Mind Matters: How tackling loneliness taught us the power of community among care leavers

‘You gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others – normally family type of trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.’
Mind Matters participant

Poor mental wellbeing is commonly associated with care-experienced young people. Their experiences in lacking positive family or peer groups support can also introduce a sense of loneliness. But positive activities can help to shift the state of mind to a brighter outlook.

Our Mind Matters project was launched in 2020 after Leicester City Council asked Leicestershire Cares to explore the mental wellbeing needs of local care-experienced young people. After one year of the project these are our findings:

Co-production of Mind Matters

Leicestershire Cares set up a consultation team made up of five care-experienced young people to develop the initial plan for the project’s purpose (strengthen their resilience and wellbeing), its scope, deliverables and its name. We held three meetings to discuss the project and what it could deliver for young people, including discussions of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and isolation, high levels of boredom, lack of connectivity and poor eating habits. Ideas for the Fakeaways, crafternoons and regular online social sessions emerged from these discussions. This co-production model gave the care-experienced young people tools as well as ownership of the solutions that would help to improve their wellbeing.

Online activities

At the start of lockdown, we quickly moved our support online and provided young people with data SIMs and/or laptops to ensure they could access digital activities. When Mind Matters started in July 2021, we already had a few months’ experience of delivering engaging virtual activities and built on this to ensure that Mind Matters was a success. We used our findings from our ‘Life Under Lockdown’ report (May 2020) to create a programme that would be robust, practical and inclusive. Crafternoons engaged eight young people in a six-week programme of arts and crafts activities on Zoom, along with a facilitator who encouraged them to use arts and crafts as a way of improving wellbeing. The young people reported feeling more relaxed, less anxious, and enjoyed learning a new hobby together.

Doing these activities [arts and craft sessions] allows me spread my creativity to others and that is my passion. As I have anxiety, I don’t cope well in groups but having a thing to do, takes your mind off of being in a group and you just start having conversations with people.
Mind Matters participant

Fakeaways was a great success. This fortnightly Zoom cooking session – taught by a professional cooking tutor from the Adult Education Centre, involved young people making healthy versions of the takeaways they had been buying during lockdown. The young people were then empowered to run the sessions themselves, sharing recipes that connected them to their estranged families and heritage and promoting conversations about their shared lived experience.

We had 12 regular attendees at Fakeaways, and occasionally more, and the session feedback was very positive, reporting improved confidence, money saving, healthier eating and weight loss. Those with children noted that cooking together helped to improve their relationship with their child.

The confidence I have gained cooking for myself is incredible. I never thought I would be able to make tasty dishes for under £10 and really enjoy them too!
Mind Matters participant

I have saved so much money not buying microwave meals and getting rid of my fear of feeling I can’t cook. Thank you!
Mind Matters participant

Coming out of lockdown

Young people joined weekly online Chill & Chat sessions featuring film nights, quizzes, and general chats. In the autumn we were able to hold socially distanced outdoor activities, including picnics, healthy eating sessions at a local community allotment, an outdoor Christmas party, a barbecue, canoeing at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, wood carving and gardening projects. In total, over 30 young people took part in these activities, the majority of whom said that they had helped them reconnect with other young people and feel less isolated.

Being able to see people’s faces and have a face-to-face conversations feels so natural, but has been something that has been so hard to find over these last five months. It’s opportunities like this that Leicestershire Cares offer that are so positive for me holistically.
Mind Matters participant

Long-term benefits

As well as gaining new cooking skills and an understanding of healthy eating from Fakeaways, young people said that the social activities have given them more confidence in engaging with others, given them a sense of belonging and helped them feel able to talk about their experience of being in care.

Being involved in the activities that Leicestershire Cares run means that I am able to get out and be more involved in activities which involve socialising in a group. It allows me to meet new people and feel part of a team.
Mind Matters participant

My confidence has increased and I feel safer talking about my real life as a care-experienced person. Leicestershire Cares gave me a safe space to recognise it’s okay to embrace that part of myself.
Mind Matters participant

Some spoke about feeling more independent which has encouraged them to consider what they want to do next in terms of volunteering, training or employment, and how their decisions could support their mental health.

It helped me become more confident and helps you towards independence… I’d like opportunities to try vol or paid jobs to do with animals. I think that would improve my mental health.
Mind Matters participant

While others have appreciated the chance to catch up on life that was on hold, and to create memories that many traditional families take for granted.

You also gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others, like Go-karting and Beaumanor Hall – normally family type trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.
Mind Matters participant

Going forwards

As lockdown restrictions ease, we’ll return more to face-to-face delivery, but we’ll also maintain a hybrid model of both online and face-to-face support. We feel that virtual delivery has a role to play, especially for young people who have travel anxiety or are very busy with other commitments (e.g. college) and want to join via video call.

Our steering group suggested what they would want from the programme if it would continue such as including more focus around how to manage mental health and develop positive thinking; social activities to develop life skills; and activities which promote physical fitness as well as mental wellbeing.

I really enjoy any opportunity to get outside and do something especially with other CEP. It gives me a chance to socialise in that safe space and kick myself out of bed that day. Practical things are particularly good i.e. cooking and woodworking as they can have real life applications.
Mind Matters participant

The young people also identified that the power of ‘giving back’ and connecting with their local community has an effect on their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. They suggested they might raise money for a local cause in various ways, i.e. a sponsored 24-hour gaming marathon, cake bake, art auction or a sponsored walk.

The steering group also introduced the idea of a life coach as a useful support for those who might want specific advice on how to progress towards their goals. Leicestershire Cares has recently started a business volunteer mentoring programme for care-experienced young people. We’re finding that some of the outcomes are improving mental wellbeing, and overall, the widening of these young people’s networks are helping them to grow.

Leicestershire Cares is a wonderful organisation to work with. The commitment and passion for supporting young people is evident from early interactions. The innovation in project development and commitment to agreed outcomes has been outstanding!
Diana Dorozkinaite, Business Change Commissioning Manager, Leicester City Council

For more information about our work with care-experienced young people, please contact Jacob Brown.

To read the full article, visit the Leicestershire Cares website.

The PATCHES Project: Parents’ and their children’s experiences of separation and support

When a family separates, it can be a challenging time for everyone. There are difficult conversations to have and sometimes families need support to help find a way through.

When support works well, this is better for everyone in the family. If we can understand the experience of families who have been through separation, we can improve services to support other families in the future.

We are conducting research into the experiences of families who have been through separation in two areas: one in England and one in Wales. The project is being led by the University of Bristol and is funded by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. It will run from May to December 2021 and the findings will be used to inform recommendations to improve support for families going through the separation process in the future.

We are looking for people who have been affected by family separation in the past 18 months who live in North Wales and Bournemouth. We are interested in speaking to mothers, fathers, and children, but also anyone else in the family such as grandparents, or uncles and aunties. We are interested in speaking to people who have used the family court system, but also people who used other ways to make their separation arrangements.

If you take part, we will invite you to tell us about your family and the decisions you made to separate, and your experience of any support you had from friends, family members or professionals. If you would like to ask us questions, you can email us at patches-project@bristol.ac.uk or phone us on 07977 273329 and you can find out more about this project on our website https://patches.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/.

Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales

Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Considering the delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales during Covid-19

Louise Roberts, Alyson Rees, Dawn Mannay, Hannah Bayfield, Cindy Corliss, Clive Diaz and Rachel Vaughan.

During COVID-19, care leavers in Wales looked to their corporate parents for support. Accordingly, this mixed method study examined the experiences of care leavers during the pandemic. It included a survey of Welsh Local Authority professionals (n=22) and interviews with Welsh care-experienced young people aged 17-24 (n=17). In their interviews, some young people reported being both practically and emotionally supported.

She made sure like, I had enough food and stuff, she helped me financially, emotionally, and obviously like when I was moving out and stuff, I was pretty suicidal she helped me there as well. You know, she was just making sure that I was okay on a day-to-day basis. She came out to see me nearly every day. (Bethan)

My social worker, she phones me regularly … she actually Facetimed me the other week actually. She’s amazing, … She keeps it quite regular cos she knows I can get down quite easily… So yeah she keeps in touch quite regular. (Jess)

However, for other young people corporate parenting support was perceived as unavailable:

I could have died, and they would not know. I have only had two check-ups; I could’ve killed myself. (Mary)

I’ve had one or two texts but only [that], I haven’t spoken to her, just a text and email … It would be nice that they checked that I was alive to be honest, you know? (Bev)

I’ve tried ringing everyone in the office, but I still can’t get hold of my social worker to this day. I haven’t spoken to him in 5, 6 months my social worker, something like that. (Paul)

The Covid-19 pandemic provided a unique lens through which to consider the role of the state as parent. Whilst evidence of good practice in Wales is encouraging, with some young people feeling both practically and emotionally supported, it is deeply concerning that other young people remained in precarious situations, feeling forgotten and neglected by their corporate parents. The findings of this study illustrate the propensity of corporate parenting to provide protection against the adversities of the pandemic, but also to compound young people’s difficulties by being inactive, unresponsive and/or uncaring.

For more information about this study, read the study:
Roberts, L., Rees, A., Mannay, D., Bayfield, H., Corliss, C., Diaz, C. and Vaughan, R. 2021. Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Considering the delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales during Covid-19. Children and Youth Services Review.

You might also be interested in the following related blogs hosted on Family and Community:

In the shadow of a pandemic: Harare’s street youth COVID-19 experience
The Coronavirus pandemic: Experiences and lessons for the future

Supporting parents and kids through lockdown experiences: SPARKLE Trial

Information for parents/carers

What is the study about and who is leading it?

The SPARKLE (Supporting Parents and Kids through Lockdown Experiences) study team, based at King’s College London and Oxford University, are looking for UK parent/carer participants to test their new specially-designed science-based ‘parent positive’ app which aims to provide parenting advice and multimedia resources developed with experts and celebrity parents to support UK parents and children during the transition out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Parent positive app aims to improve children’s behaviour and confidence and have a positive effect on parents’ wellbeing. The app will also provide access to regular online sessions with parenting experts and the chance to join an online forum to meet parents/carers across the UK and share parenting advice and tips.

What will I need to do?

First, complete the Oxford University survey. Half of parents/carers will be given access to the parent positive app immediately, and half after about two months. All parents/carers will complete online questionnaires about themselves and their child once per month. All participants will receive access to the free app & 2 £5 e-shopping vouchers as a thank you for taking part.

Who’s eligible to take part?

UK parents/carers of children aged 4-10, and UK parents/carers who have access to a smartphone with operating system OS 8-9 or higher for android, or IOS 12-13 or higher for Apple.

More information on the study

What are we focusing on?

The SPARKLE study trial was launched in December 2020 at King’s College London. The trial is led by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Dr Kasia Kostyrka-Allchorne of the Experimental Psychopathology and Neurodevelopment (ExPAND) Research Group within the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience.

We were motivated to launch the study by findings from the Oxford University ‘Co-SPACE: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children During Epidemics’ study – a UKRI-funded cohort study tracking changes in families’ mental health 2020 onwards. The study found that up to 70% of parents reported wanting additional support to address behavioural problems in their children and an increase in family-related stress in response to various local and national lockdowns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This was as a result of a combination of reduced access to childcare, money-and health-related worries and extended confinement and social isolation, all of which have placed great pressure on many families in the UK.

What are our aims and what methodology are we using?

SPARKLE is a rapid-deployment randomised control trial evaluating whether a digital public health parenting intervention can help parents to manage their children’s behaviour problems, as impacted by the COVID-19 UK pandemic and lockdown.

We aim to evaluate whether the negative effects of lockdown can by reversed by providing parenting advice digitally, using a specially-designed mobile phone app, Parent Positive. The Parent Positive app will provide advice to parents through animations, delivering messages carefully selected by parents and experts in the field. The messages will be supplemented with practical parenting resources and an opportunity to network with other parents for peer support. The animations, originally thought up by Professor Sonuga-Barke and the King’s College London Parenting Under Pressure (POP-UP) team, are light-hearted, humorous and non-judgmental and are delivered by eight high-profile celebrities who are also parents. The eight messages relate to:

  • staying positive and motivated (Olivia Colman)
  • making sure everyone knows what is expected of them (Sharon Horgan)
  • building your child’s self-confidence and trust (Danny Dyer)
  • getting your child to follow instructions (Rob Brydon)
  • promoting better behaviour (Jessica Ennis-Hill)
  • limiting conflict (Holly Willoughby)
  • keeping calm when your kids act up (Romesh Ranganathan), and
  • careful use of sanctions (Shappi Khorsandi).

The initial stage of the SPARKLE study will involve 616 Co-SPACE parents, half of whom will receive access to the Parent Positive app and half who won’t. If results from the trial are positive, the app will be nationally disseminated through our collaboration with Public Health England, the UK Department for Education and multiple other commercial media partners.

Who are our key partners?

Our study is working in collaboration with the Oxford Psychological Interventions for Children and Adolescents (TOPIC) Research Group, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford Medical Sciences Division as well as the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Charitable Foundation-funded Centre for Child & Parent Support Led by Dr Crispin Day, and is funded by UKRI-ESRC. The study will be delivered alongside colleagues at Oxford University responsible for the ‘Co-SPACE: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children During Epidemics’ study – a UKRI-funded cohort study tracking changes in families’ mental health 2020 onwards.

Read the summary paper:

More information about the study can be found at kcl.ac.uk.

View the Parent Positive App animation.

Co-RAY evidence-based briefings

In collaboration with research and clinical experts, the Co-RAY project have produced briefings which provide evidence-informed messages on how to support young people with these four key issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.

The project has identified four key priority areas, which will be the focus of resource production during the first half of 2021:  

a) managing change and uncertainty
b) feeling bored, flat and unmotivated
c) feeling lonely, isolated and disconnected
d) encouraging young people to seek help if they are struggling with their mental health.

Briefings available for download (PDF)

Please visit the Co-Ray project page for the original posting.

Participants wanted for a study into digital mental health services

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of services that have been previously delivered face-to-face had to move online, one of these being mental health services.

The study aims to understand and improve the delivery of digital mental health services for care-experienced young people by asking mental health professionals about their experienced, thoughts, and feelings about these services.

The study has three key research questions:

1. What are mental health professionals’ perspectives of digital therapy?
2. Is a strong relationship between counsellor and client established as easily when compared to other forms of therapy (i.e. face to face)?
3. What lessons have practitioners learnt from this digital move that they can take with them into future service delivery?

Taking part

If you have experience in delivering both face-to-face and digital therapy (which can include phone calls, webchat, or platforms such as Zoom) with care-experienced young people and would like to take part, please contact me, Aimee Cummings.

The interviews will be taking place during July 2021 and are expected to last 45 minutes.

The impact of COVID-19 on higher education: a review of emerging evidence

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on higher education worldwide in virtually all aspects of its functioning. This analytical report provides a synthesis of the emerging evidence on what impact COVID-19 has on three specific aspects of higher education in Europe: teaching and learning; the social dimension of higher education (i.e. the effect on underrepresented, vulnerable and disadvantaged learners); and student mobility.

Drawing upon 14 rapid-response surveys carried out in 2020 by university networks, student organisations and researchers, as well as over 50 journal articles, reports and publications, the analytical report synthesises the emerging evidence and presents policy recommendations on actions to be taken at the level of higher education systems and by higher education institutions themselves.

Authors: Thomas Farnell, Ana Skledar Matijević, Ninoslav Šćukanec Schmidt

Webinar: Covid and the under-fives impact and recovery

What happened to the under fives during lockdown? How can we support families to support their children?

This event is hosted by Parenting across Scotland.

Date and time
Tuesday, 29 June 2021
14:00 – 15:30 BST

About this event

Join us at an event to look at the impact Covid has had on the under fives and their families. Hear from Dr Debby Wason about Public Health Scotland’s research on Covid and the early years, with responses from Dr Lucy Thompson from the University of Aberdeen and Cheryl Brown from Midlothian Sure Start. There will then be a chance to discuss recommendations for what needs to happen next.


2.00 Introductions and housekeeping: Chair, Clare Simpson, PAS Manager

2.10 What happened to the under-fives during the pandemic? Dr Debby Wason, Public Health Scotland

Dr Debby Wason, Public Health Scotland, will present the findings of Public Health Scotland’s research which looked at under-fives during the pandemic.

2.30 Responses to the evidence from Dr Lucy Thompson, University of Aberdeen and Cheryl Brown, Midlothian Sure Start

2.50 Discussion in break out rooms

Key discussion points and recommendations will be fed back to colleagues in Public Health Scotland and Scottish Government

  • What happened to the under-fives during the pandemic? What surprised you or was of particular significance?
  • What support do parents and carers need now to help their children as we move on?

3.20 Brief feedback and closing remarks.

3.30 Close

Child Development

09 September 2021
09:30 – 14:30

One-day course

A sound knowledge of child development is essential for everyone working with children.  Having an underpinning knowledge about typical patterns of overall development helps practitioners identify where there are concerns that a child may be ‘off track’ and may need additional support to achieve progress across the different domains.  A good understanding of development can help keep children safe, promote their wellbeing, assist in assessment, and inform which interventions/support is most suited to their needs.

The aims of the course are:

  • Understand the growth and development of children 0– 12 years
  • Consider growth across different domains of development, including brain development
  • Consider the factors that contribute to delaying or interrupting a child’s development
  • Explore the impact that adversity and trauma can have on child development
  • Explore the importance of play in the development of children
  • Consider the available tools to observe and assess a child’s development, and the options to support a child’s developmental needs
  • Reflect on how to support parents and carers to promote positive outcomes for children

Who is the course aimed at?

All practitioners including family support workers, social workers, and carers working with children from 0 – 12 who want to increase their understanding of what to expect of children at certain stages of development and how this can be supported through their role.

About the trainer

Claire Sharp has worked with children and young people, in the voluntary and statutory sector, for over twenty years and currently works as Children in Wales’ Training Officer. Claire spent many years working in the field of domestic abuse, directly supporting children and young people in refuges and in the community, before moving on to manage Children’s Services at Welsh Women’s Aid. She has an ongoing interest in encouraging education and learning, in its broadest sense, having worked both as a primary teacher and in the supervision and assessment of student social workers in child and family teams.

Claire now trains practitioners from a variety of services, on a wide range of issues, including children’s rights and child protection. Claire has also delivered Early Support training, a programme aimed to improve recognition and support for disabled children and their families through a multi-agency approach with the child at the centre. Claire is a volunteer with UCAN Productions, a performance and creative arts co-operative for blind and partially sighted children, young people and their friends, supporting the children to have opportunities to play and socialise and develop skills and confidence.

Working with uncooperative and hostile adults: A focus on children and supporting families

06 October 2021
09:30 – 16:30

A one-day course

The course will be looking at issues practitioners face in supporting children whose parents/carers are uncooperative through Ambivalence, Avoidance, Confrontation or Violence. The issues will be explored and solutions sought so participants can go away with practical solutions to use in their practice. Issues of disguised compliance will be explored using examples from Serious Case Reviews and indicators explored for participants to take away for use in their work.

The course will use a wide range of training methods including scenarios, experiential learning, and exercises and sharing of experiences. We aim to maintain a relaxed and informative environment where learning takes place through interactive and fun activities.

Course aims:

  • Understand what uncooperative behaviour is and know the types that can occur.
  • Be aware of the reasons for uncooperative behaviour and the impact it can have, including: Impact on assessments and ongoing work. Multi-agency working.
  • Know how to respond to uncooperative behaviour: Dealing with violence and hostility. Keeping yourself safe.
  • Understand what disguised compliance is and when it occurs?
  • Be aware of how Social Workers can identify and counteract disguised compliance? What is my role in this resistance? Understanding the relationship.
  • Recognise the link with safeguarding and disguised compliance e.g. Missed opportunities for intervention. Professional attention diverted from the child. Causes over-optimism about progress.

Who the course is aimed at?

The course is aimed at those working with parents whose behaviour is concerning and who want to put the child at the centre of their practice.

About the trainer

Mike Mainwaring has worked with Children and Young People for over 20 years. Specialising in substance misuse, youth homelessness, participation and children’s rights. He is a qualified trainer and has trained children, young people and adults on substance misuse, LGBT issues, children’s rights, participation, dealing with difficult behaviour, safeguarding and child protection, Child Sexual Exploitation and boundaries. He has also developed and run youth lead research projects. He has worked in various settings such as street drug projects, residential rehabilitation, outreach work, play, youth work, manged housing projects and run youth councils. He has an art background, working with young people in distress through the medium of art and exhibiting his own work about social issues.