Foster carers and team supporting women who have lost care of their children share experiences over coffee

April 17, 2024

We are embarking on a pioneering collaboration between foster carers and Dundee mothers who have lost the care of their children alongside the BIRCH Team.

Our carers regularly meet for training, peer support groups and informal coffee mornings as part of their support package with CHT. We often invite other organisations to talk about projects and services that compliment our support.
For February’s coffee morning we invited staff from the BIRCH Team to tell us about their work supporting women who have lost the care of their children and a peer mentor shared her personal experience. 

BIRCH team view 

Based at Tayside Council on Alcohol, the BIRCH Team have supported 75 women following loss so far. The support workers can work with women on a 1-to-1 basis for 18 months on areas important to them, such as domestic violence, mental health, housing, physical health, education, employment and grief and trauma. They set their own goals and may work on their relationships with professionals, registering with health services and attending appointments.

The children and families’ social workers who work on cases are focused on the welfare of the children involved. They also work to timescales to make recommendations. They don’t always have a relationship with the mother beyond their parenting fitness and mothers can feel scrutinised and adversarial. BIRCH Team workers solely support the mother holistically. They learn about their client beyond a written report and spend a long time building a relationship to have accountable conversations. Clients tell their story when they are ready and do not have to do this at the outset, or repeat it to several workers.

As children are supported to settle into their care arrangement, their mothers are supported to move forward. The BIRCH Team do not aim to return children to the care of their mothers and maintain expectations about that. If a mother goes on to have a further pregnancy then they may then be able to break the cycle of children being removed from their care.

Peer mentor view 

The BIRCH Team Peer Mentor has lived experience of loss. As a previous client she was supported to build confidence in maintaining a bond with her children when they went to live with foster carers and were subsequently adopted. She is hopeful that collaborating with foster carers will reduce stigma for both groups and reduce the tension and misunderstanding that can occur.

The Peer Mentor shared that having family time with her children and then separating from them afterwards was repeating trauma. She described the challenges she experienced with managing emotions and therefore the frequency of family time was reduced, making them more traumatic and sometimes, avoided. Avoidance was seen as being uncaring.

The BIRCH Peer Group has an unspoken but helpful mutual understanding between the members. The Peer Mentor shared that she helps the members distinguish between what they need to work through grief and what they want but is unrealistic, such as their children returning. Friendships can develop and previously difficult relationships in the community can improve due to increased understanding.

Foster carer view

Foster carers receive regular supervision from a Supervising Social Worker and have a support package that includes training and 24/7 on-call help. Our carers shared that they experience challenges and learn from their failures. They understand the concern parents have for their children once they have experienced a loss due to the removal of care of their children. They undergo a thorough assessment which takes around six months and are very carefully matched with young people.

Our carers understand the importance of belonging and identity and shared how they supported children and young people with family time. Preparation begins with timing when and how they discuss upcoming family time with the young people to help them regulate their emotions. Planning can be detailed and involve family members, social workers and support workers. They have witnessed how challenging birth parents can find family time.

A carer shared an anonymised story of a young person she cares for learning about his parents having a baby. The planning of how she would break that news and how they would facilitate a meeting involved considering many possible scenarios of how the young person might react. She was happy to report that the meeting was positive and the young person understood that his parents were in a better situation but he was settled with his foster family, referring to his ‘brothers’.

What’s next?

The carers who attended the session found it insightful and have since encouraged their partners and other carers to attend follow-up sessions.

The next step in our collaboration will be for one of our Supervising Social Workers to visit a support group and take part in a conversation with women currently being supported by the BIRCH Team. She will share how foster carers welcome children into their care, settle into the family home and then support them to achieve positive outcomes. She can explore how carers prepare children and young people for family time and help them regulate their emotions afterwards.

By having a dialogue where carers can understand the perspective of mothers who no longer have full-time care of their children and mothers will gain an insight on what it is like to support a child who has been placed into care, we hope we can ultimately improve the outcomes for all the parties involved. We hope our collaboration can ultimately result in positive relationships, mutual respect for everyone’s roles and a reduction in necessary interventions in the mother and children’s futures.

As the BIRCH Team develop their services they are looking to explore working with birth fathers and being flexible about the timescale support is provided for.

If you want to learn more about the BIRCH project or make a referral you can find contact information on Support and Connect Dundee.

You can learn more about fostering with Carolina House Trust on our Fostering & Continuing Care pages.

The BIRCH team and CHT staff and carers met to share experiences . They are pictured as a group around grey sofas and a coffee table.