As part of our #HereForDerby campaign, we spoke to Katie Jones, Manager of Derby’s Fostering, Recruitment and Assessment team about how they’ve been adapting during the pandemic – continuing their work to find happy homes for vulnerable children and young people.

“Our team is responsible for the recruitment and assessment of all of our local authority foster carers, including our mainstream foster carers and family and friends carers – who foster a child who is already known to them, for example a niece or grandson,” said Katie.

“We work closely with the Communications and Marketing team to make sure that the people of Derby and the surrounding areas know that we have our own set of in-house foster carers and that we’re a great local authority to foster for. I’m hoping that lots of you have seen the information boards we have around the city!

“I’m proud of lots of things working with my team – how hard they work, and how creative they are in terms of reaching out, recruiting and assessing foster carers from all different backgrounds with a huge range of different skills and experiences.

“I’m also proud of the contribution the team and I make to finding suitable homes for vulnerable children where they can feel safe and make happy memories. The team has worked really hard over the last 18 months to improve the way we do things, and it makes me proud to think about how these changes have been managed and adapted to.

“We also work with an excellent team of foster carers, who have shown extraordinary commitment to the children they look after through some really challenging months.”

Like colleagues across the Council, Katie and her team has had to adapt their ways of working over recent months, to take account of the impact of the pandemic.

“I have been able to continue in my job, albeit done in a different way. The need for new foster carers is greater now than ever before and it’s been important for us to be able to keep up the marketing, recruitment and assessment of any applicants coming forward. We anticipate that as lockdown eases, the number of children needing a safe and happy place to live will rise again, and we will need a bigger pool of our own foster placements where we know children do well.”

Having to provide services at a distance during the pandemic has been challenging, but Katie and the team have adapted their ways of working over recent months.

“During the outbreak my job has been challenging. Social work is always much harder at a distance, given it so deeply relies on meaningful interactions with other people,” she said.

“Our fostering assessments are in-depth, and it has been much harder to replicate face-to-face assessment sessions using virtual means, especially when discussing some of the more sensitive issues.

“Saying that, we’ve found many ways to continue to move assessments forward. As much as we want to keep approving new foster carers, the applicants themselves are raring to go and don’t want any delay either! I think now more than ever they want to reach out and help children in their city.

“COVID-19 has changed the lives and ways of thinking for so many of us, we are being approached by more people who are finding they want to make a difference to their own lives and lives of others, and fostering is a great way to do that.

“I’ve been particularly thankful that we’ve been provided with new technology at the Council, so we’ve been able to find more ways to keep in touch with our applicants and keep progressing our fostering assessments.

“A particular high for me was our first virtual fostering information event that took place earlier this month. We normally have very popular information evenings at a local venue, four times a year, where people who are interested in fostering can meet the team, listen to a presentation and (most importantly) meet our foster carers to talk with them about what the role is really like.

“We had to cancel the event that was booked for May, and it was a real challenge to think of a way we could replicate the positives of these events using virtual means.

“With a lot of work behind the scenes we held the first event over Zoom on 14th July, and it went better than any of us could have imagined – we had a higher sign up than any previous events and lots of people tuned in to the event on the day, with lots of positive feedback afterwards.

“Some of our foster carers were able to take part and talk about their own fostering journey. It went so well we have arranged another virtual event for Saturday 29th September, which we think will be event better!”

As for many colleagues over the last few months, balancing home and working life has proved to be a juggling act for Katie.

She said: “I have two children, aged four and nine, so like lots of others my particular challenges have been around balancing work and childcare. This has been very tricky at times! I’m very lucky to work with a very supportive group of managers in fostering.

“The last few months have been anxiety-provoking in lots of ways, personally and professionally, but I have also tried to celebrate some of the smaller positives – not having to think about the school run for example. We’ve also enjoyed things as a family that for some reason, we’d never thought of before, like movie nights in the garden.”

Reflecting on last few months, Katie added: “I would like to say to the people of Derby firstly, well done for everything you have done so far! I was born and raised in Lancashire, moving to Derby 10 years ago due to work.

“I feel lucky to live and work in such a friendly, vibrant and diverse city. If you have ever thought about fostering before – give us a ring (640880). There is always someone friendly on duty who can talk to you about how it could work for you in your life. There is lots of information on our website, and you can fill in an online enquiry form that comes directly to us.”