Foster Carer Initiative Which Keeps Families Together Hailed as a Lifeline

20th April 2023

“It literally was a lifeline. It let me be a mother again to my two daughters.”  The thoughts of a mother, Noeleen Thomas, who four years ago was able to avail of a new initiative “Step Up Step Down” which is the brainchild of The Fostering Network in partnership with the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust.

Step Up Step Down involves Family Support Foster Carers working closely with families as and when they need them, in order to keep families together and prevent children entering the care system. Parents who have used the service insists it really works because Foster Carers step up and step down but they never step away.

Since it was introduced seven years ago, it has significantly reduced the number of children taken into care, making a real difference to the lives of children and families in the South Eastern Trust area. This child-centred, trauma-informed service has helped more than 180 children on the edge of care, to stay together with their birth families.

Noeleen Thomas described the Step Up Step Down service as a vital tool to help her and her family stay together.  She said, “ Step Up Step Down was a lifeline, it pulled me out of a dark place, my family was falling apart and I thought I was failing as a parent.  The service helped support me and made me aware I was not failing as a parent, I was struggling.  They put tools in place for me and showed me how to work with the children.  Adeline came into our lives and made us a family again.

“The future is so exciting, I no longer dread every day,  Step Up Step Down has given us our lives back, we are very grateful for that and most importantly to Adeline for all her support.”

Makaylah Thomas highlighted the benefits the service provided to her and explained, “Adeline was so lovely, she was really patient with us.  I think more families should have the opportunity to benefit from the service and to know there are people out there that can support them on their journey.”

Family Support Foster Carer, Adeline Lansdell who helped Noeleen added, ”I have been working in Step Up Step Down for five years now and it has been a privilege to have supported Noeleen, Rebekah and Makaylah over the last number of years.  I would love to see this service rolled out across Northern Ireland, to provide extra support to families that need it most.”

In recent years, many families have been under increasing strain in our communities, with more children than ever requiring care and support from Social Services and external agencies. Since the pandemic, there has been a 6% increase in the number of children who require to be looked after by Foster Carers or in residential care provision.

The aim of Step Up Step Down is to nurture the whole family, enabling parents to build and sustain positive relationships with their children, develop meaningful connections in their local communities, combat social isolation and develop a sense of belonging.

Deputy Permanent Secretary, Department of Health, Peter Toogood, praised the initiative as “visionary” adding, “This is exactly the type of transformative care that we need in Northern Ireland. This is a great example of thinking differently.”

The National Lottery Community Fund which provided funding for the service for the last seven years is pleased to see the Trust moving to embed Step Up, Step Down fully into its mainstream provision.

Head of Fostering, Adoption and Permanence in the South Eastern Trust, Nuala Hanna hopes this vital service, which is now being piloted in Wales, will be rolled out across Northern Ireland. “This service is special because it really works. Families tell us all the time how supported they feel, we see children flourishing safely within their families, rather than coming into care and we can see the difference it makes, keeping families together. We are delighted to be continuing to deliver Step Up Step Down, in partnership with The Fostering Network, as part of our mainstream provision.”

The Head of Step Up, Step Down with The Fostering Network, Jade Irwin said, “The Fostering Network is immensely proud of this service. Along with the Trust, the Family Support Foster Carers and the families are working together in true partnership, we see outcomes which are transformational, long-lasting, and positive for children and families.

“At the heart of this award-winning service is specialist, highly trained Family Support Foster Carers, who provide parent mentoring and short breaks for children, for up to four families at any one time. The model is flexible, and needs-led, offering wraparound support to families, literally “stepping up” when they require additional support, and “stepping down” when they have a higher capacity to cope and flourish but crucially, not stepping away.”

To mark the success and integration of the pilot programme into mainstream Trust provision, a joint celebration event took place in the Great Hall in Downshire Hospital.

Attending the event and hearing about the success of the service, Director of The National Lottery Community Fund, Kate Beggs stated, “We are proud of the difference the Step Up Step Down service has made over the last seven years and the strength of the partnership the Fostering Network has built with the South Eastern Trust. I am delighted that the service will now be rolled out in the Trust and further afield so many more families will get the same support.

“National Lottery players can be proud to know the £30 million they raise each week for good causes, is making such a difference to people in Northern Ireland.”

The success of the service has also been recognised further afield with the Welsh Government and The KPMG Foundation funding SUSD pilots in two local authorities in Wales this year.

For further information on Step Up Step Down, visit: The Fostering – Step-Up-Step-Down or email Nuala Hanna/Jade Irwin: or