During this time of pandemic, we reflect on, and are thankful for, the relationships we have with our family, guardians, friends and other important people in our lives. The desire for warmth and connection becomes much more apparent as we are unable to meet with many of our loved ones in our usual ways.

It brings us to reflect on our most recent ExChange Wales conference in November last year; ‘All you need is love? Reflection on relationships in the care system’, at The Village Hotel, Swansea. We were delighted to have Chris Dunn, Voices from Care Cymru and Dr Alyson Rees, Assistant Director of CASCADE as co-chairs of this event.

The opening address from Chris posed the question ‘What does love mean to you?’. Covering the importance and the power of the word ‘love’ and how, in many professional settings, it is sometimes an ‘uncomfortable’ word. Chris encouraged delegates to lean into this feeling ‘The care-experienced community are calling out for this, to feel loved’.

Linda Briheim-Crookall joined us from Coram Voice, talking about the Bright Spots programme, a partnership between Coram Voice, Oxford University and the Hadley Trust to help local authorities ensure that the views of care-experienced children and young people influence services and development. Bright Spots poses the central question ‘What makes life good?’. Linda pointed out that many of the important indicators identified by participants are linked to the concept of love; to trust and be trusted, pets, spaces that give belonging and friends.

Michael Arribas-Ayllon, Cardiff University delivered a passionate presentation about the era of the ‘Social Brain’. Michael talked about science vs myth when it comes to the resilience and plasticity of the brain. Michael put forward the case that current focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) is in conflict with what science tells us about the ability of the brain to adapt and to continue to develop into adulthood.

The weight given to ACE’s is now under scrutiny by some in the academic and social care community. Michael asks, ‘Are we subscribing to a view of biological fatalism?’. Is there no hope of recovery for people who have had adverse childhood experiences? Is it ever really too late?


Rebecca Jones & Bryn Morgan, Barnardo’s Cymru

Kinship care: Maintaining and strengthening family relationships for children, Lorna Stabler CASCADE

Gloria Kirwan from Maynooth University talked to us about the importance of the role of the Keyworker for care-experienced young people. The types of relationships are varied: some young people felt that their keyworker was a trusted and secure source of support; others felt that they [the keyworker] were ‘just in here to get paid’.

Gloria suggested looking at the expectations of both the key worker and the care-experienced young person, and that we should be guided by their needs. The final thought evoked a lot of feelings – will you be the ‘torch-bearer’ for the young people you work with?

Rosie Moore and Joanna McCreadie detailed the process and initial findings of Scotland’s Independent Care Review and in particular ‘Love’ as a key theme that emerged from it.

In response a specific LOVE work group was established as part of the review, centring around four main themes:

  • Empowering Staff & Professional Autonomy
  • Stability, Security & Relationships
  • Physical Touch
  • Developing confidence & comfort in the wider sector.

Rosie and Joanna demonstrated how Scotland is leading in thinking and progress for a better care system. The aim: ‘to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up’. Visit Scotland’s Independent Care Review for further resources. Please note that we are unable to publish presentation due to sensitive materials.

ExChange Wales would like to thank our chairpersons, all presenters and delegates for taking the time to attend and contribute to this conference.