Bringing things into FOCAS – could YOU care?

Inspired by reading other Network She’s inspirational stories , it dawned me what an opportunity for Network SHE members, my own vocational business as a working MD of an Independent Fostering Agency, may hold for many of you. Please do read to the end, as I feel certain that there are many determined business women amongst Network SHE readers, who have a little, or even a lot, of spare time and could do with some extra income, whilst putting back something into the Community. Here is a golden chance…………

Let me explain………. In 2000 I was made voluntarily redundant from my job as a local authority childcare manager. I was in charge of the preventive as well as the foster care services, at that stage, and felt extremely stifled by the bureaucracy and red tape involved. Cutting cost was also the order of the day, and the prevention(of children being abused, or taken into care)services, were a prime target. I had many innovative ideas, but no one seemed prepared to back me.

So I accepted, with some nostalgia, having worked as a local authority social worker for almost 30 years, the rather nice ‘golden handshake’. I paid off my mortgage with enough left, as well as a very small pension, to give me breathing space to care for myself and my then 9 year old son. I still had one daughter going through university, but my two older daughters were pretty much self sufficient having completed their university studies .

My aim was to sign up for agency work, which was (and still is) very well paid, if a little unreliable. However, matters seem to have been taken out of my hands and a higher Being than myself, decided to take things into His hands! Several people, who were foster carers I had managed, approached me and suggested that we start up our own agency. Now as I had a passion for helping the small number of children who no one seemed to be able to manage, and who frequently ended up miles from their birth family in a residential setting because no-one could ‘foster’ them in an ordinary family. The carers reinforced my own belief that if they had enough support, they would manage to maintain these children’s placements. These were the children I was going to target. The idea for my business was now a seed, germinating.

The name for the business popped up out of the blue. I wanted something that would announce a brave new approach to fostering a child within a family home setting. I sat, throwing ideas around with my accountant, who was helping me to register my business with Companies House. It was a scary prospect and process. I didn’t have a clue how to go about setting up a business, although the LA had provided myself and others who were leaving through redundancy, a suitable training course, which gave me the rudiments. As acronyms were very popular (and still are) for Independent Fostering agencies, I came up the NEWFOCAS -adding A REAL NEW FOCAS ON FOSTERING. NEWFOCAS is an acronym for North East Wales Foster Care Services. Thus, my business was registered and born.

What the heck was I to do now? And this is where the hard work came in. I had to juggle the advertising for and assessing potential carers for my new agency, with researching and marketing it with all the Local LA’s, typing up all my visits as well as press releases, marketing paperwork, in fact, everything to do with a new business; and, I also had to hold down a part time job, initially working with high risk offenders and then in mediation work for those bereaved through crime. Boy, was I busy. Somewhere I also had to fit in time for my son. I worked, quite literally, in a little cubby hole under my stairs. At the end of 11 months our first foster child was placed and by 14 months we had seven children and five sets of foster carers. But they needed respite, as they were caring for some of the most difficult children in the care system -children whose behaviour came as a result of experiencing severe childhood trauma -in other words, they had been horribly abused -physically, emotionally and often, sexually.

My daughter decided to quit her third year in business management in university to help me and oh, was she a God send. She had seen the toll that had been taken on me working often up to twenty hours per day. Well I just could not keep all the plates spinning. A chance conversation in a doctors waiting room had me engage, almost simultaneously, the lady who had been my administrator in the good old LA days. She took over my place under the stairs, and became another Godsend. After that, slowly my foster carer support team grew -another social worker, a student social worker(who stayed on after her placement ended), another part time administrator, another typist and ‘a man who does’ (who was my son – in – law, who spent a lot of time occupying my son in a local snooker hall which led to his avid interest in playing snooker and becoming a snooker professional – but that is another story!!). I built a conservatory on the end of my house but it was quickly outgrown and it became the joke of the day that if you got up to go to the toilet, someone else would be in your seat when you got back 😌

My daughter headed up my ‘sessional carers’ – people who loved working with our foster children and would be able to give our carers a much deserved break. Pre- Care Standards, and Inspections, we all pretty much pulled together as a team to care for the children. And we did stabilise the children and they experienced positive family life which, for some, was a distant memory if, indeed, it had ever happened for them before. As a past respite carer I would often, with the placing authorities permission, look after a child for a weekend here, or a couple of days there, in my own home. But all that ended in 2003 with the Care Standards Act coming into full force. All our practice would now have to change.

So in 2003 we rented a large office space in Buckley and we brought everything up to match the standards set for us by the new Regulations. Many past colleagues had come forward to help me form my Independent Panel which vetted all the carers before they could look after a child. We had to, quite rightly, make sure everyone met the stringent requirements within the act, whatever their role within NEWFOCAS was, be it staff member, sessional, respite or full time carer or external support staff such as Panel Members. We were still a team, and despite things having to change with Care Standards, we still maintained a family feel, which I have to say, has been largely maintained to this day – despite many legal changes along the way.


So am I happy that I started NEWFOCAS? Indeed, I am. I look back on the young people we have taken on board, and watched with pride as they have slowly and surely reversed their lives. Children who arrived having been out of the education system for over two years, achieving a place in university. A young man for whom a placement with us was a direct alternative to going to prison now runs a team of paramedics with his own business -having given up a successful army career to do so. We have lots of success stories, but not all children can beat their past. A child whose neglect had been so horrific that he didn’t even know what his legal name is and certainly, from an early age, where his next meal would come. For him the outcome has not been so positive -yet every time he comes out of prison for yet another short stretch for petty pilfering or some other small offence, he always turns up at his ex carers door, and is always given a meal, a talking to, and a pocket full of food to help him on his way, full of promises that he will get a job etc. But how does a homeless, ex care child, actually achieve such things, if he has no home? There are still many changes that need to be made in the overall system.

But our success stories outweigh the sad ones. Children are now allowed, by law, to remain in the foster home after they have turned 18 and we have many that have done so. The carers are perceived as ‘Mum and Dad’, the respite carers are perceived as aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother and the sessional carers are perceived as older brother or sister, or perhaps, simply a good friend. I am the matriarch, who sends out positive reinforcement letters for any child (or carer and staff member for that matter) who has done anything exceptional. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just something such as scoring the winning goal in a footy match, or hitting a six in a cricket match. For children and young people whose lives have been filled with negatives, such positive accolade helps to build up their self esteem. You can see how important the team around the child is.

So if, you busy business women, you could see yourself undertaking sessional, respite or even full-time fostering, as well as attending your growing business, the world of fostering could be attractive to YOU. With it comes rewards, both financial, but more important, will increase your own sense of worth, and, perhaps, will re-energise your business brain.Whatever you are doing in your business life, if you work from home you can be a full, or respite carer, and if you have a few hours per week to spare, you could become a sessional carer, taking a child out in the community, doing nice things like going to a show, or the cinema, or sometimes baby sitting so that the main carers can attend a function or similar. Let your business help others, become a foster carer for NEWFOCAS and widen your own horizons and that of your family, whilst being your own boss in your business world. Whatever your age, culture, beliefs or circumstances, fostering could be for you.

We currently care for 19 children and have five in ‘after care’. As for me, I am now semi retired, still retain a very active interest in the business but have grown like minded, ethical people who will carry on the values and principles upon which the business was founded 18 years ago.

Contact Helen


13-17 Brunswick Court, Brunswick Road, Buckley, Flintshire, CH7 2ED

Carers: info@newfocas.co.uk     Referrals: referrals@newfocas.co.uk    Main: 01244 550300

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