Mockingbird is an innovative method of delivering foster care, providing support for Warrington foster carers and children and young people in care.

Warrington’s fostering service is part of the Mockingbird programme, run by the UK’s leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network, which has competed against other outstanding projects to win the Big Impact Award at this year’s Third Sector Awards.

Mockingbird uses a pioneering model which sees a ‘constellation’ of fostering households set up in a similar structure to that of an extended family. This extended family model provides sleepovers, short breaks, peer support, regular joint planning and training, and social activities.

Warrington received funding from the Department for Education’s (DfE) Children's Social Care Innovation Programme to initially set up two constellations. The fostering service, in conjunction with The Fostering Network, are delighted to have launched the Mockingbird programme in Warrington. This was marked by the launch of the first constellation on 15 September, with the second due to follow early next year.

A constellation works by bringing together foster carers to act as the ‘hub home’ – they are experienced foster carers – and ‘satellite’ foster carers – who have a mix of experiences and ages of children in their care. Each constellation is centred around the hub home foster carer, with six to ten satellite fostering households.

Through successes such as avoiding relationship breakdowns in fostering households and retaining foster carers who may otherwise have left the role, the programme has seen excellent outcomes in other areas. This has included having helped fostering services avoid costs of around £3million between May 2018 and March 2020.

This extended family model provides a high level of stability for children and young people, and strengthens relationships between all members of the constellations, including birth families and social workers.

The Warrington launch in September at Orford Youth Base brought together Warrington’s first ‘constellation’ and celebrated the system’s long-awaited arrival. The foster carers and fostering staff were delighted to be able to come together and share their excitement and plans for the project.

Cllr Matt Smith, cabinet member for children’s services said: “Improving the experiences of children and young people in care is at the very heart of the Mockingbird family model.  We are grateful to our hub home and satellite foster carers who agreed to be part of Warrington’s first Mockingbird constellation. We’re excited to see the difference this award-winning system makes to our foster carers and children in care, and to see what we can learn from the first constellation that we can share with future groups.”

Paul, a hub home foster carer from Great Sankey, said: “When I first learned of Mockingbird, it was one of those moments where I thought – what an amazing idea! We’ve been eagerly waiting to get our constellation started as coronavirus has delayed the launch, so we were thrilled to finally be able to get together and celebrate getting started in Warrington.

“Myself and the other foster carers are really proud and honoured to be leading the way in Warrington’s first Mockingbird constellation and hope it can make a huge difference to fostering locally.”

Due to the social distancing restrictions, the support being provided for the first constellation is virtual.