Look Say Sing Play

First-time mums have been sharing their experiences of parenthood during the pandemic as part of a newbrain-building campaign called Look Say Sing Play being launched in Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan to help parents support their baby’s development. Here, Emma Motherwell from the NSPCC explains the science behind the campaign.

Emma Motherwell
Emma Motherwell

Parents have faced a huge amount of time over the last 14 months with disruption to baby groups, soft play and access to playgrounds. Many we’ve spoken with have been left wondering the long-term impact this, and the reduced interaction with family and friends, will have had on their baby. 

‘It’s great having a baby and really fun, but it’s such hard work. We haven’t had a support bubble or anything, just my husband and I, Shepherd hasn’t even met any of my family yet so that’s been tough. I think things like not being able to have coffee mornings or baby classes has been really hard.’ – Helen from the Vale of Glamorgan is mum to 19-week-old Shepherd

At the NSPCC, our research shows how many parents and expectant parents are unaware that the interactions with their new baby in moments such as playing, singing or story time can be brain-building ones. Right from birth, every time a parent talks, sings and plays with their baby they aren’t just bonding – they’re helping to build their baby’s brain.

LSSP - lockdown poster

To help reassure parents and increase their confidence, at a time when the pandemic has placed additional pressures on families, NSPCC Cymru/Wales is launching its Look Say Sing Play campaign in partnership with Cardiff Council, The Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board,and Cymraeg for Kids project.

The baby brain-building campaign highlights to parents how their interactions with their new baby in every day moments can help with their development. Parents are encouraged to take a look at what their baby is focusing on and how they react, say what they are doing and copy the sounds their baby makes, sing along to their favourite tune or play simple games and see what their baby enjoys.

Helen from the Vale of Glamorgan trialling Look Say Sing Play
Helen with Shepherd

As the science of early brain development tells us, a child’s brain makes one million neural connections every single second and the back and forth- or serve and return- interactions encouraged via Look Say Sing Play help develop the building blocks of early brain development. These positive and supportive experiences with parents and carers help children learn how to control their emotions, cope with stress and learn new skills that serve as a foundation for later life.

Families have been piloting the campaign’s tips and activities and they’ve reported a change in their baby’s development and their own confidence as parents. 

‘For me there were some activities we hadn’t ever done before, there were some that we had done in singing and sign language classes, and there are some that you just naturally do. It was just clarifying you’re doing the right thing and what language to use as well with your baby and seeing what their reaction is too, which is really interesting. We fit the activities into our daily routine, so the activity around different emotions we’ll do when he’s in the bath if he’s getting a bit angsty. We’ve been doing the activities for a few weeks and it’s interesting to see how much he had progressed too, with skills such as grip and eye-contact.’ – Rebecca from Caerphilly is mum to six-month-old Owen

‘The science explaining how each activity is going to help his brain development or personal development was really reassuring and has definitely made me more confident playing with him. I would definitely recommend it. I think when you are a new parent a lot of things seem quite big and scary and new, but I think it’s reassuring that this is all very straightforward, there’s nothing complicated – you don’t have to be good at singing or anything. One of the things we learnt was a song where you have to smile at them and then do a sad face, and then do a sleepy face, and then something noisy. Knowing that that is actually developing his personal skills and increasing his emotional intelligence, that has really stuck in my head. I love learning that sort of thing and the more of that I know the more I am enjoying it.’ – Helen

We recently shared Look Say Sing Play with dozens of early years practitioners and health visitors across Cardiff and The Vale and the response so far has been fantastic. We hope our Look Say Sing Play campaign will help parents bond with their children and reassure them by sharing the science behind it. The tips are all about the fun you can have with what’s lying around the house, rather than creating an extra expense or adding to the list of things parents already have to do.

‘Look Say Sing Play is such a simple approach that parents I’ve worked with really responded well to. It’s great to talk to them about activities they can do easily, without the need for expensive toys, and help them understand how all the little things they do are building their baby’s brain. I’m looking forward to using this approach with more families and would highly recommend it to others.’ – Kathryn, a health visitor working in Cardiff

‘It’s great, because it’s so accessible for all families no matter their budget. The response has been really good from families both virtually and during home visits. With the home visit that I did the mum was actually quite surprised because her little boy usually flits between activities quite a lot and she was really surprised with how long he sat at that activity and engaged with it. One of the benefits of it is how simple it is. Sometimes with sessions we may have to take a big bag of various activities, whereas Look Say Sing Play is really simple and very effective.’ – Abigail Atkinson, an Early Years Practitioner for The Vale of Glamorgan Flying Start

‘Look Say Sing Play is a really useful tool we can use to talk about development, bonding, family relationships and having fun. It’s an easy way for families to support their baby’s development and have these lovely experiences with their children and it’s really easy to fit in our Flying Start programme. I think it’s been really beneficial and I’m definitely going to keep using it. There are so many lovely ways we can promote and role this out to our families and we’ve had some really positive responses from health professionals and families.’ – Donna, a health visitor for Cardiff Flying Start

Parents can sign-up to get weekly Look Say Sing Play tips via the NSPCC website. Each one will include a fun, age-appropriate tip which they can easily fit in to their daily routine. 

Examples of the Look Say Sing Play activities

Eye gazing – take a few minutes and look into your child’s eyes. As they look back, smile and talk with them. Do what they do. If they blink, you blink. If they look left, you look left.

Adult and young child outside

The science bit – When your child looks at you, and you respond, they’re making new connections in their brain. When you look at each other and react to each other, the bond you have is growing stronger. 

Silly suds – tell your child “let’s wash your hands” but start washing their feet. What do they do? Then say “Oh! Those are your feet. Where are your hands?” As they get older, have them lead, using other parts of their body like elbows, wrists and ankles.

The science bit – your child is using their focus to listen to your words and drawing on what they already know to play this silly game with you, which will strengthen their memory. They’re also practicing thinking flexibly about opposites, as well as learning new words and what they mean in a fun way.

Father and child

Song traditions – there are things we do every day. Sing the same songs at those moments to explain what you’re doing with your child. Examples could be leaving a room, finishing eating, or washing hands.

The science bit – children love traditions. Singing about your shared daily moments add to the comfort of a known routine. It also helps your child connect these moments and new words. They love learning language from your sing-song voice.

Visit Look Say Sing Play for more information.

How gender stereotyping is failing boys at risk of child sexual exploitation

Lauren Hill and Clive Diaz from Cardiff University have carried out research into how gender stereotypes may impact on the support offered to young people who are at risk of child sexual exploitation. This blog provides a short summary of their findings. The full research paper can be downloaded below. 

As a result of high-profile cases in Rotherham and Rochdale in recent years, the general public is now more aware of what child sexual exploitation (CSE) is. CSE has also emerged as a key area of political and professional attention, and was even declared a national threat in 2015 by the Westminster coalition government. But historically, it remains a relatively new construct. Researchers have found that CSE may remain concealed in many cases as victims do not report their experiences, perhaps due to stigma, feelings of shame and/or fear, or because they do not identify their experience as exploitation and therefore do not recognise that they are a victim (Mason-Jones and Loggie, 2019).

Although the exact number of young people at risk of CSE remains unknown, Berelowitz et al. (2013) found that between August 2010 and October 2011, 16,500 children and young people in England were at ‘high risk’ of CSE. This estimate is in line with later statistics published by the Department for Education (2016). According to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOPC), the majority of known victims are aged 14 to 15 and ethnically white. Furthermore, numerous studies have found that the majority of known victims are female (CEOPC, 2013; Jay, 2014; Coy, 2016), with Hallett et al. (2019) finding that females are seven times more likely to experience CSE than males. 

Although genuine gender differences in CSE victimisation may exist, it is important to highlight that certain victim groups (such as males and those from minority ethnic groups) are likely to be under-represented within these figures as a result of barriers to reporting and accessing services. The identification of CSE by professionals may also be limited by the potential biases, prejudices and stereotypical beliefs they hold, which is something we explored in our research.

How gender stereotyping operates in practice

Practitioners rely on cognitive shortcuts (like stereotypes) in professional contexts, and research suggests this is just how humans work as stereotypes help individuals organise and simplify their social worlds. According to categorisation theory, first conceived by Allport (1954), the process of person perception involves subsuming individuals into the wider social categories (such as gender) to which they belong. In doing this, the stereotypical beliefs we hold about a particular social group are applied to all group members (Banaji et al., 1993). 

Stereotypical beliefs are developed via a process of socialisation. The socialisation process begins at birth, and involves exposure to gender norms, ideologies and stereotypes, which are transmitted within and between families, peers, wider social connections and culture (Carter, 2014). 

Are stereotypical beliefs keeping CSE victims hidden?

A number of comments given by participants in our study seem to back up previous research which found that practitioners are subject to unconscious biases within a professional context, and that this can influence factors such as decision-making and assessment (Kirkman and Melrose, 2014; Blumenthal-Barby and Krieger, 2015).

In 2013, researchers Berelowitz et al. (2013) collected qualitative data from 74 practitioners. The researchers found that practitioners often failed to identify male victims of CSE as they did not conform to their stereotypical beliefs that ‘only girls are subjected to these attacks’ (Berelowitz et al., 2013, p.56). The practitioners we interviewed indicated that they felt gender stereotypes may impact on how professionals work with victims of CSE. 

In particular, participants suggested that stereotypes about masculinity may lead practitioners to view males as less likely to be at risk of CSE and consequently less in need of protection and support. Participants felt that this can lead practitioners to be slower and/or less likely to identify males as victims of CSE, as well as less likely to provide male victims with effective support and intervention. Our findings also therefore align with the findings of McNaughton Nicholls, Harvey, and Paskell (2014), who found that practitioners often perceive males to be less vulnerable to CSE than females.

Despite being a small‐scale study, as the first study to specifically explore gender stereotypes within the context of CSE, this research project has contributed some new findings to the relatively underdeveloped evidence base in this area. 

How can we combat unconscious bias for better practice?

It has been suggested that one way to reduce the impact of gender stereotypes on practice is to provide practitioners with the opportunity to acknowledge and critically reflect upon these within a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment (Hannah and Carpenter-Song, 2013). Arguably, this reduces the likelihood of practitioners defending or denying their biases. This is important, as once practitioners have acknowledged their biases, they can subsequently develop strategies for reducing these (Teal et al., 2012).

The importance of critical reflection in overcoming biases was also highlighted by Munro (2011, p.90), who stated that ‘critical challenge by others is needed to help social workers catch such biases and correct them’. Munro (2011) recommended that critical reflection can best be achieved via discussions with others, for example, during supervision. 

An increased awareness of gender stereotypes can also be achieved through unconscious bias training, which aims to increase practitioners’ awareness of their unconscious biases and teach bias reduction strategies. Although there is a lack of research examining the effectiveness of UBT in social care settings, it has been found to be moderately effective in other professional contexts (Atewologun et al., 2018). 

We hope that by implementing such practices more readily, we can begin to overcome the gender-based discrimination in this area of practice to ensure that potentially hidden male victims of CSE can be discovered and supported so that all victims of CSE can be adequately safeguarded.

Download the report:


Allport, G. (1954). The nature of prejudice. London: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
Atewologun, D., Cornish, T. and Tresh, F. (2018). Unconscious bias training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness. Manchester: Equality and Human Rights Commission. 
Banaji, M., Hardin, C. and Rothman, A. (1993). Implicit stereotyping in person 
judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), pp.272-281.
Berelowitz, S., Clifton, J., Firimin, C., Gulyurtlu, S. and Edwards, G. (2013). If only someone had listened: Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups. London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Blumenthal-Barby, J. S. and Krieger, H. (2015). Cognitive biases and heuristics in medical decision making: A critical review using a systematic search strategy. Medical Decision Making, 35(4), pp.539-557.
Carter, M. (2014). Gender socialization and identity theory. Social Sciences, 3(2), pp.242-263.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. (2013). Threat assessment of child sexual exploitation and abuse. London: Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. (2013). Threat assessment of child sexual exploitation and abuse. London: Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
Coy, M. (2016). Joining the dots on sexual exploitation of children and women: A way forward for UK policy responses. Critical Social Policy, 36(4), pp.572-591.
Department for Education. (2016). Characteristics of children in need: 2015 to 2016. London: Department for Education.
Hallett, S., Verbruggen, J., Buckley, K. and Robinson, A. (2019). ‘Keeping safe?’: An analysis of the outcomes of work with sexually exploited young people in Wales. Cardiff: Cardiff University.
Hannah, S. and Carpenter-Song, E. (2013). Patrolling your blind spots: Introspection and public catharsis in a medical school faculty development course to reduce unconscious bias in medicine. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 37(2), pp.314-339.
Jay, A. (2014). Independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham: 1997– 2013. Rotherham: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
Kirkman, E. and Melrose, K. (2014). Clinical judgement and decision-making in children’s social work: An analysis of the ‘front door’ system. London: Department for Education.
Mason-Jones, A.J. and Loggie, J. (2019). Child sexual exploitation. An analysis of serious case reviews in England: Poor communication, incorrect assumptions and adolescent neglect. Journal of Public Health, pp.1-7. 
McNaughton Nicholls, C., Harvey, S. and Paskell, C. (2014). Gendered perceptions: What professionals say about the sexual exploitation of boys and young men in the UK. Ilford: Barnardo’s.
Munro, E. (2011). The Munro review of child protection: Final report. London: Department for Education. 

Annual Child & Family Poverty Survey 2021

This survey is being hosted externally by Children in Wales.

Children in Wales has been carrying out an Annual Child & Family Poverty Survey for the last four years, which helps us to understand levels and trends in child poverty in Wales. We have again worked with the End Child Poverty Network Cymru (ECPN) to inform our questions.

We know that those living in poverty have been hardest hit by the pandemic. The information you provide is important. It helps us to understand the current issues and informs our work with policy makers across Wales. Please take 10 minutes to complete the survey. Your opinions and experiences are valued and important to us.

We have two surveys – one for completion by practitioners and professionals, and one for completion by children and young people themselves. Both surveys will close on 21 May 2021.

We are looking for as much engagement as possible and would appreciate your help in disseminating the survey to your colleagues, networks and if possible, to children and young people themselves.

We will publish the results at the end of July 2021 and these will be available to everyone. Hopefully the results will also help shape your work.

Thank you for your support.

ExChange Wales is not responsible for any external content or resources.

Help us make a difference to Youth Work in Wales

Our Journey

Youth Cymru is at the start of a new journey; much has changed over the last few months for all of us and as an organisation whose primary aim is to benefit the lives of young people we want to take action now to ensure the best outcomes for young people in Wales. Our current strategy needs renewing and this is an opportunity to ensure our future work reflect the future landscape, the context and needs of young people, youth workers and youth organisations in Wales.

We want to provide an opportunity for our members and partners to make sure we hear what you need and know what you think. We want to begin and continue a conversation that not only helps create and build our strategy but also creates positive momentum, futures and benefits for all young people and youth workers in Wales.

To use a hackneyed phrase “these are unprecedented times” and we need and want our work now and in the future to place our members, our partners and young people central to our activities, plans and work; we want to set new ambitions to ensure that we remain part of the solution to the problems that exists in these complex, uncertain and unsettling times.

We need your input

We are aware that many are facing very difficult circumstances right now, so while we’d like people to engage with our ongoing consultation there will be no proscribed way of doing this. We will be sending out questionnaires and invitation to workshops and seminars but would equally welcome a telephone call, email or communication through our social media.

Over the coming months, we will be creating multiple opportunities to continue the conversation about our future direction, our relationship with you our partners, members and colleagues and the work we need to do to support you. Help us to shape our new strategy for 2021 and beyond!

We invite you to take part in this period of development as much as you can; to begin the conversation please complete this questionnaire below and look out for forth coming invitations to attend our seminars and workshop

For more information, visit Youth Cymru.

Co-SPACE study report findings: Changes in children’s mental health symptoms

Co-SPACE study report findings: Changes in children’s mental health symptoms from March 2020 to Jan 2021

The latest report of the Co-SPACE study shows changes in children and young people’s mental health among the study sample up to and including January 2021. In the report, the focus is on the following mental health outcomes as measured by the Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). This is a well-validated behavioural screening questionnaire. It exists in several versions allowing both reporting by parents/carers (the focus of this report) and self-reporting by adolescents.

Key findings

Based on parent/carer reports within the Co-SPACE sample: 

Behavioural, emotional, and restless/attentional difficulties have increased again since the latest national lockdown was introduced in January. This was especially the case in primary school-aged children (4-10 years old).

Children with SEN/ND and those from low-income or single adult households have continued to show elevated mental health symptoms throughout the pandemic, with higher levels of behavioural, emotional, and restless/attentional difficulties. Not having a sibling was associated with higher levels of restless/attentional difficulties throughout the pandemic (but was not associated with differences in behavioural or emotional symptoms).

Visit the Co-SPACE website for further information about the study.

Walking Tall: Empowering children to share their views and be heard

Walking Tall is a three-year project from the Fostering Network in Wales that began in 2020. It works with primary school children in foster care and was commissioned by the Welsh Government as part of the Fostering Communities programme.

Using interactive activities, the project encourages staff and facilitators to think through how they can adopt a more participative approach when working with children and highlights the importance of co-production – working side by side with children, to empower them to share their views and be heard.

Walking Tall recognises that everyone involved in fostering has a vital contribution to make, in order to improve the quality of life for children and young people in care and their foster families. In this way, the project will help towards ensuring that children are involved in designing and delivering projects that will meet their own needs.

The purpose of Stage One was to develop creative play-based sessions, to find out how children like to engage digitally, and to invite them to advise on materials and activities for working with children in later stages of the Walking Tall Project.

In Stage One, children engaged in a number of creative activities including ‘Rock Star’ where they painted stones to represent things in their lives that make them feel happy. Children then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches. They were also asked to generate ideas about what other activities they would like to see and what they felt is the best way for children to share their perspectives, experiences, and ideas.

Although the views of children were centralised, foster carers also contributed their views and perspectives on the project. One foster carer commented that completing creative activities with children ‘Kind of brings everyone together. It was really lovely and enjoyable’.

You can find out more in the project report.

The Fostering Network in Wales

@tfn_Wales wales@fostering.net

Boffey, M., Mannay, D, Vaughan, R. and Wooders, C. 2021. The Fostering Communities Programme – Walking Tall: Stage One Evaluation. Cardiff: The Fostering Network in Wales.

Safer recruitment

09:30 – 16:30

A one-day course

Gain the skills to protect children and young people through safer recruitment. Organisations and individuals who work with children and young people, or are involved in providing services for them, have a duty to safeguard and promote their welfare. Having the right staff working in your setting is an essential element of your safeguarding duties. If you recruit staff and/or volunteers into the children and young people’s workforce, you should be trained in safer recruitment practices.

Keeping Our Children Safe: Training the designated child protection lead

16 & 17/06/2021
09:30 – 16:00

A two-day course

All children have the right to live lives free from abuse and neglect but recent events highlight, yet again, how difficult it can be for so many adults to recognise, and act on concerns about the safety or welfare of a child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all organisations concerned with children should work towards what’s best for each child. The Designated Person for Child Protection has a vital role within organisations helping to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place and that necessary action is taken when concerns about a child are raised.

Child Criminal Exploitation: County lines, knife crime and child sexual exploitation

09:30 – 16:00
A One Day Course

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities. It involves using children as drugs mules (carrying drugs for others), children being trafficked within the UK, the young people being trapped by drug use (dependence), debts owed to the gang leaders and or the threat of violence. The young people can be drawn in through the allure of money, kinship and status, and do not recognise they are being groomed (often by other young people) or recognise their exploitation by others. The glamour and exciting soon turning to isolation and fear.

Child development

09:30 – 14:30
A half 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.