- “Sharing knowledge of alternative care”
Geneva Ellis and Harry Wilkinson, from UK children’s charity St Christopher’s Fellowship, recently visited SOS Children’s Villages in Norway and Germany, hoping to discover and learn from the different responses other countries provide to the challenge of meeting the needs of looked-after children.
Harry’s study focuses on the education of looked after children and Geneva’s concentrates on their care. With grants from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, the pair were able to visit SOS Children’s projects in Germany and Norway; countries that are considered to offer successful approaches to supporting looked after children.
Geneva, who visited SOS Children’s Village Bergen in Norway, says:
“The purpose-built Village consists of eight homes, housing up to 32 children. The design of a cluster of homes allows SOS Children to provide additional facilities including a sports hall, music room, woodwork shop, and on-site professional support for the SOS mothers and children.
When I arrived the Village was quiet, with the children at school. Visiting one of the homes, I found a group of SOS mothers chatting together over coffee. Although rewarding, fostering is also challenging and hard work. It’s important to have a support network and the proximity of the homes makes it easy for the SOS mothers to meet regularly and provide each other with emotional support and friendship.
I met with the Village Director, Øystein Helgesen, who said that the Children's Village’s aim is to provide stable and long-term homes to children who need them and to enable siblings to grow up together. Whilst it is easy for organisations that support vulnerable children to talk about placing children at the centre of their work it is refreshing and reassuring to see it in practice. I was particularly impressed by a practical example of their ethos; although placement breakdowns at SOS Children are rare, where they do occur the children are able to remain in their home and a new SOS mother is provided, rather than the children being moved to a new home.”
Harry, who visited SOS Children’s Villages Kleve in Germany, says:
“In September I completed the German portion of my Travelling Fellowship. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit two Children’s Villages, one of these in Kleve.
In Kleve I was met by Herr Haal, who was responsible for the family group homes. The Village looks after 77 children in a range of different types of accommodation. The Village had a lovely feel to it, lots of open green space, lots of activity, a real community! I was lucky enough to spend two evenings with Ina, one of the SOS mothers and her husband Dirk; all the children in the family ate together every night and talked about their days and their plans for the evening.
I also had the opportunity to see some of the excellent vocational training facilities the Village has in the community which are run as social enterprises. This included a full garden centre and nursery, a florist, a machine shop and an excellent restaurant serving fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden centre. The service trained hundreds of young people from the area to achieve recognised qualifications and become experts in their fields.
My time in the Village was fascinating and while there were clearly a number of differences between the services offered by SOS and services in the UK, I was also stuck by the similarities: as a sector, we face many of the same challenges, work with children with similar issues and all share a commitment to improving the lives of young people we look after.”