An innovative new form of fostering could save Southampton's most troubled teenagers from a life of crime and self-destruction. KATE THOMPSON finds out more...

AN ELITE team of foster carers are being recruited to take on the important role of caring full-time for some of Southampton's most challenging teenagers.

The victims of broken homes and failed foster placements, these youngsters can face a life of crime and despair, but an intensive new approach to their welfare could save them from becoming just another statistic.

At the moment, many of them are being looked after in residential care homes outside the city with placements costing up to £5,000 a week.

But now the city has been chosen to run a pilot programme for so-called treatment foster care - and, if it is successful, the scheme could roll out over the whole country.

"We are talking about the most complex young people who are causing the most concerns to agencies like ourselves and the police.

"If they are not offered this extra support, these young people could be at extra risk in the community of offending and becoming involved in things like drugs.

"We are trying to offer these young people an opportunity to cope with society better than they can at the moment," said project manager Alison Hook.

"It is about giving young people the opportunity to become more skilled and develop their own self-worth.

"A lot of this is common sense but we just haven't had the funding to set up the team to do this before."

The government has given the city £400,000 to run the new scheme and the money will pay for a team of experts to support the treatment foster carers who will be paid around £25,000 a year to look after a teenager.

Round-the-clock support will be offered to the foster carers from social workers, therapists, teaching staff and other experts.

Drawing on the success of the original programme in Oregon, the Southampton scheme will be monitored by a team at Maudesley Hospital in London.

As well as offering intensive care to the youngster, their birth family will also be involved in the process - whether or not the youngster is due to return to their care.

"In Oregon they found they got better results if they worked separately with the youngster and their family.

"It is quite a controversial way of working because it is based on a behaviour management programme that focuses very much on positive aspects of their behaviour - they would earn privileges," said Alison.

Service manager for children and families, Sue Allan, said the pilot was a "fantastic opportunity for the city".

"Any period of stability we can create for these children will bring huge benefits.

"We are very excited about this - it is our opportunity to do what we have always said we wanted to do if we were properly resourced.

"By paying these carers around £25,000 a year, we should be able to raise the status of caring.

"At the moment we have ten children in residential care outside the city and we believe most of them could be included in this treatment foster care programme," she said.

In Oregon, treatment foster care has been used as an alternative to custody for young offenders and it is understood the Home Office is investigating whether a similar system could be developed in this country.

Alison and her team are looking for special people to take on the role of treatment foster carers - and in return for their commitment, they will receive unparalleled support from the care team.

"We are looking for people who may already have experience of fostering, working in a residential setting or working with adults with challenging behaviour.

"They will be part of a team caring for this young person and they will receive 24-hour-a-day support.

"These carers are the impetus of the programme and they are crucial to its success.

"They will be phoned every day to see how things are going and that data will be fed back to the team at the Maudesley.

"We are looking at taking on seven treatment foster carers for six young people - one of those carers will offer respite.

"We will be working very closely with the schools as well so we can offer a curriculum that is relevant for the young person."

For more information on fostering go to: