A description of Sycamore Services whose approach enables children and young people in Scotland to move from residential to foster care when the time is right.
The Sycamore Approach
The Sycamore Services philosophy is to offer “a quality therapeutic environment for young people who have experienced trauma and loss. … Sycamore puts energy into solutions and not into problems. It is a positive proactive approach, giving children and young people who have failed in the past the belief that they can be successful in the future. We set fairly normal expectations for young people who do not have normal problems and help them reach and maintain these expectations”.
To put this philosophy into practice, Sycamore Services provides “Residential Services, Fostering Service, Sycamore School, Creative Therapies, Learning and Development, Support Services, Throughcare/ Aftercare and a Befriending Scheme”.
Sycamore’s residential services consist of three children’s homes in Kirkcaldy and one in Dunfermline, providing 52 week placements for 22 young people aged between 5 and18+. These homes cater for different age groups, and two in Kirkcaldy are for children aged 13-16 and 15-18 respectively. The aim of the latter home is to teach independent living skills, while encouraging the young people to stay on at school or undertake further education.
As these are community based resources, the young people have the opportunity to integrate into normal neighbourhoods. This is a significant shift from the containment, control and isolation which the young people have generally experienced elsewhere.
One of the fundamental planks of the Sycamore philosophy is partnership with parents, recognising that young people in care will maintain contact with their families long after they have left residential care. They seek to engage in a positive way with the parents prior to the admission of the young people. Sycamore tries to reassure them that their rights and responsibilities both as parents and as individuals will be respected, and whenever possible, they seek to promote the family’s strengths and continuing contact with their child.
This approach is reflected in the provision of two flats adjacent to the homes, which offer free accommodation to family members, carers and friends who may need to travel a distance to keep in touch, as these resources have a national catchment.
This scheme is designed to involve volunteers in working with children, offering alternative relationships to those with staff. As volunteers, they are not paid but get expenses, but they are given induction training and are seen as members of the team working with children and young people. Sycamore Services state, “Befrienders enrich the lives of the young people they work with, broadening a young person’s life experiences, developing their self worth and bring a sense of value to adult/child relationships. They also reduce the need for young people to ‘share’ staff, giving them their own ‘special person'”.
Fostering Service – Sycamore Families
Sycamore Families aims to provide high quality family placements to young people who are ‘Looked After and Accommodated’ by Local Authorities, which will give them the opportunity to achieve their potential and have the opportunity to experience family relationships in the community. Currently this service provides a number of high quality, well supported foster placements for children who are ready to move on from the residential units.
Support is provided for foster carers in a number of ways. Each child has a Social Worker from their placing authority to oversee their case. In parallel there is a Sycamore Families Social Worker to support the foster carers. If a child has educational problems, s/he may be able to attend Sycamore School, or the School staff can give advice and support to children in mainstream schooling. In emergency there is 24-hour back-up from the children’s homes. Administrative support comes from the Sycamore Services office.
The partnership with the residential servces is unusually close. Foster carers may work shifts in the residential homes; they join staff team meetings; and they undertake training together. This is a far cry from the days when residential and foster care were seen as rivals, and gives meaning to the claim to provide integrated services.
Part of Something Bigger : The Aberlour Trust
Founded in 1983, Sycamore Children’s Services are a part of the Aberlour Childcare Trust, which claims to be the largest Scottish-only child care charity, serving 6,000 children a year. The services have come a long way since Aberlour founded their first orphanage in 1875. Innovations such as those at Sycamore show that they are still looking for new ways to match the services to the needs of the children and young people whom they serve.