Foster carers in Southampton are supported by an outstanding service which helps provide the best possible care for vulnerable children and young people.
That’s Ofsted’s verdict following their inspection of the city’s fostering service last month (December 2011). An outstanding rating means that the services provided are of an exceptionally high standard.
Ofsted Inspector David Coulter's report notes that “young people receive a high quality individualised service from a local authority that has embraced its responsibility as a corporate parent” which has meant that “outcomes... have improved significantly” since the last inspection in 2008.
The inspector highlighted a number of particularly positive areas: foster carers feel valued and well supported and value the advice and guidance which social workers give them; there is excellent training available and a range of support services are in place to help foster carers meet the needs of children and manage their behaviour in safe and appropriate ways.
Young people are absolutely central to everything the service does. The report notes that they are encouraged to play an active role in developing the service and their views are regularly sought, both formally and informally. There is a forum through which young people can influence decision making at the council and their views and suggestions are taken seriously and acted upon by senior officers and councillors. The report notes that young people even contribute to the training of new carers.
The service successfully involves young people in planning for their futures. In turn, young people reported that they feel safe and would talk to their foster carers, social workers or teachers about any worries they had.
The report goes on to praise the “excellent integrated working” between social care and health professionals to ensure that children’s health needs are prioritised and effectively addressed. Young people are encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle and told inspectors that they now had a greater awareness of health issues which had helped them change their attitudes and behaviour.
The team manager is singled out for providing “exceptional leadership and much-needed stability during a period of expansion and ever-increasing demands.” The inspectors noted that the manager is highly regarded by both staff and foster carers and has been instrumental in developing an effective multi-disciplinary approach that has led to a “more integrated service that has resulted in much better outcomes for young people.”
Foster carers told the inspectors they felt valued and received “excellent” support, including respite care, social activities and extensive professional advice and guidance. The service provides “high quality training and contributes significantly to [carers’] understanding of the many issues associated with young people in care.”
Councillor Jeremy Moulton, Southampton City Council’s cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “I’m delighted that the council’s fostering service has been recognised by Ofsted for the fantastic and hugely valuable work they do. Everyone involved should be exceptionally proud of this result.
“We’re determined to provide the best possible outcomes for the children and young people that we look after and this report shows that we are making good on our promises to them.
“Foster carers make a huge difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children and young people and we are always looking to recruit new carers irrespective of their backgrounds or domestic arrangements. The most important quality is the ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for a young person.”
Elaine Adams is a foster carer from Southampton. She said: "I truly believe I have had the most outstanding start to fostering that I could possibly have had. From the start I have never felt on my own, and known that I could always phone or see my social worker in times of need, or just for that time that I have needed to 'sound off' to someone!
"The training that I have received has been key for me. It has helped make me feel confident in what I am doing and enable me to help the children achieve and succeed.
"All the other foster carers that I have met have made me feel welcome and it is great to be able to share experiences together.
“Fostering is hard work, but it’s so rewarding when you start to see positive changes in a child’s behaviour. There’s often a breakthrough moment when you know you’re starting to connect with the child and they’re starting to trust you - when that little hand reaches out for yours for the first time.”
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a vulnerable child or young person, give our fostering team a call on 0800 519 18 18 or visit our fostering pages.