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Community Constituency Education Health Newry Newry and Armagh

St Mary’s High School Support for Fostering Services

St Mary’s High School in Newry prides itself on the pastoral support it provides to all its pupils and being a place where past pupils can revisit and reflect positively on their time spent in the school. In order to learn effectively, children and young people require and deserve stability, to feel safe and to be treated with dignity and respect and so St. Mary’s is no stranger to understanding the critical importance of the relationship between education and home.

New local initiative

When Principal, Miss Crawley and Vice Principal Mr Fitzpatrick learned of an initiative which involved schools and local fostering services working in partnership to improve outcomes for children in foster care, they did not hesitate to offer their support to this worthwhile project. Miss Crawley said: “At St. Mary’s, we value ways in which we can support each of our individual pupils and ensure positive relationships are established between home and school to support their education”.

 Mr Fitzpatrick (VP) & Miss Crawley (Principal) of Newry High School with Melanie Coffey (senior manager for Fostering)

Melanie Coffey, Senior Manager for Fostering Services in Armagh, Dungannon, Craigavon, Banbridge and Newry & Mourne areas said: “Many care experienced young people have encountered trauma and hardship in their early lives and this can leave it difficult to achieve their full potential. Education and social services already work hard to support children in their care but there are always improvements we can make so we were delighted when St. Mary’s High School indicated they were on board with this new direction”.

For varying reasons, children and young people sometimes have to be cared for outside of their family homes for different periods of time. They require stability so they can flourish and grow. The local fostering team would like to engage with local schools in assisting with the promotion of foster care services and to support the development of more foster families who can offer nurturing homes for young people. In order to achieve this, St. Mary’s have agreed to display a fostering banner in their school grounds and share information on their communication platforms to encourage families in the locality to consider whether they could offer a safe home to children and young people who require it.

Whilst this has the aim of increasing the population of foster carers and improving experiences for children and young people, a secondary benefit can be that the increased profile of fostering can contribute to a reduction in the stigma of alternative care arrangements for young people.

Need for more foster carers

Foster carers are needed for children of all age groups. We currently require a wide range of foster carers to reflect the diversity of children and young people who need safe homes. There are different types of foster care available so there are lots of ways you can help a child or young person depending on your lifestyle and family circumstances. Some foster families offer just a few days a month support whilst others wish to offer long term care.

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 LGBTQ+ community.

Sean and Suzanne’s journey

Sean and Suzanne, who are foster carers, have personal and professional connections to St Mary’s High School, and welcome the news of joint working with HSC NI Foster Care.

Sean (caretaker of St Mary’s High School) and Suzanne (former pupil) opened their hearts and home to two young brothers during the Christmas holidays shortly after their approval in 2016. Sean and Suzanne continue to care for the boys through long term foster care. Despite living outside the boys’ local area, the couple encourage their school attendance and have advocated for learning resources and educational support.

Suzanne & Sean (caretaker at St Mary’s), foster carers

With the school’s support, Sean and Suzanne communicate with teachers so that a link between home life and school can be made. The couple make the effort to attend meetings with teachers and support school initiatives as well as facilitating the boys’ involvement in curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Sean speaks of the boys with pride. He recognises their intelligence and their potential to do well. “They’re bright wee fellas and can work well with encouragement. They love playing outside but they know the rules. There’s a set time for homework and we often sit down and help them understand why school is important”.

Suzanne likes to praise the boys for their achievements, no matter how minor they are and like most families she described displaying their artwork, certificates and medals on the fridge for everyone to see. “We’re proud to see how far they’ve come”.

Sean and Suzanne recognise that school is a familiar and secure place for many children living in foster care. However, their story highlights the unfortunate reality that many children travel significant distances to their school because of a shortage of carers in their local area. This reality highlights the need to increase the population of foster carers across Northern Ireland so that children and young people can be fostered locally, and retain connections with their friends, cultures and communities.

Other schools in the locality across all the different types of sectors are set to follow in also offering their support and it is hoped that this united approach will encourage people to make further enquiries.

If you are interested in hearing more about becoming a foster carer, call 0800 0720 137 or fill out our short online enquiry form

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