Early Permanence - Foster Care Fortnight

Ruth and Phil share their experience of concurrent care fostering.

Concurrent care, also called early permanence placement (EPP) or fostering to adopt, is where prospective carers are approved for both fostering and adoption, and children are placed who are highly likely to be adopted but have not yet been granted a placement order. Many children are placed at birth or when very young.

Early permanence seeks to reduce the number of moves a child experiences, so they are able to achieve permanence at the earliest possible point. Ruth and Phil are concurrent carers in Northern Ireland who have experienced two placements, both of which culminated with the child remaining with the birth family. Ruth has shared her story with us.

We knew from the early days of our marriage that we wanted to grow our family. When birth children didn’t happen for us, we began to explore adoption and made some initial phone calls with both our local Trust and a voluntary agency, and it was during our conversation with the agency that we first heard about concurrent care. Almost immediately, we felt that this could be right for us. We felt that if it was possible, supporting a family and helping a child get home could be the best possible outcome of our care and love. If that wasn’t going to be possible, then we wanted to help make their first foster home their final home.

People still often ask us how we were able to do it – our faith was the biggest driving factor in our decision making. Although concurrent care can be such an emotional rollercoaster, we felt this was something God was inviting us into, and we trusted that if He was bringing us in, then He wouldn’t leave us in the middle of it. With that all in mind, and after a lot of prayer, we decided that we would go down the concurrent care route to grow our family. We would start as foster carers, and if it turned out that the child needed an adoptive family then we would be that family. If not, we would lean on our faith, our strength and our support network to do whatever we could to help that child rehabilitate home.

Our assessment took around nine months, and the very day we were approved we were told about a little one who was only a couple of weeks old. She came to us at 11 weeks – a wee bundle who stole our hearts. She was very bright, met all her milestones way ahead of schedule, just a real spark.

Whilst she was with us, birth mum began a programme with the agency we were working with. For the first few months the social workers had some doubts about whether rehabilitation would be possible, but we got behind birth mummy. I remember telling her, “We want to support you; we want to help you to parent your child if that is what you want to do.” The process felt like a real team-effort, and we really built a great relationship with birth-mum.

We tried not to step on her toes and made sure we gave her a place. If we went to the beach, we always made sure we brought home a shell or a stone to give her. We wrote everything baby did in a diary for her to read, we did Mother’s Day gifts and Easter treats. All of these things acknowledged that she was mummy, and demonstrated to her that we were behind her and rooting for her.

After about five months, mummy was doing really well. She was making the changes in her life that would allow her little one to be rehabilitated back home to her, so we started working towards this goal. We were devastated in one sense, because we loved this little baby like she was our own, but we knew that this was what we had entered into, and we knew this was the right call. We knew that we were strong enough to get through the goodbye, and we were immensely proud of mummy and all she had achieved.

We worked really hard to support the plan to get baby home and to make the transition as smooth as we could, and we continued to be involved after baby moved home. For the first six months we provided a little respite to help mum and to support their relationship as it developed. We did respite once a week, then a weekend a month, and then we gradually ended formal support. But we had built up such a good relationship that they are still very much part of our extended family. We see them every now and then, and receive lots of texts and photos. We can see, without a shadow of a doubt, that moving baby home was the right decision. Mummy is thriving and has since had another baby, and they are a lovely wee family unit.

We came out of that placement firm believers in the process, so set up a support group for other concurrent carers. The vast majority of the carers we know have gone on to adopt the children placed with them, but even these cases haven’t been without their challenges. There is so much unknown in concurrent care; you could be 18 months into placement and still no closer to seeing a decision made about where that child might be long term. Others we know have had decisions made and children moved home with very little notice. These things can be so hard, so good support is vital for families going through this process.

Our second placement came to us pretty much straight from the hospital. I think even when I first read his profile, I had a feeling adoption wouldn’t end up in his plan either. There were real signs of hope for rehabilitation from the beginning, and both mum and dad showed great commitment to getting their son home. He was with us eight months, but after five the focus was rehabilitation and getting him home in a managed and supportive way.

Just like with our first placement, we are still really involved in this little one's life. Mummy reaches out to us at difficult times for emotional and practical support. We see her as our own daughter, and she sent me a lovely message on Mother’s Day this year acknowledging the role that we’ve played in her family’s life. It’s really affirmed to us the important role that foster carers play not just in the life of the child who’s in their care, but in rallying around and supporting the birth family if that’s something they want.

I remember in those very early days when we were just exploring concurrent care, our social worker didn’t tiptoe around the risks; we were told at the time that around 90% of children who are placed in early permanency go on to be adopted by the family that they are placed with, but 10% will be rehabilitated home. She said to us, “The odds are good that the child will stay with you. But I need you not to think of the odds of them staying. If you are part of that 10% of carers who have to support a rehabilitation home, will you be able to do that?” That question stuck with us. That was the questions that inspired our prayers. If we are that 10%, did we have what it takes?

Someone’s heart will always be broken when it comes to concurrent care, whether that was our hearts or the birth family’s. I think that both of those mums we worked with would have experienced such a depth of sorrow if things had gone differently, and yet now we see them both thriving.

When we entered into concurrent care we understood that we were taking on the risk of a move so that the child wouldn’t have to. We’ve realised that our hearts are strong enough to handle the heartbreak we feel at saying goodbye. We know we can recover from the loss and carry on to where God was calling us next. We have gone on to extend our family in adopting two siblings who have brought us so much joy, and have also become short term foster carers to continue to support children and their families at a time when they need us. With both concurrent care placements, our heartbreak quickly transformed into pride for that family who are now able to be together. For us, concurrent care is not about being heartbroken; it’s about being proud.


To find out more about concurrent care and other forms of Early Permanence, click here.

If you think you could offer a vulnerable child a safe and loving home through fostering, or want to find out more about how you or your church can play your part in finding a home for every child who needs one, we would love to hear from you. Click here to get in touch.


Author:
Home for Good


Date published:
May 2021


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Stories


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