Sunderland partnership shares adoption practices

Kathryn McCabe and Stephanie Hunter

A Sunderland partnership celebrated for paving the way to a better future for looked after children is now sharing its best practice at an international level.

The University of Sunderland and Together for Children have been collaborating on a range of work to ensure young people in the care system, awaiting a permanent home, are given the best possible support to deal with their diverse needs - work which has received praise nationally.

As a result of the partnership, Stephanie Hunter, a senior lecturer in the University’s School of Social Sciences, was invited to give a keynote speech at a recent conference organised by the Malta branch of the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH).

This conference was titled: International Perinatal, Infant and Early Years Mental Health Conference. The organisers asked Stephanie to deliver a workshop on her findings from the evaluation work of Together for Children’s Adoption Team.

ACAMH is keen to improve the standard of Malta’s children’s mental health services and reduce the number of looked after children who receive in-patient mental health care. The current models of care used  in Malta are based on conservative and religious systems. Due to Malta’s size, local children cannot always be adopted by families on the island, as this facility is not yet readily available, and a predominantly residential care model is in place, as a last resort.

Stephanie, alongside Together for Children Adoption Team Manager Kathryn McCabe, met managers from the island’s Children’s Services who want to develop their provision from its current model.

Stephanie said: “We met motivated staff who manage the childrens’ homes and the doctor for looked after children. We were so inspired that we’re now looking to formalise a knowledge transfer partnership with Maltese professionals and are considering ways to achieve funding for this. There is so much we can also learn from Maltese staff too, I was impressed by the attractive child-centred contact rooms and the warmth of the relationships with children described by staff.” 

The ACAMH conference was aimed at attracting all those professionals who work with young people, from teachers and midwives, mental health professionals, to obstetricians and paediatricians.

Stephanie said: “ACAMH Malta wants to continuously improve its children’s services and they were impressed with our own developments locally, especially the Knowledge Transfer Partnership work between the University and Together for Children’s Adoption Team. During the presentation I showcased the evaluation work I conducted. Kathryn and myself also showed video footage of attachment work that has been pioneered with adopted children and their families in Sunderland.

“The evaluation represents important information relating to the contemporary issue of post adoption support. The evaluation findings were positive and indicate that the Together for Children’s Adoption Team is making excellent use of the Adoption Support Fund, ensuring a significant difference to the lives of adoptive children and their parents, who are receiving a quality provision and prompt, timely and well-planned therapies.

“It is also clear that Together for Children staff have embraced these changes and are striving for and achieving consistently good, at times, excellent, practice with regard to their thoughtful and informed responses to parents.”

Kathryn McCabe, Team Manager Adoption at Together for Children, added: “The Adoption team here in Sunderland are hugely committed to providing the best possible service to the families with whom they work. They have embraced the training opportunities offered to them and are using the skills gained on a daily basis, the feedback from families has been overwhelming.

“The opportunity to develop relations with colleagues overseas has been inspirational.  We will continue to work with Stephanie and the University in our aspiration to formalise a knowledge transfer partnership with our colleagues in Malta.”

The partnership between Together for Children and the University has seen the Adoption Team’s 10 members of social work staff take part in a rigorous training programme, designed to equip them with the skills they need to support children through what can be hugely daunting phases of their life, as they move through the care system.

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