Niki Freckelton, Officer for Children Looked After, Virtual School, Southampton City Council

'Someone is sending me parcels in the post. Someone has remembered me.' That’s the kind of thing I often hear from talking to children in foster care who have received a BookTrust parcel.' says Niki Freckelton, an officer for Children Looked After from Southampton City Council.

'It’s hard to imagine how far reaching the effects of receiving parcels addressed to you in the post can be, but if you are a child in foster care and not living with your family or have had to move home several times, receiving something in the post can make you feel safe and valued, something many children in foster care struggle to feel. That sense of someone picking me to receive a gift is really special for children.'

'Each child receives a parcel of books every month, for six months between May and October.' explains Niki. 'Children are excited to receive the parcels, they start to anticipate what’s coming and their eyes light up when they arrive. We get excellent feedback from their carers, social workers and from the children themselves'.

Impact of book parcels

'As well as owning their own books, we do see great individual improvements in children. Some might see progress in their reading level, others might choose to read more or find it easier to engage with books and reading. One foster carer told me that she now reads to her foster child at different points in the day, not just at bedtime. That’s what is so positive about the parcels, that each child has a unique experience.'

Individual councils can choose to purchase the BookTrust parcels for their Looked After Children. 'We have a limited amount of resources, so we have to be able to demonstrate the difference the parcels make, in order to be able to secure the funding. We use evidence from carers, feedback from social workers and school visits, where we talk directly to the children about their views, in order to be able to show its impact.'

Importance of books and reading

Niki explains why books and reading are so important for children. 'For Looked After Children, books can open up their world. They can help explain things, build empathy, or help children to understand different situations. Some children may be struggling and, books enable an adult carer to spend time together with a child, to make them feel safe and comfortable. We often hear that books make children feel calmer and children themselves say the Letterbox Club is amazing and the books are lovely and inspiring.'

Working with BookTrust on book selections

Through her role, Niki also takes part in BookTrust’s selection panels where teachers, foster carers and care leavers come together with BookTrust staff to choose the books to be included in BookTrust’s resources.

'I absolutely love the book selection days, they are my favourite working days. It’s a lovely to have the opportunity to ensure the books sent to children are not just high quality but also a good fit for a child who might be dealing with difficult circumstances. We try to ensure the books, stories and characters themselves don’t act as a trigger for a child and present positive experiences that may reflect their own. It’s really important that children see themselves in books, they can offer such a deep and meaningful reflection of someone’s life.'