Creating a community of carers
MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ is connecting carers and creating community. It is an evidence informed approach to foster and kinship care that LWB has adopted to strengthen community connections for children, young people and their carers and families.
We often hear the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” The idea that a community bands together to support a child succeed and thrive resonates with us here at Life Without Barriers. We ask ourselves how can we utilise the benefits of community for children and carers who could gain so much from it? MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ is a great way to do this.
MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ is an evidence informed approach to foster and kinship care that LWB has adopted to strengthen community connections for children, young people and their carers and families. It was first developed in 2004 in the USA by The Mockingbird Society and has been designed to improve the social and emotional well-being of children through the development of an ‘intentional community’. MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ creates a community network focused on the individual needs of its children and young people by ensuring carers are skilled, supported and confident in providing the best care for children and young people. Evaluations in the USA and UK show promising results in decreasing placement disruptions and improving the attraction and retention of carers.
MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ unites 6 to 10 foster and/or kinship carer homes in a local community called a Constellation which is supported by an experienced carer who takes on the role of Hub Home Provider. The Hub Home Provider is responsible for planned and emergency respite, the coordination of monthly Constellation meetings, quarterly social activities and a range of practical and emotional supports to the Constellation families. The Hub Home Provider is paid as an LWB member of the care team to provide the additional functions that are outside of the established caring role.
In July this year, LWB launched its first Constellation in the suburbs of Brisbane. It is a community of children and carers that live within a close range of one another and are building healthy connections.
The monthly Constellation meeting is a fun event with over ten children playing together, enjoying one another’s company and engaging in some arranged activities. The children now know each other well and they also know each other’s carers who they greet warmly. The carers are also eager to meet together, share their ideas and experiences and discuss how everyone in their Constellation is going. Everyone takes time to listen and understand one another and they all relate well to each other, respecting the knowledge and ‘lived experience’ of each other and learning together. As one of the carers said: “The carers in my Constellation just get it”.
Finding appropriate respite to meet the needs of children and young people in OOHC can sometimes be difficult. Children often have to adjust to new carers outside of the community where they live. MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ makes respite more family-like where children are able to spend planned and unplanned time with the Hub Home Provider who they know and have a trusting relationship with. This helps children build trusting relationships with adults and helps to alleviate anxiety of being away from their carers. If the Hub Home Provider is not available then one of the other Constellation carers who is also well known to the child or young person can provide respite.
“We are like a grandparent figure to the children, like aunties and uncles,” says the Hub Home Provider in the Brisbane Constellation.
Already the LWB support staff who work with the children in Brisbane have seen that the connections between the children in the Constellation are helping build social skills and self-confidence. Having new relationships with peers to interact with has been a benefit to a number of the children in this Constellation.
Another benefit of the Constellation has been the strengthening of carers’ relationships with each other. At the beginning of the MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ Constellation in Brisbane, one of the carers shared how hard it had been for her to make friends. As a carer her time was dedicated to the caring for a child with complex support needs in her care. Becoming a member of the MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ Constellation has opened up opportunities for her and her children to develop social relationships with other families, feel supported by peers and reduced her feelings of isolation.
As the Constellation grows in both numbers and the connections with one another, all carers in the Brisbane MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ are positive about this new approach. They especially like the practical support they’ve found within the group and meeting other carers who have walked in their shoes.
Life Without Barriers will launch more MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ Constellations in the near future. Through these Constellations we will improve the outcomes for children and young people by supporting and empowering carers.
For more information about MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™, contact Chris Skinner, Practice Advisor, National Practice and Quality by emailing Chris.Skinner@lwb.org.au
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By Jessica Cocks, Churchill Fellow 2016, New South Wales
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