Community fostering provides a safe haven

John Cairney

A GLASGOW community project is winning the battle to keep children out of residential settings. Only two of the 24 children in the Shield Project have returned to a residential school since it was set up three years ago.

From its base in Drumoyne primary, the project aims to keep children in their own or a foster family and at a mainstream school. Funded by the Scottish Executive, Barnardos and the social work and education departments in Glasgow, the project has a staff of eight who provide community-based support for up to 15 children under the age of 13.

Currently, four of the 15 children are in foster care and the rest stay at home, some waiting on a place.

Brian Emmerson, project leader, said: "What makes this initiative unique is the use of foster care, educational support, volunteers and befrienders to enable children to stay in their communities and to attend mainstream schools."

He defined mainstream as any school which is not residential.

Brenda Emerson, one of two seconded primary teachers, said that the eight participating schools had been "very welcoming". A major reason for the success so far had been the frequent meetings with social work staff and educational psychologists.

She said: "These STEP meetings (Stop To Evaluate Progress) have been vital in assessing the individualised programme for each child. A key criterion is that parents give their full support and attend the STEP meetings where possible. The children have responded positively and we have been successful in improving behaviour, enhancing social skills and in raising reading ages. This has all helped to raise the self-esteem of the children."

There have also been benefits for participating agencies."The project has helped to break down professional barriers by requiring people to focus their combined expertise to meet the needs of the children," she said.

"Margaret" is a first-time foster carer who has been looking after a five- year-old boy for almost a year after he had displayed severe behavioural problems at nursery, was "out of control" and on course for a residential establishment. Even after being placed in foster care he continued to pose problems.

She said: "There were times when I almost gave up, but the daily support I got from the project team helped me work things through. He has come on brilliantly and gets on well at his new school. He displays more self-restraint and plays better with other children, both at school and in the neighbourhood."

Mr Emmerson said the main limiting factor in achieving greater success was the difficulty in recruiting foster carers with sufficient experience, but current success "shows that this type of partnership between social work, education and Barnardos truly offers children a better education and therefore a better future".

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John Cairney

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