Thank you!

Saturday night we gathered at the Marriott Hotel in Leeds and celebrated 15 years of SFAC and all the work that has been done to see children thrive in safe families all over the globe.

A recap of the night is on its way for those who were unable to join us, or those who are longing to relive parts of the night, but we would like to take a moment to thank all of those businesses and individuals who supported us to make the night possible!

SFAC would like to thank our major sponsor Switalskis Solicitors and our drinks sponsor Parklane & Plowden Chambers. We would not have been able to hold such a wonderful event if it wasn’t for their generous support!

We would like to thank the following for their support for our auction:

We would also like to thank the following for their support for our raffle:

  • Agraah Restaurant
  • The Alchemist
  • The Body Shop
  • 200 Degrees
  • Laithwaites
  • M&S
  • Marriott Hotel
  • Nandos
  • J & J Ellerington
  • C & D Hope
  • P & R Skrzypczak
  • J & J Swift

Lastly, we would like to thank the following for their support for our prizes:

  • Creams
  • Offspring

SFAC could not do what it does if it wasn’t for the support of generous individuals and businesses, and our 15th Birthday Celebration was no different.

From all of us here at SFAC

THANK YOU!

A Pop Star and Foster Care in Romania

A Pop Star and Foster Care in Romania.

We were out in the middle of Bucharest, capital of Romania one evening and wanted to know where we could catch the 336 bus back to the hotel. We asked a passer-by where the University bus stop was in slow, careful English, hoping he would understand.

Fortunately, he understood perfectly. Unfortunately, he was Irish…

“Sorry, I’d love to help you mate but haven’t a clue. I’m from Belfast”.

 

We should have known that you can’t necessarily tell who a person is from just looking at them. We’d been talking about exactly the same thing earlier in the day!

There were three of us in Team SFAC that week: Mick, Mandy and myself. We were in Bucharest training social workers, psychologists and foster carers, and one of the subjects we’d been asked to cover was identity. For children who are looked after away from their birth families, their identity can be hidden, even though for them it’s highly significant. Identity is something precious and fragile that must be nurtured, preserved and built up, carefully and deliberately, so that it isn’t forgotten.

One of the exercises we offered was to ask every member of the group 22 questions about their background, birth family and personal history. Most people can answer at least 15, but one person in the group managed 5. She had been adopted as a baby and she agreed to explain to her friends and colleagues what this had meant for her. When participants bring their own life experiences into a session like this it becomes so much more powerful.

There were many such examples of courage and honesty throughout the week. We heard about people who had fostered for many years before it became part of the fabric of children’s social care in Romania. We spoke to Social Workers who put themselves at risk to protect children from the effects of domestic violence. Many of the resources that we take for granted in the UK aren’t available in Romania, yet people are still offering excellent care and support to vulnerable children.

During the training sessions a local restaurant, in which a nationally well-known singer called ‘Bodo’ owns shares, supplied the lunches. Bodo used to be in a band called ‘Proconsul’ and when he came to deliver lunch in person everyone recognised him. He joined us for a short time and spoke about his own experience of adopting two boys and how he was bringing them up to value their background and their individuality. It was another inspiring story. It shows how widespread caring for children not biologically your own has been occurring in Romania. For SFAC the task is to help nurture that growing practice with ideas and concepts that we have learnt along the way in the UK.

WHO (we partnered with)

Participants included social workers, psychologists and foster carers for the DPC (local government children’s social services) and RICF (our partner NGO). SFAC has been working with them over the last five years developing their practice with children and families. Many of the issues shared were familiar to us in the UK, even though the language and context were different.

We heard about one young man in foster care who had spent 10 years trying to track down his roots. He had found his birth father but was now searching for his birth mother and possible siblings. Other children were having regular contact with their birth family even in long term foster care and the foster carers were unsure if this was a positive or negative thing. As we shared case studies based on UK practice, there were many nods of recognition. The hunger to understand who you are is universal and knows no borders. We talked about life story work and how we need to get as much information as possible about children’s lives so that we can help children in care have as much knowledge as possible about themselves and their family.

WHY (we visited)

This year we were back by invitation and working with both organisations once again.  As well as identity, we ran sessions on child development, adolescence, many foster carers are looking after teenagers, handling challenging behaviour, managing contact, substance abuse, listening to children and healthy child - parent relationships.

HOW (we worked)

Instead of standing at the front of the room and lecturing, we always try to bring the subjects alive through exercises that require a high level of participation. We get everyone emotionally involved in the subject matter by asking them to take part in exercises that place them right into the networks and dynamics of the care system. Sometimes this means physically moving around the room and connecting everyone with pieces of string! An exercise we do to illustrate the many broken emotional connections that children have when they live away from family and in government care.

The feedback we receive in Romania always shows that the participants enjoy our unconventional style of teaching; this time it included comments like: “… flexible, interesting, something new, easy to understand and relate to, enjoyable, interactive… it was most useful, especially the games and role play moments, a lot of different situations were met and debated… informative”.

 

WHAT (has happened since we've been working in Romania)

Even in the short time we’ve been involved, you can see that things have moved on a great deal. Although children are still placed in institutional care, the use of foster care has grown and the size of the institutions has reduced.

It feels as though things are moving in the right direction and SFAC has played its own small part in supporting this. Slowly family based care is forming its own identity in Romania as part of social work intervention.

 

This post was written by Walter Young, one of SFAC's longest serving volunteers. He gives his all at every training event as the first photo will demonstrate! You can read more about Walter on our Meet the Team page.

What do a bow and arrow, family based care and Uganda have in common?! Family based care at a grassroots level

Money Matters Part III

Don't forget to check out the first two parts of our Money Matters series!

Money Matters - An Introduction

A little can go a looooong way - How SFAC went to Brazil and back for £250!

WHERE (Your money has an impact)

“Don’t shoot!”

It’s midnight in Kampala, Uganda and Mick, Walter and I have just been dropped off at our accommodation after ten hours of travel. But something is wrong, fifteen minutes of knocking, ringing and calling out hasn’t got us anywhere. Mick decides it time to take things into his own hands and disappears briefly before suddenly reappearing halfway up the wall (it’s higher than Walter is tall and that’s saying something!). He scales it and disappears over the other side.

Walter and I continue pacing the perimeter and talking loudly hoping to attract the attention of the staff inside. That’s when we hear Mick’s voice:

 “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

 “It’s me, Mick from Leeds in the UK. Dan booked rooms for us. From the UK – 5 nights. We’ve been here before!”

 Soon the gate opened to reveal Mick grimacing half happy, half annoyed and accompanied by a small Ugandan man carrying a bow and arrow. Thankfully the arrow was now pointing towards the ground and not directly at us as it had been at Mick a few moments earlier.

“We’re in! Finally!!!”

Since 2007 SFAC has been visiting Uganda and a variety of charities working with children. In 2010 SFAC began working with CALM AFRICA, a very small Ugandan charity. It was through this connection that Mick and I met (Remind me to tell you more about that another time – especially about how a flood, a hail storm and a truck nearly derailed our training with CALM one year!). The training started as CALM wanted to start a foster care programme. 

 “Foster care. That wont work here in Uganda!”

 So said Joseph Luganda, a great friend of SFAC and staff member at CALM AFRICA.

“Yes it can and it is” said Mick.

 It was a light bulb moment for James Ssiewankua, CALM’s founder. ‘I am a foster carer! I have fostered 17 children!’ James had not realised that by looking after non-biologically related children in his care he had become a foster carer.

‘Ok’ said Joseph ‘Lets do this!’.

The journey began and SFAC has since visited Uganda to support CALM and others such as Reunite and Alternative Care Initiatives (ACI) many times.

To make this happen SFAC has paid for our flights and accommodation. Why?

 Well, the simple truth is these organisations' budgets are very small. Paying our flights and accommodation costs would take to big a chunk of money out of their budget to do the very things we are training them to do.

SFAC is proud of its decision to offer our services to any organisation that asks for our help, whatever their size and financial status. We see these organisations as critical to developing real change and supporting the growth of family-based care. They work within their own communities and have direct connections to the people who most need to hear about the best way to care for children at risk. While we recognise that paying standard UK rates for training and consultation is far beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of our partners, SFAC always asks for some form of contribution. We do this because we know that people tend to value things more highly when it has cost them something. These contributions are proportionate to each partner’s budget.

On a typical visit to Uganda SFAC might cover accommodation and flight costs and waive all training and consultation fees. The contribution from CALM and other organisations varies from visit to visit but may include travel within country, room hire for training venues, some meals and sometimes even basic accommodation

 The result of our work in Uganda: Reunite and CALM AFRICA work strongly together delivering foster care in Uganada. Joseph now spends his time running a foster care programme for CALM and trains others in Uganda about how they can do similar. ACI is working with the government and other organisations to support this work. Foster care is happening in Uganda and is spreading. The word is out and change is happening.

Without SFAC’s willingness to bear the bulk of the costs involved in a visit this would not have happened. The money given to SFAC by our generous donors has helped to change the lives of many children in Uganda and enabled workers to access training and support that would not have been possible otherwise. With more money we can offer this to many other organisations, but your donations have made a huge difference already. You can be proud of your contribution. 

Hopefully next time the beginning of our visit will be a little less dramatic. Although Uganda does have a habit of throwing some drama our way - ask Mick about falling down a path, Walter about his boda-boda ride or Dan about getting lost!

The really dramatic event is hearing what Joseph has to say now,

 “Foster Care is Uganda’s future!’ 

 

A little can go a looooong way – How SFAC went to Brazil and back for £250!

Money Matters Part I

If you haven't read the intro to our Money Matters series we'd recommend giving it a read here

WHERE (Your Money Has An Impact)
  • Two people
  • Ten days
  • Four flights
  • Over 500 people in Brazil now aware of foster care, reunification, childcare law, and why children should not live in orphanages and equipped to change the way their communities care for vulnerable children.

Not bad for £250!?

How was this possible?

No, we didn’t pack Mick and Ranjit into a canoe with backpack and tent in hand! Mick was already traumatised by his teeth being in a bad way – I think a few months rowing the Pacific seas and sleeping in a tent would have been too much! But SFAC always looks to make sure we keep costs as low as we can.

 

SFAC’s approach is to work in partnership with those who ask us to assist them in developing family-based care. In Brazil we are working with members of the judiciary and they were able to raise the funds to cover the flights and accommodation. SFAC’s financial contribution – train fares from Leeds to Heathrow and some meals here and there!

 

SFAC didn’t charge a fee for the training and consultation provided during the trip as this would have made the costs too high for our Brazilian colleagues. Instead Ranjit volunteered his time and Mick’s salary was covered by SFAC

 

So the total cost to SFAC is £250 plus Mick’s salary (we’ll post more about the specifics of how your money is spent in an upcoming Money Matters post). 

 

The result:

400 members of judiciary (judges, court workers, lawyers….) given knowledge on childcare law and how children views and needs are considered in court decisions about where they live.

100 foster carers, prospective carers and social work/psychologists learnt how we support children and carers. 

Plus consultancy meetings with several local council groups and foster carers to develop and review their programmes and practice.

 

That means that SFAC donor’s money stretched a long way on this visit. For less than £1 per person, over 500 professionals and carers were equipped to help put children in safe families and to pass on the message that family based care is the best option for children.

 

I’d say that’s not bad value for money!

 

PS You can find out more about the Brazil trip here

Money Matters – An Introduction

Deep breath everyone… it’s time to talk money.

I know, I know... it's awkward, isn’t it?!

Money matters...

While it’s definitely not the be all and end all, and it certainly doesn’t buy happiness, there’s no getting away from the fact that money matters.

Having it matters and not having it also matters…

 

One of the first things people want to know about charities and NGOs is how they spend their money…

How much is spent on overheads, admin and fundraising?

How much goes directly to the ‘projects’?

If I give you my money will you use it thoughtfully, carefully and effectively?

These are all important, valid questions. At SFAC we really value every donation that comes in. We understand that it represents a sacrifice on the part of the donor and want to respect that sacrifice. We also value transparency so we thought we’d do a series of blog posts to tell you exactly where your money goes when you make a donation and what it achieves.

 

In addition, we believe, as Dan Pallotta argues in his excellent TED talk, that there are two other really important questions to ask a charity.

“What are your dreams? Your big, Apple, Google, Amazon scale dreams?”

“What resources do you need to make them come true?”

 

To answer some of these questions we’re going to start by telling you a couple of stories about how SFAC has been spending our donors’ money recently

A story about a little going a loooong way. 

A story about a small, grassroots organisations having a BIG impact

(Psst… This story may involve a bow and arrow and the words “Don’t shoot!”… Come on, you know you wanna read it now!!)

Then we’re going to share our dream with you, our hopes for the future… It’s a pretty huge dream but we think, with your help, we can make a very good start towards achieving it!

Then we’re going to tell you exactly what we spend your money on now and some new projects we’re hoping to start funding in 2017. We’ll outline what donations of various sizes cover and how you can give.

Finally, just in case we haven’t already explained ourselves properly, we’ll come back to why SFAC’s work is so vital.

So watch this space to find out more (and to get some resolution on the bow and arrow situation!). We’ll be posting a new part in the series each week.

And, as always, if you want to contribute to our work, you can do so right here.

We will be forever grateful. Without your support we wouldn’t exist.

 

Because, of course, money matters.

 

Is foster care possible in places affected by poverty? Brazil says “Yes!”

A Brazilian once told me that Brazilians are perhaps the most “teeth prejudiced people in the world”… So you can imagine my feelings a few weeks back as I stood ready to present to a 400 strong crowd of Brazilian court workers, lawyers and judges without my two front teeth. I always feel a little intimidated presenting to large groups of professional people but, thanks to a recent tooth infection and the Brazilian’s love of dental perfection, my nervousness was at a whole new level! 

Thankfully the group understood my situation and accepted that all the photographs I was to be in would have the same smile, without showing my teeth (see above for Exhibit A and below for Exhibit B!). I couldn’t help but laugh when, at the end of the conference, I was presented with a certificate from the Supreme Courts by a small child. A small child who also happened to be missing her 2 front teeth. I’m convinced it was a ‘set up’!

People often ask me why I have such an affinity with Brazil. Almost 20 years ago my wife, Brenda, and I put everything on hold in the UK, packed up our things and moved halfway across the world to Sao Paulo for a year. We worked in a children’s mission that looked after around 100 children of all ages in residential care homes. Most of these children had been referred to the organisation by the local government.

Having worked as a social worker in the UK I soon realised that most of the children we were working with could easily be placed into local families rather than living in a children’s home. At that time, however, the concept of foster care was almost unknown in Brazil and South America. Many Brazilians told me that the level of poverty and large families in Brazil meant that foster care could never work!

In 2002 SFAC was born as a direct response to that challenge and our recent invitation to speak at the conference referred to above was the result of over 15 years of work introducing the idea of foster care to Brazil. Below is a quick recap of our trip.

WHERE

Brazil - Campo Grande in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and Sao Paulo and Campinas in the state of Sao Paulo.

WHEN

I continued to visit Brazil almost annually after Brenda and I returned to the UK to live back in 1998, first as an individual consultant and then, later, under the umbrella of SFAC. Our most recent visit to Brazil was over the first two weeks of last month (September).

WHO (invited us)

Last year Dr Deni, a Brazilian judge and fervent child rights advocate, heard me speak at a conference in Brazil. He used his influence with his fellow judges, President of Supreme Courts and local politicians to put on a high profile event, “The Second International Meeting on Foster Care. The 2-day conference, organised and sponsored by the Supreme Courts and the Mayor’s office in Mato Grosso do Sul, focussed on a child’s right to live in a family. Particular attention was given to foster care and decision-making processes for children. There were over 400 participants registered - a wonderful achievement.

Meanwhile our longstanding friends at ABBA, a locally registered non-government organisation who originally worked with street children were planning a training event later the same week. We've worked with ABBA since 2008 to equip them to run a foster care programme that can function as a model for the rest of the country. They have recently become the first registered foster care programme in Sao Paulo, one of the most populous cities in the world - yet another wonderful achievement!

WHY (they wanted us)

Dr Deni specifically requested SFAC be the keynote speakers for the conference as he wanted people with expertise in the area of foster care and particularly with the legal issues and processes surrounding it. He was extremely conscious that judges in his state, and possibly others were being asked to make important decisions about children’s welfare, often without sufficient information available and without the right resources for children in particularly younger children.

The second event was a two-day training session in the centre of Sao Paulo. 100 participants learnt how the UK trains and supports its foster carers. As a newly registered fostering agency, ABBA had a twofold purpose for the training: to recruit more carers and to demonstrate how the UK trains and prepares families in the community to understand the issues are associated with children being looked after by the state.

In addition to these two events I spent an afternoon and evening providing consultation and support to the technical team at the local council in Campinas and working with some of their foster carers in as well fitting in a few consultancy sessions with other local groups.

 HOW (we did it)

The conference had a specific legal focus so UK Deputy District Judge and member of the SFAC team, Ranjit Uppal, joined us for the first part of the trip. The conference emphasised that, in legal proceedings regarding children, the child’s welfare is paramount - it supersedes all other important interests.

Ranjit outlined the UK legal and judicial decision-making process and how the child’s welfare is considered in that process. Mick equipped the participants with practical information on topics such as working with the family of origin to prevent family breakdown, placing children into foster families and why this is a better option for children who are not able to live with their biological family.

Why is this training so important in Brazil right now? Because there is no early intervention to prevent a child’s case going to the courts. Once a child’s case enters the court process that is when the notion of preventative work begins. And just as important, children cannot be placed into foster care, even if families are approved and waiting unless the judge gives their expressed permission. Hence the need to ensure the message that children belong in safe families is reaching the top-level decision makers in Brazil.

The training with ABBA was much less formal. I worked with current foster carers, families who were thinking of becoming foster carers and professionals working in the area. Many of the professionals were working towards developing foster care but had little idea how to equip ordinary families in the community to understand some difficult issues for children. These were much more practical sessions using presentations, videos, stories, group work and questions to start working through some of the issues involved with finding safe families for vulnerable children

WHAT (was the outcome)

The conference in Campo Grande was a huge success and SFAC has already been invited by judges from other states (Parana, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Amazon) to make similar presentations. When policy makers and judges understand why they shouldn’t accept delay in processing children’s cases and understand why foster care is a better option for children then Brazil’s children will be far better served by the authorities that represent them.

Over a number of years’ SFAC has seen Brazilian child care legislation change leading to the closure of many large institutions with the focus now on family group homes and seeing the development of a number of small pilot foster care schemes. State after state are reviewing models of good practice as they try to implement foster care into their social programmes. As of March 2016 it is now Federal Law to develop foster care programmes as an alternative to residential care.

Our time with ABBA was also a success but in different ways. The training we ran with them focussed on working with the families in the communities equipping them to have a healthier understanding of what it means for children to go through neglect and separation from their families. Those of us who have worked in foster care in UK know that the kinds of families who put themselves forward for this important work are usually not the professionals or academics in social work but ordinary working class families who have a big heart to help vulnerable children. But, they need more to truly support the children they look after. That was our task, to help them understand children’s issues better.

CONCLUSION

On more than one occasion during this visit I was told that SFAC’s visits to Brazil over the past 15 years, all the presentations we’ve made, the training we’ve run and the discussions we’ve had with local gropus have played a significant part in seeing foster care develop in Brazil. It is a wonderful privilege to have been part of this huge leap forward in caring for children and to see so many Brazilian professionals working to achieve the best outcomes for the children under their care.