On Tuesday 24th May, 31 children from foster families in the Southern Trust attended a mini art gallery showing at Studio Twenty-three in Newry.
The event was a final celebration after a 3-week online art course which resulted from a collaboration between CEO of Studio Twenty-three, Frankie Bannon and the local authority.
Studio Twenty Three was established in 2019 by Frankie Bannon with the aim of making art more accessible for people of all creative abilities, an opportunity to just let go, experiment, and have some fun! Although the Studio covers events for all groups and individuals, this particular initiative was aimed at creating some positive memories and attachment experiences for families who foster. The event recognised the invaluable contribution made by foster carers and sought to support them in their role of connecting with children who they care for. As an added bonus, the children had opportunity to express themselves through art and discover various techniques to broaden their knowledge and art skills. They were then able to meet in person and celebrate the pieces they created, which was a lovely and fitting finale. The children and young people who took part were from all across the Southern Trust and the feedback was really positive.
It is widely accepted that in order to learn effectively, children and young people require and deserve stability, to feel safe and to be treated with dignity and respect. Ideally this can be provided within a child’s family and the child is nurtured and supported to flourish and grow. However, in some instances this is required outside of their family homes for varying periods of time. Within the context of this, the numbers of ‘looked after’ children are growing in Northern Ireland and HSC Adoption and Foster Care are required to recruit increasing numbers of foster families who can work with to support the well-being of young people and meet this demand.
Melanie Coffey, Senior Manager in Fostering and Adoption outlined “it is important to acknowledge the fantastic role that foster carers currently do and support them in their role. Frankie’s online course allowed us to create fun, family experiences with foster families within their own home as the course was online and the art materials were delivered to the homes of carers”.
Frankie spoke to me about the success of the event and what skills the children had gained from it: “It was really good, the kids absolutely loved it! After the weeks, the children had learnt 3 different techniques. This included painting on canvas, ceramics, and they also did acrylics pour which is like a fluid abstract art. The children found it very inclusive as they joined in online with their families over the 3 weeks.”
Positive feedback about the course also appeared in abundance from the families who took part and all the children appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
One parent stated: ” My daughter said she enjoyed the art so much, it was fun and exciting to learn how to make art over the three weeks, she loved it!” with another parent stating, ” These art sessions have given my son so much confidence and the exhibition made him feel that his work is so valued by others and put on display. It is just marvellous! This is exactly what all children need!”
Indeed the art work on display was of great quality and it was moving to see the pride and excitement of the young people in attendance.
Frankie added “When children create art, it helps develop the right side of the brain, it helps with communication skills, and it also develops their sense of self-expression.
“It gives children an outlet to express themselves without fear of “doing it wrong.”
Melanie Coffey, Senior Manager in Fostering and Adoption, reports that across the region foster carers are urgently required for all areas of the service and for all age groups of children.
She said: “We currently require a wide range of foster carers to reflect the diversity of children and young people who need safe homes.
“Our HSC NI Foster Care Community is made up of a rich mix of people including couples, single carers, parent and adult children who foster together, carers from ethnic minorities and carers from LGBTQI+ community and this was a celebration of the young people in their care and the supportive, quality experiences that foster families can offer and the difference they can make in the lives of young people.
Current statistics indicate that across Northern Ireland there are 3,568 children looked after outside of their birth families and of these 81.7% are in foster care. Given the increased demand, Fostering Network identified 265 new foster families are needed to provide safe care.”
If you are interested in hearing more about becoming a foster carer, call 0800 0720 137 or visit adoptionandfostercare.hscni.net