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Intensive support is helping most troubled youngsters

Siobhan was nine when her mother told her social worker she didn't want anything more to do with her, or her two siblings.

JOINT APPROACH: A total of 28 youngsters have been helped by the programme in Glasgow. Picture posed by model. Picture: Nick Ponty
JOINT APPROACH: A total of 28 youngsters have been helped by the programme in Glasgow. Picture posed by model. Picture: Nick Ponty

Siobhan's mum also told her addiction worker she was going to go and live in a caravan. Now nearly 14, Siobhan has no idea where her mother is.

Between her mother's substance abuse issues and the violent partner they lived with it hadn't been easy. From the age of six she had acted as a mother to her brother and sister, she adds. "I made sure they went to school and had food and stuff."

At the age of eight she was taken into foster care. But the difficult background means she has struggled to settle in care and behavioural problems have seen her move from placement to placement.

With luck, that could all be in the past. The Siobhan I met was happy, confident and had an obviously strong relationship with her current foster carer, Greg, despite the fact that she has only been staying with him for 11 weeks. It was plain that they have already found a rapport as she sparred with him about his stand-up comedy routines.

This is no ordinary foster placement. Former youth worker Greg is a multidisciplinary treatment foster carer (MTFC), part of a programme of intensive support for some of Glasgow's most troubled children.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary this week, the programme has also now been given official approval by the Oregon Social Learning Centre, where the approach was developed.

It aims to change the way some young people are cared for and give them a better chance to grow into confident young adults.

Many young people looked after in residential children's units or foster placements struggle to cope. When numerous placements have broken down, it can result in them being moved often far away from their family or the communities they know.

Commissioned jointly by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Glasgow City Council, MTFC is different from ordinary fostering in that it offers a strict and structured programme which the young person signs up to at the outset.

Specially trained foster carers encourage and support the young person to stick with the programme, while a team of specialists provide intensive daily input. These include a skills trainer and a personal therapist for the young person. A family therapist also works with the child's birth family where appropriate and a clinical psychologist oversees the placement. Foster carers are supported by social work and the daily contacts but an on-call service is also available on a round-the-clock basis.

For Siobhan, the programme is involving a series of challenges to change her behaviour, from basic daily chores such as tidying her room and unloading the dishwasher to dealing honestly with the adults around her.

One of the biggest challenges has been giving up her mobile phone. Irene Cronin, who heads up the programme says this is a basic rule for those taking part. "Taking away phones helps young people really knuckle down and focus on the placement," she says.

Siobhan, confirms this, though she complains about the tactic, and about the 'brick' that young people are given for emergency contacts instead.

"I had a phone in my old placement and you are always looking at what's on Facebook or Instagram. You get into all these arguments with it when you are a teenager," she says.

"I don't know what's going on now. My Snapchat's sky high. But not having it is like 'aaah'. It's like being in a spa," she says.

Targeted at young people aged 11 to 17, those taking part would usually be in treatment foster care for nine months to a year.

So far 28 young people with problematic histories have been helped through the programme in Glasgow.

Three levels of support see young people settle in the first stage, without too much intensive work. At level two they are challenged much more, with work to develop life skills to help them cope better with their situation and look to the future.

It is at this stage that the more intensive and therapeutic work is carried out. There are significant incentives to participate - money to buy clothes, trips away and other privileges - even the possibility of eventually getting their phone back. However these can be withdrawn and the young person 'relegated' back to level one, if behaviour is poor.

The third level is about moving on, possibly back to a birth family if the circumstances which led to them being taken into care have changed, or into a standard foster placement.

It is all part of a big push between agencies in Glasgow to develop joint, evidence-based services.

John Marshall, project director for specialist children services, says time is not wasted delving into the whys and wherefores of a child being in care. "The causes are often complicated and can't be changed anyway. When you have about nine months to make a difference, you can't be negative and we aren't keen on diagnosis and labels. This approach looks at skills and coping strategies."

Young people in foster care frequently have problems which are hard to deal with, he says.

"This programme offers them and their foster carer a structured programme which ensures they are given the individual support they need.

"We want young people who are going through this difficult time in their lives to come out at the other end as confident young adults. This programme gives them the secure start they need."

The council and health board are convinced MTFC is proving its value, preparing young people for foster care who would otherwise not get the chance.

Plans now include taking on more young people and extending the age range. The team is considering offering it to children from age six on the basis that the earlier intervention takes place, the better. Elements of the support could also be given to mainstream foster carers.

For Siobhan, the difference is evident. "I'm doing well with my targets and most things. I've started actually working at school," she says.

"Anyone offered the chance to go on this should do it, they won't understand until they do how much it helps them in their life."

Greg meanwhile would gladly see it rolled out to more carers. "Since I started, I've been really impressed. I'd love to see even part of this for other foster carers," he says.

Names have been changed to protect identities.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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