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Young people in foster care benefit from Letterbox scheme - McGimpsey

Friday, 1 October 2010

Social Services Minister, Michael McGimpsey has said how he wants looked after children to continue to have the same opportunities as other children.

The Minister was speaking after the publication of findings of the Letterbox Club Pilot Study undertaken in Northern Ireland which is funded through the Department’s ‘Fostering Achievement’ scheme. Its main aims are to improve the educational achievements and life chances of children who are in care.

The Minister said, “The main purpose of the letterbox pilot project was to trial a new way of helping to improve the educational outlook for children, by providing children in care in primary 4 and 6 with educational materials.“Each child in care who participated received a parcel addressed personally to them at their foster home or other residence. It contained material such as a personalised letter, two reading books, stationery items and a maths literacy game chosen to match the child’s own level of attainment.”

The Minister continued, “Improving outcomes for young people in care is extremely important. I recognise the potential long-term impact of poor education for these young people throughout their lives.

“Developing their education will therefore not only give them the opportunity to gain the skills and qualifications they need but will give them confidence to strive further.”

Fostering Achievement also includes tuition in everything from numeracy, literacy, GCSE, AS and A Level subjects, playing musical instruments, dance, art, and sport. Fostering achievement also provides numeracy and literacy focussed summer schemes for children in care who are in primary school.

Older young people in care also have the opportunity to learn how to drive and many teenagers have also participated in Teen Summer Schemes. Under the scheme well over 1,000 children have received their own computer along with a variety of software packages designed to help improve their educational achievements.

Kate Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “The educational outcomes of children in care are not as good as they could and should be. As a group they can feel excluded and isolated within the system and are often not given the opportunities and support they need.

“The Letterbox Club has been such a success because it has involved these children more in their education, encouraging them to become motivated and enjoy learning. It has also given foster carers the chance to work more closely with the children in their care and help them to thrive. We hope the initiative will continue so that many more children can be given the opportunity to achieve their potential.”

The Minister concluded: “The wide range of support we are providing to the young people is evidence of our determination to do better for them. I want to give them the same opportunities and life chances as other children.”

Notes to editors:

1. The Fostering Achievement scheme was established in 2006. It is delivered through the Fostering Network, a leading voluntary sector organisation, and is unique to Northern Ireland.

2. The Department provides nearly £1.3 million annually to support the scheme, with input of a further £100,000 from Education.

3. Press enquiries to the DHSSPS Press Office on 028 90520505. Out of office hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.