Fostering special needs children

Credo Care was set up in August 2000 by Roy Hipkiss and a colleague on Roy‘s dining table with an initial investment of just £12k. Within 10 years it has grown to 100 employees, including carers, with bases covering the South East, London and Midlands. It has also built a distinguished reputation for its work fostering disabled children, having been judged “outstanding” by Ofsted and having received an Investors in People recognition for its work in developing and supporting staff. “We are really proud of what we have achieved,” says Roy.

Co-director Roy had worked previously as a Local Authority fostering Social Worker and for two independent fostering agencies, his family also fostered. He says he had seen how children with disabilities were often at the back of the queue for fostering because they were perceived as more challenging and expensive to care for.

Credo Care initially wanted to offer foster with placements for children all needs. Early on in their development, they decided to focus on children who have disabilities. “I saw how disabled children in foster care were generally poorly supported and we wanted to do something different”.

Credo Care has spent many years developing the service to ensure it provides what Foster Carers and the children need. “The initial months were exciting, challenging and frustrating,” says Roy. “We were very motivated to create the company, because we passionately believe in our work.”

In order to develop a quality service, “Credo Care has been careful to ensure that we have the best carers who can work to our high standards”, says Roy.

Its Foster Carers are assessed using the BAAF (British Agency for Adoption and Fostering) procedure where the potential Carer’s are interviewed and their backgrounds are investigated. “It may seem daunting, but the primary aim is to protect the children,” says Roy. Their Childhood experiences, relationships, education, work experience and the support carers might have in the community are discussed. “We want to make sure, as far as possible, that applicants have a well rounded personality and safeguarding the children entrusted to us is our primary concern” says Roy. Personal and professional references are checked and other vetting processes are followed, such as CRB checks. Potential Foster Carer’s may sometime already have particular skills with disabled children, which is of course helpful although this is not essential because full training opportunities are provided.

Roy says that Credo Care is looking for people with strength of character who can take on all the demands, such as attending regular review meetings, medical appointments and maintain a basic level of record keeping, as well as being able to juggle their own family needs whilst maintaining their own health and well being. “We want people who are open to learning and take the children at face value,” he says.

It can take six months for the assessment and then there is a year’s training course to follow by the Children’s Workforce Development Council requirements. After this, carers can take an NVQ Level 3 in Foster Care and then there is monthly training to keep foster carers up to date with all aspects of caring for disabled children.

Roy says around half of carers have previous experience of disabled children. He tells of one couple who now have three foster children with high needs. The man was a bus driver, his wife worked as a medical secretary. Although they had done some childminding, they had no experience of children with disabilities, with the exception of providing care to their daughter who had a liver transplant. They started by fostering a child direct from hospital who had severe learning and physical difficulties and now have three foster children, all of whom have had gastrostomies (tube fed through the stomach). Roy is proud to say “They have done really well with no previous experience, we supported them with the training they needed. In all cases, we ensure we go at the Carer’s pace and only place children with them when they are ready”.

The matching process with foster children takes around three months. Children may be with their parents, in foster care, residential care or in hospital. One child was given six months to live when he was placed with us at the age of two as he was deemed to be functioning on brain stem only. He is now five years old and at school. “These are incredible stories,” says Roy. “These children have had so many different journeys, some children have been “written off” as not being able to achieve much with their lives and the placements have made all the difference.”

Most Carers register to take children aged 0-18 for short breaks, long-term or short-term care. With children with special needs, it is difficult for Carers to specify ages as a child of 10 with disabilities may be the size of a five year old or have the needs of a three year old. Credo Care discusses the Carers needs in order to find a suitable match.

Short breaks can include arrangements such as giving a child in residential care one night a week in a family environment or during holidays or at weekends. Short-term placements are from three to six months.

Roy says that, due to the holistic nature of the Company’s approach to support, Credo Care has had a Zero Percent placement break down since 2003, an unheard of achievement in Fostering.

Roy says other foster agencies have emulated Credo Care’s work, but it is determined to keep innovating and improving. For instance, it has pioneered Foster Care with autistic children, working with the National Autistic Society on an accreditation system to ensure that Carers get individualised training and support for each child they care for. The NAS had not worked with Foster Carers before Credo contacted them and they have therefore made this available to improve the life chances of children with autism. Foster carers with Credo are paid between £360 and £500 per week per child but they have to be registered self employed. The amount paid rises as the carer becomes more qualified. Credo ties payments to training to reflect their increased skills. Roy says a family who foster three children with special needs can receive up to £78k a year, which has a very low level of taxation due to special arrangements with the tax office. Each child will also have disability benefits which might include a vehicle. There are also grants available, for instance, for house adaptations. The system is complicated, admits Roy, but they support Foster Carers every step of the way.

Credo Care also runs lots of support activities for Carers, which have included a Family Fun Days and pantomime outings, as well as an awards ceremony to recognise Carers, outside professionals and Credo staff. There is also a carer support group. “We consult regularly with carers and there is an annual review too,” says Roy.

Roy said that they are regularly contacted by Local Authorities to find homes for children with high needs. He is confident that in most cases, Credo Care can reduce costs by placing in foster care by avoiding children going in to residential care.

As it celebrates its tenth Anniversary in 2010, Roy says about Credo Care: “We feel the initial problems and challenges were well worth it. We have a unique service and a highly developed sense of purpose, we can look back at all the children we have helped and are committed to those we can help in the future.”

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