The creation of the 'Replenish' box and how it's supporting foster carers to look after black children
Meet James and Sarah, who over the past year have created the ‘Replenish’ box, filled with products to look after the hair and skin of black children in foster care. We learn more about Replenish and the meaning behind it.
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 why Replenish exists. 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.’
Many foster carers voiced 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 evident 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 only serve as practical help, but an educational piece – I wanted to teach foster carers which products should be used, why and where to find them.’
The meaning behind the boxes
In our conversation, both James and Sarah are keen to emphasise the meaning behind the Replenish boxes, which are each ‘made with love.’ They explain that using these products and discovering 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 vital when transitioning into adulthood.
Children and young people have been kept at the heart of Replenish from the very start. 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 also 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 looked after 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.
Working together to drive change
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 explain how it’s not usually common practice for foster carers and services to work together in this way. James says: ‘Typically, the fostering service come up with the “solutions” and the foster carer looks after the child. But this is an example of us working together to drive change. It reinforces that foster carers are an advocate for the children they look after.’
Going on to speak about the future of Replenish, they have a plan to ensure the use of the products is 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 give 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.
Learning about Replenish makes it clear that the boxes are so much more than skin and haircare, but part of maintaining a child’s identity – we can’t wait to see where it goes next.
You can find out more about starting your own Replenish boxes by contacting: ReplenishCulture@gmail.com
Create your own Replenish box
Detangler – these make it easier to work out any knots in the hair. They are perfect for softening the hair and allowing you to work through it easier with minimal damage. Natural hair should always be moisturised before being manipulated.
Curling pudding or moisturisers – they are used to help style afro, kinky and coily hair. The product nourishes the hair allowing it to appear shinier, elongated and less frizzy. This can be used on all different types of hair to define curls.
Leave-in conditioner – to add hydration and moisture, which afro hair needs, allowing it to remain strong and healthy. It can be used as a good detangler to prevent breakage when manipulating the hair and should be used every other day.
Bonnets and durags – covering the hair overnight prevents it from breaking during movement whilst asleep, and also stops hair oils from clogging pores and creating spots. Wearing a bonnet or durag will also make hairstyles last longer.
Detangling tools - these have been created to reduce the amount of damage while detangling the hair. They are soft on curls and get the job done.
Skin butter- body butters and lotions are great at hydrating the skin and making it appear smoother and soft. Skin butters can last for hours to maintain health skin.