TACT’s Martin Clarke Publishes FASD Blog in “Research In Practice”

TACT Director of Performance Support, Martin Clarke, has written a blog on identifying Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) for the child practice research website, Research in Practice.

Martin speaks about the urgent need for greater public education on FASDs, not just for expectant parents but also for social workers, teachers, midwives and policy makers.

You can read Martin’s blog by clicking here.

TACT Connect: One Year On

It is National Care Leavers Week, and TACT – the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, is using it as an opportunity to mark the fantastic first year of TACT Connect – an innovative service for care experienced people.

TACT recognises that leaving care is a challenging time for young people, especially as many will not have the help of a supportive family network. As a child in care they are surrounded by professionals dedicated to their welfare, but once they leave care that level of support fades away. So, TACT has set up a program called TACT Connect that provides a model of support for care leavers, enabling them to achieve positive outcomes.

TACT CEO Andy Elvin said: “It’s important as a parent that you stay in touch with your children throughout their lives. The state can be a not so great parent because once people have left care, it doesn’t know what’s going on in their lives. So, TACT Connect is our way of addressing that.”

TACT Connect has built an impressive network of care leavers that support and celebrate one another, while keeping in touch with TACT. TACT Connect offers the chance to meet other care experienced people, learn and access new skills and get support in reaching their aspirations. By becoming a member, care leavers receive newsletters packed full of helpful advice and shared experiences, plus invites to events, and the opportunity to be involved in shaping the scheme.

Mark Riddell – National Advisor for Care Leavers has welcomed TACT Connect. Mark said: “Initiatives like TACT Connect are important because they are led by the voices of care experienced young people. This is a new concept and it would be good to see similar work happening elsewhere in the country. We need to be ambitious about how we support care experienced people, and TACT Connect is a really good starting point.”

Work on TACT Connect began in October last year, with the creation of a steering group consisting of care leavers, foster carers, young people in care and TACT members of staff. Right from the start the development of the scheme has been guided by care experienced people, who are naturally in the best position to know about the needs of Connect members, so they have taken a prominent role in tailoring the service. Care leavers are also solely responsible for editing the TACT Connect newsletter, which was launched in March.

In February, work began on the “Peer Mentoring” scheme by providing training to prospective mentors. The scheme allows care experienced people to mentor 15-16-year-olds to help their transition to independence, by offering their own experiences and learned wisdom, as well as being available any time the young people need someone to talk to who may have faced similar challenges to them.

In April, TACT Connect was officially launched at an art gallery in Birmingham where TACT care leavers displayed works of art that they had created themselves with the theme of “message to my younger self”. Those present also built a road-map of their accomplishments, helping to put their experiences in context and define themselves in a way which recognises their many assets.

TACT young person, Channon, said: “It is great to be given the opportunity to connect with other young people who have been in care and have similar life stories. Creating my art piece made me think a lot about my own story, I found it very therapeutic.”

In May, TACT Connect created its database of TACT alumni to establish a network of care experienced people that continue to support each other throughout their lives.

Shortly after the launch, TACT Connect began piloting it’s “Enabling Grants” scheme, which is a grant available to care experienced people to help improve their access to both education and employment. Government statistics found that care leavers aged 19-21 are three times more likely to not be in either education, employment or training compared to their peers. Often this is due to financial insecurity, and the “Enabling Grants” scheme aims to address this issue by providing assistance to those looking to take their next steps but are struggling due to a lack of resources. Applications are assessed by a panel of care experienced people, foster carers and the TACT Connect coordinator Verity.

TACT Connect has made fantastic progress over the past year, but this is just the start. Ambitious plans are in place to grow and meet the needs identified by its members. Plans include regular regional events shaped entirely by members (the next being in Wales in November 2019), a money management workshop, the creation of an online portal for members and the recruitment of regional TACT Connect Advisors made up of care experienced people who organise activity in their local community and engage in research and campaigns.

TACT Connect wants care experienced people to know that leaving care does not mean that they are forgotten, they will continue to be supported throughout their life by those who have had experiences similar to their own, as well as TACT.

TACT care leaver Samantha summed up the scheme: “TACT Connect isn’t just about having a supportive community, it’s about having a friend for life that you can turn to whenever you need help or are feeling lost.”

If you are inspired to consider fostering and want to help vulnerable children who have had a difficult start to their lives, please go to: https://www.tactcare.org.uk/foster-with-us/ or call 0330 123 2250

“With the support of my foster carers, I’m now following my dreams”

Rakia – TACT Care Leaver

I moved in with my carers, Albert and Joyce, shortly before my 10th birthday and have been with them ever since. Albert and Joyce are brilliant carers, right from the start they made me feel safe and supported. I now refer to them as my mum and dad. By a strange coincidence we share the same surname, which makes me feel like I’m even more part of the family!

We used to go out shopping, to the cinema and to restaurants as a family, this was my favourite thing to do with them. Having these experiences, I felt as though I was no different from any other child. They have also taught me basic life skills such as cooking, cleaning and generally looking after myself.

When I first arrived, I was a very angry child. I wasn’t able to express myself or talk through the things that I was feeling. As well as giving me a safe and supportive home, Albert and Joyce helped me to learn how to control my behaviours and emotions. I think it’s really important that people don’t bottle up their feelings and have someone they can trust. Throughout my nine years living with them, I’ve seen them have the same positive effect on other children in their care.

Participating in TACT events was also a very positive experience for me. I was among children from across the UK to take part in TACT’s Children’s Champions meetings, which is an opportunity for the charity to learn from children in care’s views and experiences, to help shape its work.

I also attended TACT’s Big Weekend, which brings children together to experience outdoor activities and bond with their peers. It was a great opportunity to make friends and try new experiences, and helped me to build up my confidence and challenge my fears. I had always been scared of heights, but after finally gathering the courage to do a zipwire during Big Weekend, I absolutely love doing it now. This year I went as a mentor to one of the children, and it was great to see everyone getting along as always.

I continue to live with Albert and Joyce through Staying Put and I’m now following my dreams. I used to think I wasn’t able to do anything with my life, but through my own determination and the support of my carers I got into the university of my choice and I hope to soon teach English as a second language in Japan.

I have always wanted to be a teacher of some sort growing up. Teachers are so important and there just aren’t enough of them. I like to help people and care for them, so I am absolutely determined to make my dreams a reality and become a teacher. Japan is a really fascinating country that I’m really excited to experience. I’ve already started to learn some Japanese and Chinese, and I intend to visit soon.

My advice to others in care is to reach out to your carers if you have a problem, no matter how or big or small. They are there to support you and it’s perfectly OK to admit you need extra help. I also think it’s really important that people have the belief in themselves to achieve what they want to achieve. I think the reason that so few care leavers go on to attend university is because they think that they can’t do it. I remember thinking that I would never get the grades I needed, and some college teachers even told me as much, but I did and I’m now in a really good place in my life.

“My foster carer allowed me to thrive, now I own my own business”

I never imagined growing up that I would one day own my own business. I was put into care at the age of 14, having suffered years of abuse while living with my family. My initial experiences in the care system weren’t good and I always felt like the odd one out. However, my final foster carer was an amazing woman called Angela, who was like a 2nd mum to me. She taught me so much and helped me to grow more than anyone else has. She helped me to understand how I could be myself, and not let my past experiences define me and control my life.

She never pushed me to talk but was always there for me when I needed to talk through any issues. Even when I started to behave in a silly way towards the end of time with her, she never once lost her temper and always just tried to support me.  It’s really important that foster carers are patient and go at the speed the child wants, and I’m really grateful that Angela gave me the time to develop and work through things at my own pace.

Through living with Angela, I came to experience what it was like to live in a happy and loving family. She gave her foster children a real experience of family life by taking us on lots of fun days out and holidays. Foster children don’t need expensive things, we just need to be shown what being in a family is like.

These experiences gave me the best possible chance to thrive in my adult life, and I now own my company called Four Paws that walks, trains and provides day-care for dogs. I employ one person full-time, have two volunteers and given an opportunity for 8 others to go on to do amazing jobs elsewhere, which I’m really proud of. Our aim is to help owners with their pets and to provide a loving service and to help them feel safe and secure with their animals in our hands.

I’d grown up around dogs and always knew that I wanted to make a career out of working with them. Like any amazing mum, Angela helped me to believe that I could achieve any goal I set myself as long as I put the effort in and to never give up on what I believed in.

My advice to others who are about to leave care is never give up. Even when things seem dark and you feel as though your life isn’t going anywhere, just keep going because I promise that one day everything will make sense. You have a great opportunity ahead of you and it’s your choice what you want to do with it. So, think hard about your decisions and don’t rush into anything. Most importantly, do what’s right for you.

Department for Education Announces £10 million Boost for Staying Put Scheme

TACT welcomes the announcement of a £10m boost for the Staying Put Scheme made by the Department for Education this morning. This announcement reflects a long-expected recognition by the government of the scheme’s funding pressures since it was introduced in 2014.

Despite this announcement, we feel that Staying Put’s future continues to be in a precarious situation with this funding only being agreed up to 2021. Under-funding and not giving guarantees of continuation to the scheme that supports young people to stay with their former foster carers can leave these carers unable to offer continued support for our young people. In this respect, we agree with the Fostering Network that a Staying Put minimum allowance to carers should be introduced as a mean to guarantee discrepancies and inequalities based on regional differences and local levels.

For some foster carers, fostering fees are their only income and the loss of it can be a major barrier to offering a post-18 arrangement. 18-year-olds are no cheaper to look after than 17-year-olds. There should also be no housing benefit element to staying put. The Department for Education should access Department for Work & Pensions money centrally if they believe that DWP should contribute, the onus should not be on the young person and the foster carer. The message that they should be dependent on benefits is not one we should be giving to care experienced adults as they turn 18.

With regards the extensions of the Pupil Premium Plus to all 16-18-year-old care leavers, a commitment should be made for this financial support provided to be devolved to foster family so that the foster carers and the young person, with the involvement of the social worker, school and the virtual head can decide how it should be used to maximize educational success.

The announcement also fails to address other needs of care experienced young people accessing higher education. Conversations among children in care and care experienced young people about choosing a university typically focus not on their educational needs of the reputation of the institution but on the support and financial help that universities have in place. Young people should not be making such as important choice just based on what it is financially sustainable for them but on what their educational aspirations are.

The Government should also work alongside Universities to guarantee undergraduate places for care experienced young people regardless of their age and provide financial support in the form of free tuition and a maintenance grant should be in place to secure appropriate and decent accommodation during term time and outside of it and to cover living expenses.

“I am living proof of the power of love and nurture, and it’s all down to having the right foster carer”

Kassie – TACT Care Leaver

When I was a teenager I thought I could take the world on. I was a hard, rebellious girl who would go down the wrong paths and felt everyone was against me, constantly on my back telling me what to do, or what not to do, and that included Lynda – my foster carer.

Looking back now I get embarrassed about who I was then and how I handled things. I have realised that when Lynda would pull back the reins on me it was for my own good, and now I am the person that she moulded me to be, a strong and independent woman that takes care of my family and is the best version of myself.

I went into care when I was six years old, because my biological mother couldn’t cope with having four children. By then my siblings and I had been through years of abuse mentally, physically, emotionally, and occasionally socially too. I remember being confined to my bedroom with cable ties on the window preventing us from opening them. It is a memory among many others. I am still learning new things about what happened during my early childhood. Even now at 29 years of age, I still don’t know the full story.

I am thankful that social services took me away from where I suffered the most confusing, rollercoaster childhood. I wouldn’t be who I am today – a loving mother to three beautiful children, if they had not made that decision.

TACT placed me with Lynda – my last foster carer, and I lived with her for seven years, from 2000 to 2007. I continue to this day to have a really close bond with her and benefit from her support.  I have been out of the care system for 12 years and she still helps me and my little family. In the last few years I moved to live in the same village as her. My children call Lynda Nanna. She takes them for days out, spoils them rotten for Christmas and birthdays, and even takes them on holiday. The best thing they get from her is all her love and care.

I refer to Lynda as my mam when I talk to people, but I call her Lynda when I am talking to her. My children have asked why I call her Lynda and so I have explained to them that my mammy wasn’t very nice to me so I went to live with Nanna, and so they can call her Nanna.  My children absolutely adore her, and I am so grateful for that.

Becoming a mother is the best thing that has happened to me; I absolutely cherish my children and I would never ever want them to experience the childhood that I had.  I sometimes fear that they might be taken off me, but then I realise I am absolutely nothing like my biological mother, and that brings me happiness. It is all due to the fact that TACT placed me with a great foster carer when I was 10 years old, and I am so fortunate to continue to receive love and care from her.

In addition to being a mum I am a qualified chef, and a qualified child practitioner at level 3.  I have been accepted to undertake a foundation degree in social care studies, but circumstances are not quite right at the moment to pursue that.  Hopefully in the future I will take up the course place so I can be a positive role model for children in foster care. Nobody understands what a child in care is going through more than an adult that has been through it and come out a better person.

Knowing what I do now, my advice to foster carers would be to treat children like children, and treat teenagers like adults, but within reason. It is important to reign young people in when you feel they are riding a slippery slope in a negative direction. But remember that they still have to gain independence in the near future.  Most of all give them the love and care they need, and nurture them to become great adults. I am living proof of the power of love and nurture, and it’s all down to having the right foster carer.

 

Why the Care System is so Valuable

Iqra Saeed – TACT care experienced young person, undergraduate and budding broadcaster shares her views for Care Leavers Week…

Government figures show that about 6% of care experienced young people go on to university.

I am a part of that small figure which leads me to question the factors that are leading care leavers away from higher education.

Some care leavers may not have the option of returning home from university during the Christmas and summer holidays.

However, according to ‘Propel’ (a website which provides information about different universities and support available to care leavers) which was created by a charity called ‘Become’, 84% of universities offer 365-day accommodation.

This means more than half of universities are beginning to understand what care leavers need and hopefully more universities will begin to follow this example and offer increasing support as it could potentially make a difference.

Apprenticeships are another option which care leavers may also look into although there can still be a sense of isolation when you are a young person who happens to be a care leaver.

TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) is a fostering and adoption organisation who have created TACT Connect, which is specifically for care leavers who were in their care when they were fostered.

TACT Connect funds group activities and trips which are discussed by the group during regular group meetings.

The relaxed meetings provide a support network where young people like myself can seek advice, can socialise or even suggest ideas to TACT Connect.

I recently auditioned for BBC New Voices and was one of the 11 finalists.

This was my first ever audition so understandably I was extremely nervous, but my foster mum and university lecturers and TACT really encouraged me to take this opportunity.

Even though I wasn’t chosen to be the ‘new voice’ for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, the whole experience was so exciting, positive and taught me a lot.

In my audition I told my story of coming into care and spoke about how ethnicity doesn’t determine the outcome of who you call family.

I chose to talk about this mainly as I don’t feel you always hear about why the care system is so valuable and this could be based on the negative stereotypes that may at times be influenced by the media.

My overall experience of foster care was positive and has allowed me to achieve so much, I don’t think it is something to be ashamed about.

Iqra has produced a series of podcasts for TACT which you can listen to here.

 

 

“There have been lots of highs watching them flourish and grow.”

Ruth
TACT Adopter

I’d always enjoyed being a parent and would have liked more children, but after parting from my birth child’s dad, and having not met anyone I wanted to have more children with, I chose to adopt. Knowing that there were children in the care system who needed a loving home that I could give, made adoption feel very right for me.

When I started the adoption process, being a social worker, I felt I knew quite a bit about it, but there was always something new and interesting to talk to my parents and supporters about after one of the sessions in the preparation group. Hearing real life stories from other adopters was always a highlight. The social worker we had was really friendly and we got on well so the sessions, although the process felt long, were always really relaxed.

Eventually my youngest two daughters, moved in with me in August 2012, when they were aged four and five. Being a new adoptive mother was exciting, exhausting and emotional!

I remember crying as I drove the girls away from their foster family because I was taking them away from all they knew. We stopped at a restaurant on the way home and one of the girls kicked the waiter, and I remember thinking I don’t know what to do, I’ve only been her parent for a few hours!

That was seven years ago, and much has happened since. While it has been a challenge helping the girls to deal with the trauma of their early life experiences, there have been lots of highs watching them flourish and grow. I have benefited from being part of fostering agency TACT Peterborough’s support group, having links to local adopters made a huge difference to me on my adoption journey.

As with many other adopted children , my girls have mixed feelings about their experiences of being in the care system and subsequently adopted and separated from their birth family, including, grief, loss of identity and sense of self /heritage and most importantly the loss of loving relationships from their extended family. We were fortunate to have support from a Therapeutic Life Story Practitioner who helped the girls talk through some of the difficulties being adopted. They were both full of worry about their first mum and their brother, they desperately wanted to know that both were OK and they wanted to know if they had been remembered.

The girls first Mum had received some great support to address some of the issues in her life that were linked to the girls being removed from her care and was doing really well looking after the girls’ brother, so when they asked why can’t they see their first mum or brother, I didn’t have an answer. Why not? It’s what they wanted and needed. Introducing their birth family to our family and becoming a larger blended family has had an amazingly positive impact on the girls.

It is now pretty normal that ‘Mummy Jo’ is part of our lives and to our girls it’s not first mum / adoptive mum, we are ‘just mums’, all part of a big, messy and crazy family. One of the girls told me recently that having two mum’s means two lots of hugs, support, someone to talk to and even twice the telling off is OK because it’s two mums who care. We spend time in each other’s houses, the girls have sleepovers at Mummy Jo’s with their brothers and sister, and recently had sleepovers with their Aunty and cousins too. It’s family, and feels ‘normal’, but for many it still raises a few eyebrows! It might have been me with the raised eyebrows had I not lived alongside the trauma of the separation due to adoption that caused so much pain for both our girls – things I wish I’d known earlier in my adoption experience and more so in my role as a children and family social worker.

My advice to new adopters is speak to other adopters and adopted children to increase your understanding, first-hand experience is so powerful and useful (an anonymous Twitter account proved invaluable for support and understanding!). Understand that for adopted children the separation from natural family is a life-long trauma, natural families will always be part of your child’s life and therefore either directly and indirectly will be part of yours.

At the end of the day, we are one big, blended, happy family and that works for us.

 

“It might be hard, but it’s the best thing you will ever do.”

Andi & Darren
TACT Adopters

Andi and I had been married for three years when we felt it was the right time to start a family. We discussed the different options that were available, and as both of us are working in the children’s education sector, and Andi previously worked within children’s social care, we were aware of the high number of children in the care system who needed a loving home and felt we were able to offer that to a child, so we chose to adopt.

Right from the start of the application process we felt incredibly supported by our adoption agency TACT Peterborough. We were fortunate enough to be given a very experienced social worker who assessed our capabilities to become adopters.  The process is very thorough, but incredibly quick. From our initial enquiry to our daughter moving in with us was a period of just nine months!  It did not feel quite so fast at the time.

It was such a high when we discovered we were a perfect match to our daughter. She was in the care of foster carers who were amazing while we were introduced to her, letting us take a lead in caring for her in their home, under their supervision and guidance. That was really helpful in getting to know her routines.

She moved in with us when she was a few months old, and it was a very steep learning curve.  Despite the fact that we have lots of friends who have children that we have baby sat, suddenly being soley responsible for a baby was a shock.   Much of our training through the adoption process was dealing with trauma and potential issues that may affect the child, such as past neglect, and not so much about caring for a baby.  Fortunately, we learnt from friends’ experiences, and the foster carers were a fountain of knowledge.

Our daughter has given us so much joy. It has been very rewarding watching her develop and grow into a lovely little girl. She was welcomed into both sides of the family instantly and is totally adored. She has brought out the best in so many of our family members, and nobody has treated her any differently to other children within the family.

We have also had the opportunity to help other people either going through the adoption process or who are considering adoption as an option, by speaking at events and training sessions. We have found it very rewarding being able to provide some peer support.

The advice I give to potential adopters is be realistic in terms of what needs you can and cannot meet for your adopted child, it is so important to be 100% open and honest with your social worker and family finders. Also, ensure you have a solid support network of people who can help out when needed. And try to meet up with other adopters to hear about their experiences.

Most of all, make sure you are in a position in your life where you are able to give 100% of your time to the adoption process.  It might be the hardest, but definitely the best thing you will ever do, as Andi and I can confirm.

FASDs – what do we need to do?

Martin Clarke, TACT Director of Performance Support 

I worked as a frontline Social Worker in Child Protection for 26 years and it was not until 2009 that I  heard of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and even then, if I had not had a personal interest in the topic, I doubt it would have made a major change to my practice.

I was committed to seeing behaviour through an “attachment prism”, and looking at the impact of trauma on the child. I was focused on parents – whether their care was by normal standards “not good enough”, and trying to help them improve their parenting believing that this was at the heart of the issue. I never thought about whether or not alcohol, consumed by the birth mother during pregnancy might be playing a part. And, as far as I can recall, no other professional, be it teacher, police officer, CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) worker, senior manager, nursery worker or whoever, considered it either.

Looking back, armed with what I now know, I would conservatively estimate that 80% of families I was party to ‘splitting up’ as a result of a Case Conference, or Court decision, could have stayed together had we explored at the outset whether foetal alcohol might be playing a part.

Do I think we are better now? Not really. I no longer sit in case conferences or work directly with families, but my experience of delivering FASDs training to professionals suggest there continues to be widespread ignorance of this condition.

Recent research (McQuire, 2018) has suggested that the prevalence of FASDs is actually far greater than we had previously estimated. Her research (based on a cohort of 13,500 children born in 1991/92) would suggest that at least 6% of the whole population may be FASDs affected, but that it could even be as high as 17%, nearly a fifth, of the whole population. An amazing statistic for a condition that is so little recognised.

We also know that the rates for children in the care system are, not surprisingly, going to be far greater than for the general population, as many of them come from households that have domestic violence, substance misuse and other alcohol related issues present.

Everyone working with children and families should be aware of FASDs so that we can consider it at the earliest possible opportunity when making assessments. In this way we can ensure that we provide the right strategies and do not embark on alternative treatment routes which may be costly, time-consuming, false expectation raising or even potentially harmful.

Many people who are aware of the condition are really only aware of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a condition that has visible feature, yet this affects only 10% of the children on the spectrum. The remaining 90% will have no visible features, will look, to use a word, “normal”, yet they may have neurological damage that will affect their emotional and behavioural presentation and, if we are not aware of FASDs, we will view them as “naughty children”, or as the products of “poor parenting” or will seek to explain their issues through either trauma or attachment histories.

Until and unless we understand FASDs we will continue to remove children from families, we will continue to place children inappropriately in foster care or residential care, and we will continue to waste money, time – and hope – on treatment regimes.

So what do we need to do? There are several strands to this simple question, but the key word is “education”. We need to:-

  • Educate everyone about the dangers of drinking whilst pregnant;
  • Educate in particular anyone contemplating having a baby about the additional risks posed by alcohol consumption
  • Educate all professionals about the impact of alcohol, this includes, but is not limited to:
  1. Social Workers…………………………..include it on University courses
  2. Teachers……………………………………put it in teacher training programmes?
  3. Midwives and Health Visitors..
  4. Police officers…………………
  5. Youth Offending teams………
  6. Mental Health services………
  7. Judges……………………….
  8. Nursery nurses……………….
  9. Policy makers…………………
  • Educate the public so that we remove the blame and stigma that parents face (it’s not their fault……….no-one told them drink could be an issue!)
  • Educate the public so that as a society we are more tolerant and understanding of children – and adults – who are affected FASDs.