A SCHEME that takes some of the stress out of fostering for carers and young people is to expand across Oxfordshire.

The Government has handed Oxfordshire County Council's 'Mockingbird Family Model' £328,309, which will increase the number of 'Hub Homes' from two to five in the next three years.

The hubs are run by experienced foster carers and create a 'wider family' who can help out with last minute care.

They also offer advice, training and social activities for foster carers and young people in care.

Jenny Barney, who has fostered almost 100 children over 20 years, is leader of one of the existing hubs.

She said: "I can focus on a few families and give them a lot more quality support.

"For the young people in particular it is important.

"In the older system if a carer wanted relief care the child would go away sometimes to carers they did not know, because there was a lack of carers.

"That was stressful for carers, knowing their young people were going to strangers.

"This system means young people have a regular place to go to and it is familiar."

Relief care can be needed if a child's regular foster family has a family emergency, for example.

Mrs Barney would then step in to look after the child, who she will already know from the hub, on a short term basis.

The Kidlington resident said: "We call them sleepovers because we are an extended family.

"You go for a sleepover at your aunt's, not relief care.

"I would like to think the hub homes will encourage more people to foster.

"There has always been support but these are smaller groups and it is more personal."

The county council was one of seven local authorities chosen to pilot the Mockingbird Family Model in 2015.

The extended family model at each hub sees foster carers and children take part in social activities together such as bowling.

The experience of hub home carers such as Mrs Barney help other foster families to overcome any problems before they escalate.

County council deputy director for safeguarding Lara Patel said: "This really fantastic news for foster families.

"Fostering is a hugely rewarding but challenging role for anyone to take on and carers often need some extra support. "While all foster carers already have a range of support services available to them, the ability to come together – effectively as an extended family unit - with regular relief care and round-the-clock support is something really special."

There are 470 Oxfordshire children in foster placements, but a lack of spaces means that 140 are with fostering agencies rather than the local authority.

The Government funding was secured in partnership with The Fostering Network, which provides advice to current and prospective carers.

Its director of operations Melissa Green said: "We are delighted to be partnering with Oxfordshire on this exciting new phase of the Mockingbird programme. "This is an excellent opportunity to provide fostering services with an effective, innovative, self-sustainable programme."