Making Memories… Giving Hope

How we're helping children in care

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This week is Barnardo's Fostering and Adoption Week. Earlier in the week, they released the news that the number of children currently in care is at a 30-year high, with almost 70,000 children being looked-after. 

In 2015, CHICKS gave 38 children in care (also known as looked-after children) a respite break.

Our respite break coordinator, Gemma, is part of the team who manage the referrals to CHICKS, and who are responsible for booking the children onto the breaks.

She explains why a CHICKS break can be a big help to a looked-after child: "A CHICKS break often comes at just the right time for a looked-after child, especially if they have been on the edge of the care and are currently going through the trauma of being moved to a new home with new guardians. The break at CHICKS can help to take their mind off this, as it gives them a fresh new start.

"At school, other children may know they are going into care. Unfortunately there is often a stigma attached to this, and some of the looked-after children who come to us are also victims of bullying. In contrast, at CHICKS none of the other children know their background and they can start afresh with new friendships and experiences, and they have a week to just relax."

11 year old Mark* is a looked-after child who came to CHICKS in 2015. From a young age he witnessed domestic violence between his parents and he was the victim of physical abuse at the hands of his mother. The severity of the violence resulted in Mark being removed from his parent’s care and he was placed in a children’s home. Mark is still living in the care home and he has no opportunity for a break away. He was referred to CHICKS by his school, to give him the opportunity to broaden his horizons and make some really positive childhood memories.  

When Mark arrived at CHICKS he was apprehensive and he displayed his anxiety through challenging behaviour. However, with lots of patience, encouragement, and positivity from the respite break leaders he soon realised that he could be himself, be expressive and be accepted. He thrived on the positive attention that he received and made lots of friends during the week. Mark said his favourite activity whilst at CHICKS was “walking in the woods and splashing in the river” – on his last day he even said to respite break leader Fraser “Please can I take these wellies home with me because they are a great memory of my time in the woods?”

Mark’s story shows how a CHICKS break can be just what a looked-after child needs. But what about ongoing support for the children? Gemma says: "We encourage children to return to CHICKS each year, which can provide continuity. There is also the opportunity for children to build continued relationships through our letter-writing, even if they have moved homes numerous times during the year."

Every child that leaves CHICKS is given a freepost envelope and is encouraged to write back to the charity. We reply to every letter, and include another freepost envelope in the reply. This allows the children to keep up communication for as long as they want or need it.

Gemma continues: "The respite break and support afterwards leads to a lifetime of positive memories and the feedback we get from referrers is that it can be a real boost to the child’s confidence and self-esteem – just what they need when going through the challenges of being moved into local authority care."

*Name changed to protect identity

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