A place in the sun

Joy Harris has had some tough challenges to face in her role as a foster carer – not least the murder of a young man she used to care for. Victoria Neumark finds out how she’s made a new start and how The Fostering Network’s social pedagogy programme is helping her to offer a warm, nurturing  home to many children

A child runs up, bursting with news. ‘Mum, mum! I did several lengths today.’ Clutching his violin and a bag of swimming things, he tucks his hand into that of the tall woman who walks beside him, her braids swinging and her face wreathed in smiles. As Devante chatters eagerly about his forthcoming ninth birthday, the two link arms along a London street. Another commonplace end to a school day, you might think. Yet this is not the child’s birth mother. He is living under a special guardianship order which means that Joy shares parental responsibility with Devante’s mother and Devante is settled with Joy until he’s at least 18 (see the feature on page 8 for more about special guardianship). Joy also offers foster placements. Over the last four and a half years, Devante’s home has included other children in short-term foster placements plus mothers and babies. This sunny day, the focus is on swimming, cooking – ‘you make the best burgers!’ Devante affirms – who to invite to Pizza Express on Saturday, what cake aunty might make and how it will feel to wake up tomorrow, being nine years old. A quick burst of their favourite song, R Kelly’s The World’s Greatest (‘I am a mountain, I am a tall tree…’), keeps the two entertained till they reach home and Money the dog’s enthusiastic greeting.

Joy Harris is one of the first foster carers in the country to develop skills in social pedagogy under The Fostering Network’s Head, Heart, Hands programme. She had not long begun the course when her 22-year- old former fostered son Antonio was murdered in Hackney. The police have yet to arrest anyone or find a motive. Antonio and his sister had been cared for by Joy after their mother died, but by this stage, Antonio was living independently. ‘It left me stunned,’ says Joy. Since then, the family has moved to south London – this relocation is
about new beginnings. The social pedagogy programme helped, she says. ‘It gives you new ways to think about things.’

Full article on The Fostering Network