Feel Good

Inspired by the John Lewis Christmas advert, we chat to a local foster carer

And it turns out, there’s a new development in South Tyneside’s foster care system that’s worth shouting about.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 16.11.2022

If you’re anything like us, you choked up when you watched this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert for the first time.

And we don’t mean that flippantly. We all know by now that this particular advertising slot has become renowned for plucking at the heart strings – be that with the man on the moon, two snowmen in love, the bear and the hare, or even excitable Edgar the dragon.

But this year’s instalment felt more poignant, more urgent than ever. Released last week, the advert sees a couple getting ready to welcome a foster child into their home. But while the woman is focused on the more administrative duties associated with fostering, the man decides to take up skateboarding – because he knows the young girl coming to them is passionate about the sport.

A slowed-down rendition of ‘All The Small Things’ (performed by Postmodern Jukebox but made famous by Blink 182) plays in the background, subtly nodding to the fact that it’s the little efforts on our part to make Christmas magical – and to make a house a home – that often have the biggest impact.

But the call to action at the end of the advert is what really set the lump in our throats: over 108,000 children in the UK are currently in the care system.

108,000 children.

It breaks our heart that so many children don’t have the love, comfort and security that a permanent home brings.

But hope is not yet lost.


While none of us have the power to stop children from entering the care system, some of us do have the power to ensure that system is performing at the top of its level so that these children are given the best care, the most stability and the greatest protection.

Recently, those working in the sector have been particularly busy behind-the-scenes to establish an innovative new fostering model to do just that – and it’s already proven so successful it is to be expanded again in South Tyneside.

The Mockingbird model, delivered by leading fostering charity The Fostering Network, is based on the concept of the extended family and will see its third ‘constellation’ in the North East launch this week.

Pioneered in America, the Mockingbird model has been shown to be effective in helping foster carers overcome challenges in improving the lives of foster children by building positive links with other families in their designated ‘constellation’.

The constellations are led by a hub home foster carer who offers vital peer support and guidance to ‘satellite carers’, alongside social activities to strengthen relationships and permanence.


The hub carer in the third constellation is South Shields local Michelle Deeley: a single mam with a nine-year-old daughter.

Michelle is care experienced, having spent time in a children’s home and in foster homes as a child, and is keen to give something back.

‘When I was 16, I was placed with the most amazing foster carer who became my mam and is nana to all the foster children I have cared for,’ Michelle tells us. ‘The fact that she gave me a chance made me want to give other children the same opportunity I had.

‘As I have been in care myself, I feel I have a different level of understanding compared to people who haven’t had that experience, and that enables me to connect with foster children well and empathise with them.’

Michelle was one of the satellite carers in the first constellation of the Mockingbird model in South Tyneside, which allowed her to care for a sibling group of three.

‘Mockingbird is fantastic,’ she says. ‘Having the extended support made such a big difference, particularly in emergency situations. Now, I just want to give back. I’ll miss not having any foster children of my own to care for, but by being a hub carer for South Tyneside I will be able to help more than just one family.’


The first Mockingbird model in South Tyneside was for young children while the second was for teenagers. This latest model will be for children of mixed ages, as well as those with disabilities.

Thanks to the community support Mockingbird provides, 26 South Tyneside children in the first two constellations have been provided with secure and stable families. The breakdown of relationships has been avoided, meaning more of the Borough’s children can grow up with the stability they deserve. It has also meant that more groups of siblings have been able to stay together.

‘I would have loved to have been able to talk to other children in care when I was growing up,’ Michelle continues. ‘I think being a hub carer for this latest model will be more challenging, but I’m determined to make it work.’

We also caught up with Councillor Adam Ellison, Lead Member for Children, Young People and Families, about the introduction of this third iteration of Mockingbird.

‘The Mockingbird model has proven to be very effective in South Tyneside,’ he told us. ‘By giving our foster children and their carers a unique extended family, who can share their advice and experiences, we are able to provide more stable placements.

‘We know that fostering brings huge rewards, but it can also be challenging. Mockingbird has played a crucial role in helping more carers continue their fostering journey as well as helping the children they care for.’


South Tyneside Council is always keen to hear from people interested in fostering.

To find out more about fostering, visit their website or contact the fostering service by email or on 0191 423 8500

And you can also watch a video about the Mockingbird model in South Tyneside on YouTube


Other stories by Becky Hardy

Thinking about a ski holiday in Switzerland?

Becky Hardy

Calling all aspiring writers: Faber Academy has arrived in Newcastle

Becky Hardy

Why seaweed can stop you feeling tired all the time

Becky Hardy

4 Grantley Hall spa breaks and wellness retreats

Becky Hardy

The biggest risks to pelvic floor problems and how to avoid them

Becky Hardy

January’s walk of the month: Happy Valley circular

Becky Hardy