Care experience & culture: a digital archive

‘Care Experience & Culture, a Digital Archive’ is the first of its kind and will feature care experienced literature, spoken word and academic material

Dr Dee Michell and Miss Rosie Canning are delighted to announce a new digital archive Care Experience & Culture. The website will launch 11th April – via Zoom, which will coincide with Care Experience History Month. Invitations to the launch will include an invitation for people to let us know their favourite care-experienced characters represented in foster care, adoption, kinship care or residential settings. ‘We’d like people to join in and advise us on care experienced literature, film, theatre, television, radio and academic material that can be included.’

Although there are occasional ‘success stories’ in the media about care-experienced people, in the main a single story is told about this group, ie, that they are over-represented in the prison, mental ill-health and homeless populations.

Children and young people in social care, and those who have left, are often subject to stigmatisation and discrimination. Being stigmatised and discriminated against can impact negatively on mental health and wellbeing not only during the care experience but often for many years after too.

The project aims to contribute towards changing community attitudes towards care-experienced people as a group. Instead of only being seen through the current single lens (that they are over-represented in the prison, mental ill-health and homeless populations), they will be seen as a creative group, despite (and/or because of) often experiencing hardship and trauma.

Rosie Canning (UK) and Dee Michell (Australia) are scholars with lived experience of care and a lifelong passion for books. They’ve experienced many benefits from reading as a pastime and are aware of the historical representations of care experience over time. Both are influenced by Lemn Sissay’s Origin Stories and Superman was a Foundling exhibition at The Foundling Museum in London. Rosie and Dee are collaborating to develop a Digital Archive, a one-stop accessible site with information about care-experienced characters in fiction and on-screen, as well as care-experienced writers, artists and actors.

For children and young people in care, and their carers, social workers, teachers, and so on, Care Experience & Culture will provide a significant source of material to which children and young people can be directed for characters they can relate to. As Ryan McCuaig who was in care has said, characters like Harry Potter are for those who’ve left care too. He was in his twenties when a conversation with another care-experienced person about Harry Potter made him realise that he “was already part of something bigger” whereas he’d often struggled with not fitting in.

There are many other care-experienced characters the sector may not be aware of but which will be found in the Digital Archive.

Care Experience & Culture will be a boon to educationalists and researchers too. Researchers could, for example, select characters other than Harry Potter and run research projects to find out how children and young people are affected by them. They can also analyse representations of care experience over time and in different fora.

Jamie Crabb, Psychotherapist and care-experienced, will advise on the design and maintenance of the website. Rosie and Dee, would like to thank the The Welland Trust, a charity founded by Jan Rees OBE in 2019, for the financial contribution they have made which has enabled Care Experience & Culture to be launched.  Sarah Saunders a Trustee from the Welland Trust said “we are proud to support the development of such a creative and exciting project that we believe will be of great benefit to many people”. Welland Trust supports projects and initiatives that benefit adults who have experienced care.

How to find us:
Twitter: @CareExp_Culture
Facebook: Care Experience & Culture
Website: 11th March preview and overview of what will be on offer

Taking Hold of Our Heritage: the digital book

This post was provided by Leicestershire Cares.

This book project gave the narrative power back to care-experienced young people so they can tell the stories they want heard about their lives. Care-experienced young people are often required to talk about their traumatic past to professionals, support services and sometimes their peers. Telling the same stories over and over again can start to imprint on their identity and heritage. Young people in care often move several times which can result in photographs and family keepsakes being misplaced and lost.

This project aimed to encourage care-experienced young people to reflect on positive memories to change the narrative they tell about their lives, and recreate their own heritage artefacts. In this book, care-experienced young people have investigated the complex nature of their identity through this project and produced an archive of artefacts including oral histories, art and photovoice.

The young people have investigated the memories and experiences of Leicestershire’s leaving care community, by looking at themselves, but also interviewing and documenting other care-experienced young people’s lives.

The Taking Back Our Heritage project is funded through the Y Heritage project, Leicester, which is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s pioneering “Kick the Dust” funding programme.

The digital book is available for download.

Care review in England: wonder and rigour turn despair into hope

This post was originally published by Leicestershire Cares.

Care review in England: how wonder and rigour can enable our communities to turn despair into hope

The long awaited review into children’s social care has finally been launched and as might have been expected is already subject to “debate” as various stakeholders seek to ensure their views are listened to and heard. For those with lived experience, this is not a mere academic, exercise. Such discussions can open old and current wounds, exacerbate feelings of neglect, hurt and injustice. Which is why it is so important that the voice of care experienced people has a central role in developing and driving the review.

“Services are old, it needs to change and be consistent with today’s environment. Love and feeling wanted does play a big part and it’s ok not to succeed the first time round. But someone needs to be there to help and pick the child or young person up so they can try again. Money does play a part but commitment is vital. Children and young people should feel a part of the community.” Sara, a care-experienced young woman

“Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant sets out a vision for a more local, more human, less bureaucratic, less centralised society in which people are supported and empowered to play an active role in their neighbourhoods.” Danny Kruger, MP

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Poet Amanda Gorman

The long awaited review into children’s social care has finally been launched and as might have been expected is already subject to “debate” as various stakeholders seek to ensure their views are listened to and heard. For those with lived experience, this is not a mere academic, exercise. Such discussions can open old and current wounds, exacerbate feelings of neglect, hurt and injustice. Which is why it is so important that the voice of care experienced people has a central role in developing and driving the review.

Yet, we also know as I have written elsewhere, “Over the last 30 years there have been numerous laws, policy reviews, enquiries and working groups all designed to improve the care and transitional support offered to care experienced young people” and sadly despite, all this effort, investment and good intention the system is still far from perfect. In the words of the Children Rights commissioner “The truth is while the state can be a great parent – it can also be a really bad one. In fact, sometimes so negligent that it would risk having its children taken into care if it was an actual parent.” Why is this? What is going so wrong? Why given all the attention and substantial investment does the care system still fail so many vulnerable children and young people?

I would like to suggest that one of the issues, is that often, debates and discussions about the care system get fixated on the way we currently do things. Much of the so called “thinking” about the system is often just a reworking of existing policy and practice. So, you might often hear calls for more participation, a rights-based approach, greater investment, and more social workers. Which might be summarised as saying if only we invested more heavily in what we already do and think, then things would be much better.

There may well be some truth in that, but I would like to suggest that all too often “social services” is based on a top down model of fixing problems. Elsewhere, I have noted “that many bigger organisations have become over bureaucratic and systematised, and tied into following targets and KPI’s and applying agreed procedures. Risk taking is not encouraged and as such there is a tendency to do things the way they have always been done. This often goes hand in hand with top down management structures. In such a set up staff often focus on compliance and not rocking the boat. In addition, there is often relatively few opportunities for the people who are on the receiving end of services to have influence and control over them.”

As Hilary Cottam in her recent book “Radical Help” suggests, 21st century welfare should “start where you are and instead of commanding change or trying to fix you it offers support to grow capability. It includes as many people as possible given that it is our relationships that help us find work, keep healthy and care for one another.” This approach suggests a much more organic, relationship based approach where people become creators rather than just consumers of services and ideas. Do we need to rethink how social services are structured, could we seek to remove red tape, encourage creativity, partnership and decision making at the point of delivery?

When it comes to prevention, the lockdown has clearly shown, that across our communities, business sector and local authorities there is a huge amount of creativity and commitment that is willing to step up and support those in need. Much of this has been powered by creative use of social media. Neighbours who had never really spoken now belong to community WhatsApp and Facebook groups, where they seek to support each other. As the government’s own levelling up agenda suggests, this local knowledge and creativity is a huge asset. If we can build on this goodwill and mobilise it to support families, children and young people it could be a real force for good. In doing so, we will be showing what many people already know, it takes a village to raise a child.

Could we imagine a system of support for at risk and care experienced children which sought to draw much more strongly on these principles. Where we relooked at the skills and experiences that you need to support vulnerable and isolated young people.  Could we imagine, having groups of inspiring, creative, entrepreneurial staff who can easily build relationships with young people, network across business and communities and build partnerships. Might workers like this, offer that spark that young people often need, to see beyond the immediate and turn despair into hope.

Do we also need to work much harder at having an evidence based approach to developing and evaluating services? Do we need to ask questions as to why some councils seem to perform much better than others in similar circumstances? With the commissioning of services now so much part of the job, are we confident that commissioners have the skills and abilities to negotiate good deals, are we confident that providers have the best interest of the children at heart?

Are we confident, that councils and charities are willing and able to take risks, to trial new approaches, knowing that some will fail, or is there a tendency to go with the way it has always been done? Are we confident that there is an institutional commitment to reflection and learning across the statutory and voluntary providers, or is much reporting, a red tape compliant, box ticking exercise? Are we confident that managers across social services, have the skill set so they, can motivate, inspire, deal with under performance and spot and develop talent? Are we confident that local councillors understand what being a corporate parent means and are passionate in their efforts to ensure “their” looked after children get the best support and provision possible?

If we really are going to review children’s services then we do need to step back from “group think” and be prepared to open our minds. This does not mean we do not have our say but does mean we are humble enough to know we all have much to learn from others.

At Leicestershire cares, we believe that creativity, agility, kindness and empathy are the heart and soul of being able to develop, deliver and adapt effective services. In her book “The creativity leap” Natalie Nixon, set out how humans are hard wired to be creative. Inquiry, improvisation and intuition are the building blocks that lead to creativity and these are competencies that can be learnt. Her definition of creativity is the ability to toggle between two different capacities — wonder and rigor. Wonder is the ability to be awed and “ask big audacious questions, and rigour is the realm of “discipline, practice, skill, and honing your technique by spending lots of time on tasks.” Creativity requires analytical rigor, according to Nixon, “and analysis requires a capacity for wonder.”

Surely, we all owe it to our children to look at the care system with wonder and rigour, putting aside, “egos, silos and logos” in the knowledge that none of us have all the answers but all of us have the answers. If we can strive to do this whilst, ensuring the best interest of the child and not our organisations are paramount, then I am confident we can offer our children and young people a far brighter future.


Kieran Breen has worked in development in Africa, Latin, Central, North America and the UK. He is currently the CEO of Leicestershire Cares and lectures on youth and global issues at De Montfort University.

From Foster Carers for Foster Carers

From Foster Carers for Foster Carers provides resources for foster carers to respond to challenges and barriers raised in foster caring as well as to share experiences, strategies and advice for other foster carers in regard to the key recommendations generated in current research. Here you will find blogs, advice pages and top tips for successfully supporting children and young people in care in both school and further education.

Book image

Working hand in hand: a new magazine for foster carers
The Fostering Network in collaboration with Cardiff University have developed a magazine for foster carers… Read more

Young person with laptop sitting outside

Self harm and foster carers’ role
The workshop looked at self-harm and suicide amongst care experienced young people… Read more

Image of school and art supplies

Experiences at school for fostered children at home
The ways in which school can be a ‘hostile environment’ for fostered children and young people… Read more

Two people hugging

You can be the once to make all the difference!
Thousands of foster carers provide loving and stable families for their foster children, but don’t have the confidence to speak out… Read more

Two women meeting

School meetings: be prepared
Many foster carers attend meetings with schools as part of their role… Read more

School meetings: be prepared!

Many foster carers attend meetings with schools as part of their role. The below list is a reflection of all the things that I have found useful over the years, from the meetings I’ve attended. I hope these points will act as a guide and a checklist for other foster carers, and support them in the future, when preparing for a meeting.

  • Write a list of questions you want answered.
  • Ensure you will be speaking to someone who can make things change or implement new ideas (Deputy Head, Assistant Head, Head of Year (minimum)).
  • Ensure you have the contact details of people in the meeting.
  • Take notes at any meetings, who is doing what and by when, and why.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak. If necessary take a deep breath.
  • Ensure your facts are correct, if in doubt say I believe, I was told, I understood.
  • Always chase up actions not completed by the school, and let the school know of results you have.
  • Ensure you action anything you say you are going to do or let someone know why it is not happening.
  • Take social workers along to meetings.
  • Keep your social worker updated.
  • Be prepared to take managers along to meetings.
  • Befriend receptionists – they can often get you in at short notice.
  • Be prepared to acknowledge your child is not always co-operative at school.
  • Sanctions/consequences for actions that happen in school stay in school.
  • Let your child know when you are going to school and why.
  • When incidents have occurred ensure you have all the details. Names, places, actions etc.
  • Be prepared to defend or acknowledge your child’s actions.
  • Be prepared to explain actual age vs emotional age or developmental age.
  • Ensure your logs reflect the meeting accurately.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask. School speak takes some getting used to.
  • Try and foster a good relationship with the school, however, your child comes first and if necessary, sacrifice the relationship for the good of the child.
  • Any child can go to any school by law.
  • Know your rights.

Advice for young people in meetings is also available in the Getting Your Voice Heard in Your Review Meeting guide.

Self harm and foster carers’ role

December’s ExChange workshop was a collaboration between Colin Turner from The Fostering Network, Dr Rhiannon Evans and Stephen Jennings from DECIPHer. The workshop looked at self-harm and suicide amongst care experienced young people. The focus was on the experiences of foster carers and residential workers and the support needed for management and prevention.

The session began with an introduction by Colin Turner, the director in Wales at The Fostering Network. He discussed that The Fostering Network has supported the research and circulated reports they had published on “Emotional and mental health of looked after children in wales”:

“1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder. For children looked after it’s 1 in 5. Young people leaving care are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide.”

Colin talked about his role as a foster carer. Having trained as a social worker and spent much of his career in social care, Colin and his wife were inspired by other Foster Carers and adopters to become carers themselves, particularly for children with complex needs:

“I really believed I knew what it was like to be a foster carer,but honestly I didn’t have a clue. There were challengesand difficulties I didn’t see coming.”

Colin discussed his direct experience of fostering young people and children that struggled with self-harm. His talk was emotive and passionate and really highlighted the vital role of Foster Carers. Colin discussed the importance of training and support for Foster Carers. He learnt many management techniques to support his foster children by talking to more experienced Foster Carers, and of the importance and challenges of working with other agencies, such as CAMHS or schools to put the necessary things in place.

Colin highlighted the need to consider the language used with and around children and young people. Finally he talked about how important it was for Foster Carers to take care of themselves. What is the risk of thoughts of suicide, suicide attempt and suicide amongst care-experienced children and young people? This session was led by Dr Rhiannon Evans from DECIPHer sharing the findings and discussions from her own research.

Some facts from the research:

  • In 2017 there were 72,670 “looked-after” children in England (3% increase 2016) and 5,954 in Wales (6% increase 2016).
  • Children and young people who have experienced care may be at elevated risk of suicide-related outcomes: More than 3 times as likely to attempt suicide as non-care populations.
  • Children and young people more likely to be exposed to known risk factors for suicide-related outcomes: More than 5 times as likely to have a diagnosable mental health condition.
  • Maltreatment (such as physical abuse/sexual abuse/supervisory neglect) is a risk factor for suicide attempt.
  • There remains limited evidence if pre-care or care exposure is the main risk for suicide-related outcomes.

How do foster carers and residential carers understand self-harm amongst the children and young people they care for, and how do these understandings inform their approach to management and prevention?

Rhiannon discussed how carers defined self-harm, their understandings of why children and young people in their care self-harmed and their strategies for management.

Defining self-harm: Serious vs superficial;

Authentic vs inauthentic; Invisible vs visible

The challenge is that superficial is sometimes seen as attention seeking, but any self-harm should be taken seriously. Key themes for understanding self-harm: Survival: Resistance, role conflict and chaosSignalling: Relationship rituals, relationship repairSecurity: Can you keep me safe? And emotional safety “Some young people may use self-harm after an incidentto show they need help. It may be a way of testingrelationships – testing whether a carer willshow nurture and keep them safe”

Management Strategies:

Carers focus on socially informed understanding of self-harm, about relationships, rather than the bio-medical approach of clinicians.

This includes developing safe and trusting relationships; emotionally open and available relationships; acceptance of their place in the care system.

“We need to pay more attention to how different groups understand the causes of self-harm and how it informs practice”

Workshop Discussion

How do we currently prevent/manage self-harm and suicide among care-experienced children & young people? What are the challenges with current approaches?

“Information sharing”

“safety plan”

“Coming together to share concern – collective working together”

“Core of all growing up is relationships, carers play a huge part in this”

“We’re fighting fires not focusing on prevention”

Ways forward?

“Considering societal factors, understanding self-harm in terms of relationships.”

“Realistic risk assessments, not treating children differently.”

“Looking at new technology or apps that can be used to support young people. Communicate with them in a way they’re comfortable. Not always expecting children and young people to conform to adult processes.”

“Formality doesn’t always work, we hear more from young people in the car or when out for a walk, not in formal review meetings.”

“There is a huge gap in support for kinship carers.”

How do carers work with social care and health professionals to manage and prevent self-harm, and how can current inter-professional working be improved?

The final session was run by Stephen Jennings, discussing his research findings. Stephen discussed the experiences of foster and residential carers working with other professionals to manage and prevent self-harm.

The main points introduced:

The perceptions of expert knowledge: Carers had mixed feelings about expertise, where they either deferred to or contested the theoretical knowledge of clinicians. Carers provided alternative perspectives on expertise based around familiarity.

Feeling marginalised within inter-professional teams: Carers felt their contributions were often not valued and recognised.

Experience of stigma: Young people’s complex health needs left both them and carers stigmatised at hospital visits after self-harm.

Positive accounts, where rapport has been established with other professionals involved: Where carers could demonstrate that they had expertise and a valuable contribution to make, this led to positive working in inter-professional teams, and this was often the result of longer-term relationships.

The session was wrapped up thinking about some final points. Carers make a distinct contribution in terms of preventing and managing self-harm, and they should be given a voice and an opportunity to contribute to decisions which affect those they care for. Foster and residential carers view themselves as professionals, and their perspectives should be considered as such by others working within these teams. Either formal qualifications or informal status raising for carers were seen as potential ways of improving self-harm management and prevention in inter-professional teams.

The workshop allowed for some interesting discussions on attendees’ current professional strategies and the research posed some interesting questions that need to be considered in practice. The inclusion of the lived experience of a foster carer bought to life all of the positives, challenges and realities of caring for children or young people with complex needs. It grounded the research findings in some first-hand stories that I was thoroughly captivated by. It was a real privilege to hear and learn from these experiences.


Transitions from care to adulthood: Persistent issues across time and place

External event

When: 8 March 2021, 17:00 – 18:00

The seminar has three aims. First, setting the historical context for leaving care policy and practice in six high and middle-income countries over the last 150 years. Second, identifying ‘common concerns’, including poor outcomes; abuse within care; and systemic injustices. Third, the seminar will introduce ‘enduring issues’: conflicting perspectives around the purpose of care; concerns about encouraging welfare dependency and abuse, powerlessness and lack of agency. The seminar will conclude with reflections on progress (or lack of it) over time and across cultures.

External event

Berlin Declaration: Leaving Care Entitlement

In Germany, as in other countries, care leavers need a “leaving care” entitlement in order to strengthen their legal position in youth welfare services for the transition to adult life and to further develop transitional support on a broad basis.

Institute for Social and Organisational Education, University of Hildesheim

From Young People for Young People

These blogs, films, and advice materials were created by young people for young people. The content has been supported with help from CASCADE Voices – a group of young people associated with Voices from Care Cymru, Youth Fostering Ambassadors – a group of young people associated with The Fostering Network, Tribe – a group of young people involved in the Reaching Wider ‘Diamond Project’ at Swansea University, and other care-experienced young people.

Leicester Cares ran a social media campaign #CareDay20 #Reimagining asking for responses to the questions “I want a care system that…” and “I’m different because…” to highlight the issues care experienced young people face, but also the aspirations they have for the care system and their lives. These were the responses from young people:

Find out more about this social media campaign.

Postcard resources created by young people, in association with Voices From Care Cymru, as part of the CASCADE Voices research advisory group and with Tribe – a group of young people involved in the Reaching Wider ‘Diamond Project’ at Swansea University.

Postcards created by young people, in association with Voices From Care Cymru and CASCADE Voices.

Care Leaver Sophia

Watch videos by Care Leaver Sophia, an Oxford graduate who left care three years ago. She is passionate about educating people who are both in the system and outside the system on what being a foster carer is like. She started her YouTube Channel after discovering there was a lack of resources available related to care leavers. Sophia is currently working on her Master’s degree and will be posting a video every fortnight.

Understanding higher education experiences of care-experienced young people

Understanding the higher education experiences of care-experienced young people in Wales

It is widely known that care experienced young people in Wales and the UK more widely experience poorer outcomes in a wide range of factors than their peers who do not have experience of social care. These factors include health, poverty and early pregnancy, as well as education. As a result of educational research such as the Diamond Review, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are providing more support to care leavers in order to improve their access to university. However, despite a greater understanding of the barriers that this group face in continuing their education to university level, there has been little evidence of whether this support is effective.

This research project aims to understand university support and interventions in Wales that target care experienced young people – and assess the effectiveness of these support systems and interventions. These findings, along with data regarding numbers of care leavers attending Welsh universities, will be used to develop a model of best practice and practical guidance for care experienced young people and the people and organisations who support them in their education. Importantly, the research aims to understand and give voice to the experiences of care experienced young people who have been through the process of making decisions about their continued education, and we are looking for care experienced participants aged 14+ to take part and share their experiences with us.

If any young people you care for or work with might be interested in taking part, please get in touch. Participation can take the form of an interview or focus group, something more creative, or filling out an online questionnaire. All young people who take part in an interview or focus group, or make something creative, will receive an Amazon or Love2Shop voucher to say thank you for their time and input. For more details see the project information summary for young people and contact:

Hannah Bayfield
CASCADE, Cardiff University