolation.

We have a recruitment campaign underway, which aims to encourage new foster carers to come forward and have introduced immediate changes to our usual recruitment processes, such as hosting virtual information sessions, tailored one to one training and completing assessment sessions via video links, so that new carers can be recruited quickly and safely.

Equally critical is our need to retain our much-valued existing foster carers, so we were keen to find a way to alleviate some of the increased pressure that lockdown conditions inevitably bring.

In Wigan, we are very fortunate to have Wigan Youth Zone, a local charity for young people, which offers members access to a large, impressively equipped building. The facility features indoor and outdoor sports facilities, music room, dance studio, art room, chill out zones, training kitchen and vast breakout spaces.

Due to current restrictions, Wigan Youth Zone is operating a purely virtual service for the borough’s young people, attracting large numbers, but leaving the building available. The Youth Zone offered use of the space to Wigan Council at no cost to help support community efforts during the pandemic.

The idea seemed simple. We would redeploy some of our council youth workers to run carefully managed, safe, activity sessions from Wigan Youth Zone.

In reality, this was more complicated than we had initially envisaged, with issues such as building insurance, transport and, importantly, the health and safety of the young participants and our staff, needing to be addressed. How do you deliver youth activities whilst adhering to social distancing requirements?

Staff from services across the council worked quickly.

An agreement giving us licence to occupy Wigan Youth Zone was drawn up. Minibuses, usually reserved for school transport, were offered so that children could travel in very small groups. Policies, procedures and risk assessments were written and approved. New insurance contracts were taken out. Vast amounts of cleaning materials and safety equipment were purchased. Compassionate staff with creative skills volunteered. A careful timetable, meaning that children would only take part in one to one or sibling group activities with youth workers, was developed.

Our programme starts this week and will run each day. Up to 14 young people per day, with priority given to those of the highest level of need, will enjoy music, arts and crafts, dance and indoor and outdoor sports.

We are yet to see the results of this work but are monitoring the outcomes. If successful, we would like to extend the offer to other families who may be struggling.

Our hope is that this opportunity for children to let off some steam and for foster carers to have a much needed break will mean we can prevent valuable placements from breaking down so that during these uncertain times our looked after children can retain the stability of a loving home.

Posted on Thursday 7th May 2020
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