When an idea comes to mind which can make a real difference to children, young people and foster carers, it is amazing when it becomes a reality. That is exactly what James, fostering team manager at Camden Council and foster carer Sarah have achieved.
Both are passionate about the boxes and the reason behind the conception of Replenish. When asked how the idea first came about, James explains: ‘The starting point was in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in the US. We held an event with Camden foster carers to facilitate a conversation around black children in care, black foster carers and what we should be doing to support them further.’
This led to many foster carers voicing that they needed extra support in meeting the needs of children from different cultural backgrounds to themselves, including properly caring for their skin and hair. Camden’s figures show that 80 per cent of children in care in the local authority are from black and ethnic minorities. It was evidence that the conversations should not stop there and that a physical outcome was needed to provide this extra support.
Both James and Sarah listened carefully to this feedback and set their minds to thinking of a practical solution. Sarah, who is the head of Camden Association for Foster Carers, came up with the idea, which was fully supported by James and the team at Camden Council. She explains: ‘I soon realised the boxes would not of a practical help, but an educational piece – I wanted to teach foster carers which products should be used, why and where to find them.’
In our conversation, both James and Sarah are keen to emphasise the meaning behind each Replenish box, which are all ‘made with love.’ They explain that using these products and finding out about their benefits gives children and young people an opportunity to really think about their identity. Sarah goes on to say that ‘food, hair, skin, sounds, dialect and language are all part of a child's identity. When they are in foster care, this identity must be maintained and their needs met.’ The Replenish boxes not only help them during this period of their life but keep them connected with their heritage, which is so important when going into adulthood.
Children and young people have been kept at the heart of Replenish from the very start, and as the very people who would use them, they were involved in the design process. Speaking of this experience, James says: ‘Hearing the children have conversations about their skin and haircare and working together to create the Replenish logo was a beautiful thing. They took so much pride in their work.’
This is echoed by Sarah who elaborates: ‘We could see how well the children were interacting with each other – they could physically see the boxes and knew they were made especially for them.’ Not only this, foster carers have given glowing feedback, which has emphasised the need for this support.
These conversations mirror The Fostering Network’s findings in our State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2021 survey. We know that every child has the right to have all their cultural, language and religious needs met, and should never have to lose any part of their identity when they enter foster care. However, key findings showed that of foster carers who have cared for a child of a different ethnicity, half had not received any training to help them care for that child.
When children are removed from their family and taken into care, the state (in the form of the child’s local authority/trust acting as ‘corporate parent’) is responsible for making sure their rights are fulfilled and their needs are met.
James and Sarah have a huge passion for making a difference to the lives of children and young people and reflect on how they have worked together to make this happen. They say: ‘This is an example of foster carers and fostering services working collaboratively to drive change. It reinforces that foster carers are an advocate for the children they look after.’
Going on to speak further about the future of Replenish, they have a plan about how to ensure the use of the products are sustainable. Once foster carers have been through the first phase of being introduced to the products, they are encouraged to shop for them independently. This way, other children and young people can access a Replenish box, and so on.
Whilst the benefits of Replenish are making a huge difference in Camden, James and Sarah are all too aware the idea cannot begin and finish there. James says: ‘Ultimately, we want every local authority to create their own Replenish boxes and to them to black children in foster care who need this support.’ They also know that creating more practical solutions cannot come to an end either, and further conversations around meeting the needs of all children in foster care must be had.
Speaking about Replenish highlights the concept is about so much more than skin and haircare, and we could not be happier to see its introduction and where it goes next.
Sarah Livingstone is Chair of Camden Association for Foster Carers. James Kargbo is a fostering team manager at Camden Council