Many families with a foster child experience the same challenges. Foundation Supporting Foster Families (Stichting Ondersteuning Pleeggezin – OP) guides involved organisations and municipalities in forming networks of foster parents who support each other according to the principles of the Mockingbird model. In this, six to ten foster families are linked together through a hub home: an experienced (former) foster family that supports the other families and, where necessary, occasionally relieves them. Children from the Mockingbird network can also stay there (un)planned, for example. OP thus contributes to sustainable foster care placements, so that children in foster care grow up in a nice, stable family. In October 2022, iHUB Horizon Foster Care and Region Midden Holland launched the first Mockingbird constellation in the Netherlands.
Last year, Public Matters provided OP with pro bono advice on strategic positioning in 2022, and collaborated on how OP can encourage and maintain support for the Mockingbird model.
Balancing interests and expectations
Together, Kinderpostzegels, the Care for Youth Support Team and the Dutch Association for Foster Families took the initiative to introduce Mockingbird in the Netherlands. They received financial support for this from the National Postcode Lottery, the Oranje Fonds, and from Kinderpostzegels itself. In late 2021, Stichting Ondersteuning Pleeggezin (OP) was established to work with foster care providers, municipalities and youth care regions to implement the Mockingbird model. Public Matters helped OP identify key stakeholders, decision-makers and influencers in the foster care landscape and the opportunities and challenges in implementation.
Youth care is a sector that has been under various pressures for some time, both in terms of funding and care practice. An important observation during one of the sessions is that because of the sometimes distressing situations, there is a need for sustainable solutions, but this also results in high expectations. To manage these, it is important to scale up only once the supply of foster parents and hub home foster parents meets the demand for support.
Enhancing political sensitivity
A positioning issue also requires an understanding of existing political support. Following the youth care debate on 18 May 2022, MP Don Ceder (CU – Christian Party), together with MP Rens Raemakers (D66 – Liberal Democrats), tabled a motion calling on the cabinet to intensify the recruitment of foster parents and boost support for foster families. This was adopted by the entire House of Representatives. Part of the pro bono support is increasing political sensitivity so that organisations identify opportunities to better represent their interests. This motion gave cause to introduce OP as a knowledge partner in the field of foster family support and to bring the Mockingbird model to the attention of the relevant minister, in this case state secretary of Health, Maarten Van Ooijen – who had to give effect to the motion.
Visit by the state secretary
Working closely together, the Central Holland Region, Horizon (part of iHUB) and Foundation Supporting Foster Families managed to make the link between local and national politics. For this, OP benefited greatly from the insights we gave them on the relationship between political-official The Hague and other levels of government. Connections from the Central Holland Region and Gouda’s Social Domain councillor Anna van Popering-Kalkman (CU) resulted in a visit from party colleague and state secretary van Ooijen, who deals with youth care. On Wednesday 22 March, he visited foster parents using the Mockingbird model and expressed appreciation for the role they take on. The councillor also spoke strongly about the importance of Mockingbird following her visit. With this recognition, OP is putting the Mockingbird model on the political map as a promising initiative.
It puts OP in a good position to continue the work and shine a positive light on policy discussions in The Hague. We are proud to have played our part in this. “The support from Public Matters has helped us to see opportunities and prioritise,” said Roza Freriks, programme manager at OP.