Value of LEGO as a visual method: Understanding experiences of wellbeing in schools

Wellbeing is a complex experience to measure, define, observe and communicate. My research used LEGO as a research method to explore Wellbeing Wednesday afternoons, an initiative to fulfil the Health and Wellbeing aim for the Draft Curriculum For Wales 2022 in a South Wales Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Secondary School.

Questionnaires and interviews tend to measure the psychological impact of wellbeing over time. Yet these methods are not always capable of ‘measuring the unmeasurable’ or capturing the complex experience of wellbeing. Additionally, teenagers are often loathed to communicate, making building researcher-participant relationships important as well as difficult to navigate. So how do you get teenagers to talk about their feelings?

LEGO Build to Express was created for this very purpose – usually used in classrooms as a tool for engaging students with abstract ideas and as an intervention for pupils who may require therapy. LEGO’s association as a toy to be played with often automatically encourages participants to fiddle, build and organically create. Within the recognised format of the school’s LEGO Therapy sessions, I presented the question ‘How do you feel on a normal day and a Wellbeing Wednesday’ to a group of willing participants.

The medium allowed pupils to communicate in metaphors, as the following images illustrate.

The builder explained that they normally hate school – “I’ll be honest, I skive a lot ‘cos I don’t want to be contained, like the fence, I don’t want to be trapped for 50 minute lessons,” they point to the LEGO figure surrounded by a fence. “The ladder then is me moving through a whole lesson on a Wednesday and sticking with it because I want to, because I can do what I want instead of being told to.”

“This is me in Tutor, which I hate, on the sofa calling my mum to come and get me. I hate being told what to do by my tutor.” The teacher is depicted with a witch’s hat and broom. The builder explains the other side of their model, full of colourful bricks and LEGO figures sat around a table together: “This is LEGO Therapy which I love because we can do arty things and have music on and have fun with Sir. This is all my friends sitting round building with me.”

“Thomas was being so annoying this morning and Sir said I had to sit there for the whole lesson with him being a pain in my ear.” In contrast to the restraint the builder felt in this morning lesson, as shown on the right-hand side, they explain that on the left-hand side, “This was me after I’d had some lunch and could go to my activity away from Thomas.”

The students’ LEGO models show a remarkable distinction between the static, frustrating and confining lessons throughout the week, and the importance of agency which is apparent in Wellbeing Wednesday activities. Here they show that their ability to have autonomy over their bodies and their activities is an important feature of Wednesdays. In these moments of shared freedom, students realise that their bodies are on the curriculum and are valued as much as learning outcomes and objectives. Given this chance to self-regulate, freely interact and use the classroom for their wellbeing, they learn that schools can be holistic spaces for wellbeing.

The creativity inherent in LEGO (translated as ‘Let’s Play’ in Danish) makes for an easy and efficient way to communicate creatively in research situations. Looking to visual methods and their ability to give autonomy to participants fitted the complex and diffuse experience of wellbeing in this school. While this may not be possible in all classroom environments, research designs or curriculum reviews, it shows that accessing students’ opinions and experiences can be a fun, creative and ultimately rewarding venture.

As both a tool and a toy, LEGO blurs the lines between research and experience, reinforcing the importance of remembering who is at the centre of research questions, curriculum changes and policies, and how their voices can be heard.

Alice Abrey
@AbreyComms

#BuildBackBetter: You know it makes sense, but how do you do it?

Throughout the pandemic, lockdown and now an extended lockdown in our home city. Leicestershire cares staff have been working with a range of community, council, and business colleagues to ensure nobody is left behind. Much of this activity has been delivered by small groups which have formed in response to the pandemic. The lack of red tape, rules, working directives combined with enthusiasm, motivation and human connection all powered by the internet has driven much of this. In April we suggested:

“The reality is events like the pandemic require agile organisations, that are like “speedboats” which can react and manoeuvre quickly. Local authorities and bigger voluntary groups are often like “steamships”. Once they are set on a course they cannot change quickly.”

The recent launch of the #BuildBackBetter campaign, supported by 350 business leaders, community groups and politicians provides a great opportunity to reflect and learn from this experience. As we observed in “What’s so funny about peace love and understanding “

“When our politicians reach outside their sectarian interests and start to engage with people in a meaningful way they discover the public are a huge resource of ideas, expertise, skills and lived experience that can lead to far more effective decision-making. They find that people can hold mixed – sometimes contradictory – views that do not fit neatly into a manifesto but most are willing to reach a compromise. Which is why organisations such as Compass, the RSA and others talk of progressive alliances, building bridges between people and encouraging the growth of bottom up democracy.”

In many ways the lockdown has amplified issues we were already aware off. Inequality, child poverty, food poverty, in work poverty, insecure and in some cases illegal working conditions. Work life balance, environment, run down public services, lack of affordable housing, concerns about physical health and mental wellbeing have all come under the spotlight. Whilst emphasis might vary all the major political parties are talking about “green new deals”, government action to stimulate the economy, protect the poor and why we must create a kinder and more caring society.

The murder of George Floyd in late May and the resulting protest and debates triggered by #BlackLivesMatter fed into the feeling that we are at a critical juncture. Historic injustices had to be righted, the system we currently have is grossly unfair. It systemically discriminates against people of colour whilst evading or hiding how it has benefitted from slavery, colonialism, and racism.

Whilst many public figures got behind this and took a knee, others were more worried. Talk of white privilege and defunding the police was portrayed by some commentators as left wing extremism hiding behind BLM. As statues were torn down and demands grew for more to tumble, some saw this as an attack on the identity and history of the UK. As people marched to protect Winston Churchill statues and share Nazi salutes the one big inclusive community able to achieve consensus seemed like a distant dream.

Yet, polling found only 6% of the British public want to go back to the same economy from before the Covid-19 crisis. Instead people want to build back stronger, greener and fairer. There is significant support for BLM, if not for some of their methods. So, there are reasons to be cheerful and optimistic. I would suggest central to any change should be the “lived experience and voices” of local people shaping the agenda for how their communities develop. As we start to move forward it would be good to see a greater emphasis on:

Devolved decision making and giving more power to councils to decide how best their communities and local economies develop.

Creative forms of deliberative democracy that empower and enable local people to get involved, discuss, debate and reach consensus.

Local government, community, and business developing agile, creative teams and structures that can listen, learn, and adapt.

A nationally agreed index of happiness and wellbeing that is used alongside GDP to let us know how well we are doing.

Hard targets and KPI’s for eradicating poverty in its many forms.

There are of course many issues that need to be tackled but my strong belief is. If you can root decision making in a local context that people feel connection to and control over, you are far more likely to achieve change. Politicians, business, and community leaders need to see their shared purpose as building better communities. This is far more likely to happen if they work in open, transparent, and respectful partnerships. Where they accept, they all have much to learn from each other and the best way of knowing what the people want is by actively involving them in their decision making processes.

The pandemic has clearly shown the strengths and shortcomings of our economy and politics. We have much to be proud of but also much we can and must improve. So, lets empower communities, and use their creativity, kindness, and rooted local knowledge to #BuildBackBetter and ensure nobody is left behind.

Kieran Breen
CEO Leicestershire Cares
@LeicsCares
This blog was originally published at Vulnerability 360.

Useful links

The Brilliant Club: Working with parents & carers to make access to university fair for young people

In the UK today, there is an entrenched link between a pupil’s background and their access to higher education. The UCAS Equality measure shows that 1 in 4 of the most advantaged quintile of English 18-year olds enter highly selective universities, compared to only 1 in 50 pupils from the most disadvantaged quintile.

The Brilliant Club is a UK-wide charity that aims to make access to university fair for all young people. We work with schools and universities across the UK. The charity exists to increase the number of pupils from underrepresented backgrounds progressing to highly selective universities.

On the 14th and 17th of September we will be hosting a free virtual event to talk with parents and carers about their thoughts, concerns, and experiences with supporting young people who are considering their post-school options. The events will involve a brief introduction to the charity and the work we currently do, before splitting up into smaller groups to have an informal discussion about support for parents and carers of school-aged students regarding making decisions about attending university. There are no requirements to discuss anything you are uncomfortable with, and no one will be put on the spot to answer specific questions.

Registration:

If you are interested in attending, please register at Eventbrite.

Laura Johnstone
National Manager for The Scholars Programme
laura.johnstone@thebrilliantclub.org

Find out more about The Brilliant Club:
Twitter: @BrilliantClub
Website: Brilliant Club

Identifying and responding to child neglect in schools: Messages for best practice

With the majority of children returning to schools, referrals to Children’s Services are expected to substantially rise. As recently reported in the Guardian, schools will play ‘a pivotal role in spotting neglect and abuse’.

After nearly six months away from the classroom, children who would have previously been identified as needing help and support have been invisible to staff in schools. According to the Department for Education, the number of referrals received by Children’s Services since schools closed due to the Covid19 outbreak has seen a dramatic reduction of 18% (compared to the last three years).

Schools are the second largest referrer to statutory services, and vital partners in the safeguarding and protection of our children. Staff in schools have the opportunity to observe children in a range of settings, inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers and other school staff can monitor children’s behaviour daily, over an extended period of schooling, whilst observing their interactions with peers and members of their families. They are uniquely positioned to detect concerns at an early point and share information which ensures children receive the support they need at the right time.

It is therefore essential that school staff are fully supported to recognise children who are in need of additional support, and be ready to respond to those who have been living with abuse or neglect, and are in need of protection.

A new policy report by Dr Vicky Sharley (University of Bristol) highlights findings from a recent study funded by Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales. The report looks at how school staff identify and respond to children they suspect are living with neglect (the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England). The report sets out key recommendations for best practice across schools and child protection services, and calls for policymakers to support schools and social workers in their unique but closely related roles within the safeguarding system.

The report also outlines a new approach for the development of effective inter-agency relationships to improve safeguarding outcomes. It is essential for children’s welfare that any concerns are raised at the earliest point possible. This requires more support for school staff and social workers to develop close working relationships and excellent communication channels. Recommendations are particularly pertinent at a time when children are returning to the classroom, having been ‘hidden’ from services for more than five months, and referrals are expected to soar.

You can read the full report on Policy Bristol. The key recommendations include the following:

  • Head Teachers should be supported to establish effective learning communities within their schools so staff develop context-specific knowledge and expertise on how to respond to child neglect effectively within a school setting.
  • Schools should recruit strategic staff who demonstrate commitment to developing expertise in child neglect to promote children’s wellbeing within the school setting.
  • School staff who know the local community well should have opportunities to provide insights into the lives of children who are suspected of living with neglect.
  • Social workers should routinely provide feedback to schools on the outcome of referrals made to child protection services and the rationale for their decision not to intervene.
  • Social workers should ensure that Child Protection Conferences are not planned during school holidays, and that information is shared with new schools where children are transitioning to secondary education.
  • Informal and formal opportunities should be made available to all staff to spend time in partner agencies to support development of knowledge and expertise about service provision.
  • The local authority’s threshold guidance document should be used as a tool for reflective discussion across services, to inform professional decision-making and foster a ‘shared language’, so that school staff can more effectively articulate concerns in their referrals.
  • The role of the School Social Worker responds to many interprofessional barriers between schools and child protection services and should be established in all local authorities.

This study forms the basis of Dr Sharley’s ongoing research investigating interprofessional safeguarding practices across the United Kingdom. She would be happy to answer any questions about this study or discuss her ongoing and future work in this area.

Dr Sharley, University of Bristol

This blog was first published by PolicyBristol.

How to adapt participatory arts activities in lockdown

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed serious questions to arts and cultural organisations across the country. One of the biggest has been: how do you continue to use the creative arts to empower the most vulnerable in society during lockdown? Nicky Goulder, Founding Chief Executive of Create, tells us how Create Live! enabled them to do this and what they’ve learnt.

Create Live! participants

On 24 March, all our projects, which rely on face-to-face interactions, ground to a halt.

At Create, we use the creative arts to empower lives and enhance wellbeing. We bring together primary school children in areas of deprivation with disabled adults. We offer young and adult carers vital time away from their responsibilities. We take workshops into prisons and adolescent mental-health units. We work with older people experiencing loneliness. Reducing isolation for these people is central to our mission. But how do you achieve that when everyone has to isolate?

We knew we had to find a way and researched, piloted and launched Create Live!, a new method of digital delivery, in just 14 days. We have now rolled out photography, music, art, drama and dance projects with vulnerable participants across the UK. An emergency response grant from Arts Council England is enabling us to extend this work further.

We had to adapt – fast – to move from in-person to digital workshops. So what have we learnt?

Navigating technology

Getting creative virtually can be a challenge. The key is taking what might seem a limitation and using it to open up new possibilities. We decided to celebrate the home.

Photographer and Create artist Alejandra Carles-Tolra responded by asking young carers to photograph the personal things around them, to look at their homes with new eyes and find inspiration in everyday objects. Exploring their homes and then returning to the screen to collaborate with others provided a creative outlet for self-expression and an opportunity to connect with other young carers.

“Collaboration is always at the centre of my work,” Alejandra says, “and during this period of increased isolation it felt essential that the young carers could collaborate and share their creative work and ideas with each other. It doesn’t matter what tools you have, it’s a way of looking at the world.”

“It doesn’t matter what tools you have, it’s a way of looking at the world.”
Alejandra Carles-Tolra

Safety and comfort

Ensuring participants are safe and comfortable is crucial. We updated our Safeguarding Policy after detailed research; and focus on the smallest details to help them feel calm and relaxed. We ensure, for example that participants names – but only first names – are correctly displayed.

Theatre maker/writer and Create artist James Baldwin explains, “Making a group connection is tricky when you’re disconnected physically, so it’s important to prioritise things that might seem small but make the participants feel comfortable. It’s about being able to embrace the technology to achieve your aim: to have fun and make the participants feel valued.”

A group of young people. All but one of them have their hands raised above their heads.

Innovating when there’s no IT access

Lack of access to computers or the Internet can pose a real barrier to running our projects. So we adapted Create Live! and ran music workshops with our older participants over the phone.

“[The workshop] made a hell of a difference to me,” said one participant. “I was on the phone for three hours! It has woken me up. I was beginning to get tired with nothing to do, no one to talk to. I really enjoyed it today. I will sleep tonight.”

Feedback across our Create Live! projects from participants, parents, community partners and artists has highlighted how important creativity is for wellbeing in these strange times. We are continuing to adapt and increase the number of workshops being delivered through Create Live! in order to reach as many isolated, vulnerable people as possible during this lockdown period and beyond.

“[The workshop] made a hell of a difference to me…I was beginning to get tired with nothing to do, no one to talk to. I really enjoyed it today.”
Participant

This blog was originally published by Arts Council England on July 10th 2020.

Childhood policy programme synthesis report

During 2018 and 2019, the British Academy’s Childhood policy programme explored the role of the state in childhood over the past 100 years, across the four nations of the UK, and from the point of view of different policy areas. Bringing together all the evidence and insights from the wide range of stakeholders involved has been a massive undertaking, and it plays an essential role in breaking down academic, policy and professional silos in order to reframe debates over childhood and explore new conceptualisations of children in policymaking.

As we begin our activities in the second phase of the programme, we are able to share our synthesis of evidence so far that has done so much to inform the current direction of our work. Our Phase I synthesis report explores the recurring and underlying perspectives from our research reports, case studies, and, most importantly, our workshops and interactions with researchers, policymakers, practitioners and other key stakeholders in the childhood policy space.

The three key perspectives identified in the synthesis report are:

1) Exploring the assumptions which underpin the experience of childhood and the development of childhood policy, but are not explicit or visible in the policy making process; 

2) Exploring the impact of policy decisions on children’s outcomes, in particular across the four UK nations, noting that it is not only policy about children that has an impact on children; 

3) Exploring the way in which the experience of children is valued in policy making, and ways in which this can be articulated in the policy process.   

The first of these – Underpinning Assumptions includes a consideration of the extent to which childhood is valued in its own right, in contrast with viewing childhood as simply preparation for adulthood. Another angle considered is the role of children’s rights – in particular, how a more explicit focus on children’s rights might lead to changes in how policy is made, in outcomes for children, and in the experience of childhood more generally. Additionally, assumptions are often made in policy as to when childhood ends, but there are varying and sometimes conflicting differences across different parts of the state (such as criminal justice, employment, social care) and between the different nations of the UK.

The second perspective – Understanding the impact of policy on children’s outcomes – explores the fragmented nature of childhood policy and the difficulty in linking different outcomes for children to specific policy decisions. The experience of childhood is affected not only by the policies that focus directly on children, but by policy across a much wider canvas. For example, the effect of policies relating to tax, benefits and incentives will have implications for many children. A further aspect considered is the impact of policy divergence across the four UK nations on childhood-related policy.

The final area – Understanding children’s experiences, and hearing their voicesfocuses on how children’s voices, and their own views on aspects of childhood, are ‘heard’ by policymakers, and how this feeds through into policy. There can be difficulties in ensuring that children’s perspectives are accurately represented; for example, there may be differences between how children perceive well-being compared to well-being as perceived by adults.  

Drawing on the synthesis above, three analytical areas have been identified as the central themes of Phase II of the programme. These themes are:

  • ‘Being a child versus becoming an adult’: we will investigate how children are positioned in policy and explore whether improvements could be made through altering the balance between the two perspectives of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’.  
  • Building the voice of the child into policy: our focus will be on how children’s voices can most effectively be heard and acted upon by policymakers. Activities will discuss and attempt to address the barriers to bringing the child’s perspective into policy debates.  
  • Rights-based approaches to policy coherence: we aim to develop a deeper understanding of what childhood policy could look like were a rights-based approach to be more central to policy formation, delivery, and enactment across all countries of the UK.  

We are now busy planning activities within all three of these themes to take place throughout autumn 2020 and into 2021.

Keep in touch

You can read the full synthesis report, available on the British Academy’s website, subscribe to the Childhood policy programme monthly newsletter, and contact the programme team at childhood@thebritishacademy.ac.uk.

COVID realities: Understanding the challenges faced by families

COVID-19 has swept across the globe, causing suffering for millions. But it is not just the virus that is the problem. The lockdown has seen the closure of businesses, local services, and schools, causing economic hardship and stress. We know that families living with children face particular challenges, especially when they are on low incomes and cannot access childcare.

Covid Realities is a new research project based at the universities of York and Birmingham. We are working in partnership with the Child Poverty Action Group to understand the challenges faced by families living on a low income during the pandemic.

We are working with parents and carers with children under 19, living on a low income, to document the everyday realities of life during the Coronavirus pandemic. Parents and carers can share their experiences in an online diary, take part in online activities, and participate in virtual workshops. Participants can do as little or as much as they like and they will be completely anonymous. More information about the project is available on the website.

Our aim is to understand the challenges families face, gather evidence of the impact of COVID-19 on families, and help policymakers make better informed decisions. Can you help us reach out to parents and carers in your networks by sharing our project with anyone who may be interested so that they can find out more. Let us know if you have any questions or would like more information about the project:

Geoff Page geoff@covidrealities.org
Maddy Power maddy@covidrealities.org
The COVID Realities Team hello@covidrealities.org

Visual telephone timeline interviews: Findings from the STAR Family Study

This qualitative study explores visual timelines and their effectiveness over the telephone and highlights the need for additional visual methods to be explored within other contexts and settings.

STAR Family Study

As a research associate within CTR and DECIPHer and with an interest in research involving women and care, I joined the ‘The STAR Family Study’ led by Dr Rhiannon Phillips, a study exploring the needs of women with Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease (ARD) throughout their journey to motherhood. 

Woman-centred approach

We expected women’s stories to be personal, sensitive, and evocative, and we adopted a woman-centred approach and ethos for the study. With this in mind, we used timeline-facilitated interviews, a qualitative data collection method used with vulnerable or marginalised groups to help redistribute some of the power imbalance that can occur in standard semi-structured interviews. Visual timelines can encourage participants to create a visual representation of their chronological journey and to share their lived experiences in their own way. This can provide an aspect of ownership over their narratives, a feature considered of high importance in the STAR Family Study. 

Novel ways of using visual timelines

Timeline-facilitated interviews typically take place face-to-face, but the population of interest in the STAR Family Study was a potentially hard-to-reach group, geographically dispersed across the UK and resulting in some interviews taking place over the telephone. There was no extant literature reflecting on the feasibility of using visual timelines over the telephone, so with support from Dr Rhiannon Phillips, Dr Aimee Grant, and Dr Denitza Williams, I sought to address this gap. This led to the following research questions:

  1. How were the visual timelines used by women and researchers in the telephone interviews (e.g., what visual form did they take, who was involved in generating the timelines, were the timelines shared with the researcher and if so when)?
  2. What impact did their use have on the generation of data in terms of the interviewee-interviewer dynamic and formation and sharing of women’s narratives?
  3. What impact did visual timelines have on the quality of data produced in telephone interviews in terms of narrative length, detail, and coverage of sensitive and emotive topics?
Bethan Pell
Bethan Pell presents on the novel qualitative research methods used in the STAR Family study.

Our findings

Findings indicated that timeline-facilitated interviews over the telephone worked effectively in the STAR Family Study, generating detailed narratives of women’s personal lived experiences and encouraging ownership and autonomy over interview direction. Methodological data analysis elicited six themes:

  1. Participants use and adaptation of the timeline tool
  2. Timeline exchange at the end of the interview (returning completed timelines to the interviewer)
  3. Framing the interview: emphasizing that women are in control
  4. Jumping straight into narratives
  5. Taking a lead (on interview direction)
  6. Disclosing personal and sensitive experiences. 

Timeline return

Timeline exchange was an interesting and unexpected finding where non-return of the timeline meant that visual data could not be used to prompt or query during the interview or during analysis. However, within our women-centred approach, participants’ autonomy and control was prioritised over mandating timeline return, which ultimately altered an aspect of the data generation process. Understanding and balancing these implications will be important when considering the use of timelines in the context of a different study.    

Implications of study results

Implications of this methodological approach have become more apparent during the current COVID-19 pandemic, where social distancing restrictions have necessitated remote interviewing alternatives (i.e. telephone, Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype). Our results emphasise that visual timelines were effective over the telephone and highlighted that other visual methods need to be explored within other contexts and settings. Building an evidence-based for how we can still generate detailed narratives whilst working remotely could have a significant impact on how we think about generating qualitative data in the future. 

Managing safeguarding risks digitally: NSPCC recommendations

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact upon family life, including how social care services for children and families are being delivered. In Children’s Services at NSPCC, we shifted from working face-to-face to providing exclusively virtual service. This raised questions about how children and families were responding to digital services and how to manage safeguarding risks digitally.

NSPCC recently brought together colleagues from social care, health, education, the youth sector, police, and the third sector to explore best practice in assessing and managing safeguarding risks digitally. The roundtable highlighted new and innovative ways of working together to support families, while drawing out key challenges for the sector.

New opportunities

In response to lockdown requirements and social distancing measures, services have responded and adapted extremely quickly to continue to safeguard families. While face-to-face contact has remained for the most vulnerable families, services across the sector have worked hard to shift to providing support to children and families digitally.

There were many positive outcomes discussed in the move to a more digitised service offer, including being able to offer enhanced support by increasing contacts and child protection measures for vulnerable families who may be faced with additional stresses and pressures during the crisis. For practitioners this was a faster way to engage with young people as it avoids travel times. It has also enabled smaller ‘place-based’ support to be offered on a wider scale, reaching more families than before. Some children and families preferred contacts to happen virtually, and digital contact has engaged seldom heard children and young people and families.

Improved partnership working was a key benefit of the shift towards digital delivery of services, which was felt to be particularly effective in helping to monitor and protect children and young people at this time. Services across the sector were reported to be working well together and were more connected and communicative.

New challenges

Practitioners are faced with significant upheaval to their usual working practices. This is creating challenges and anxieties about how to reach and safeguard young people and families digitally and how to protect their own well-being.

A significant issue was the difficulty of effectively safeguarding and managing risk digitally. In a relationship and contact-based profession, digital technologies were not felt to offer adequate replacement for one-to-one contact as they can only offer a diluted snapshot of family life. Lack of face-to-face visits means that practitioners cannot gather a fuller context for that family, and this can make it more difficult to assess safeguarding risks. Non-verbal cues were also noted to be harder to observe digitally. Concerns were raised about how practitioners can quickly and effectively respond to safeguarding concerns they identify on a virtual call if they are not physically present to address the issue.

Inadequate internet access, digital poverty, or a lack of digital literacy were raised as key challenges to digitally engaging with vulnerable families. Not all families have access to digital technologies and some children share devices with other family members. This creates barriers for children and young people seeking help and is a safeguarding concern. Confidentiality when using a phone or digital technologies was also raised as a significant challenge, especially during lockdown. Positive steps have been taken within social work, further education, the youth sector, and the third sector to provide children and young people with their own digital devices and phone credit to maintain contact with social workers and key workers during this time. It was also difficult to engage with younger children, disabled children, and young people digitally. It is essential to consider the impact of lockdown on these children so their specific needs in accessing support can be identified and implemented.

Some young people are struggling with increased digital demands and are experiencing ‘digital fatigue’. Practitioners also described experiencing digital fatigue with delivering services digitally. This had a negative impact on their own resilience and well-being. Supervision was key to supporting practitioners at this time, but it was noted that this had not been happening regularly in some areas.

Some practitioners were anxious about their own digital competency skills, acknowledging that they were not as confident as they could be using different virtual platforms. There was also some confusion among practitioners about what digital platforms should or should not be used and which ones are not recommended due to safeguarding concerns.

Moving towards recovery  

Digital platforms have offered an invaluable resource for the children’s social care sector in Wales in engaging, supporting, and safeguarding children and families during lockdown. There are lessons and new opportunities to take forward about how digital service delivery integration into the sector can maintain better engagement with families and sustain improved partnership working, long after the crisis has passed.

However, managing safeguarding risks in a digital world is challenging. Consideration needs to be given to how we use digital technologies to engage children and young people in a way that avoids digital fatigue. We also need to think of how to support those not well equipped to access technology or to use different platforms to safeguard families.

To safeguard children effectively, we need to come together as a sector to develop clear practice guidance on digital service delivery. This guidance needs to support practitioners to ensure their work is sustainable, effective, secure, and safe. Practitioners will also need supervision, training, and support to apply this guidance in practice. Only then can some of these challenges be addressed and the sector can be better equipped to safeguard families in a more digital world.

Sarah Witcombe-Hayes provides this report from the recent roundtable of the NSPCC, the UK’s leading children’s charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover. 

Education during COVID-19: Experiences of the fostering sector

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have heard how fostering households across the UK quickly adapted to support children in these unprecedented times. Many foster carers assumed additional responsibilities and roles overnight: supporting children with home learning, supervising virtual contact with birth families in their own home, facilitating virtual social worker visits as well as all their usual fostering duties and responsibilities.

Lockdown has had a significant impact on fostering households. While some foster carers have reported an increase in challenging behaviour and concerns about the wellbeing of children, some fostering families have seen benefits of children being in one place for a sustained period of time and they have seen children feeling settled and calm.

Survey results
Children and young people’s views on education during the pandemic

To understand more about fostered children’s experiences of education during the pandemic we launched a rapid response survey for foster carers and fostering services across the UK.

The survey received 487 foster carer responses representing 870 fostered children and young people from across the UK. We received 48 responses from fostering service members of staff. In addition, we were able to gather the thoughts and feelings of a small group of children and young people about their experiences of education and thoughts about returning to school.

The evidence shows that the vast majority of children in foster care have been not attending educational settings and have received very different offers and experiences of education throughout the coronavirus pandemic. While some have thrived from more one to one support and the removal of some external pressures, others have experienced increased anxiety and other mental health problems and have been excluded before being given the chance to attend educational provisions. The experience of educating during lockdown has also brought to the fore the need for more individualised education plans for looked after children.

Survey results
Children and young people’s views on transitioning back to their education providers

The survey results have helped provide an understanding about both the educational experience of fostered children during lockdown and their needs as they transition back to school. To find out more about this survey and the key findings please see the full report.

Charlotte Wooders: Charlotte.Wooders@fostering.net
Twitter: The Fostering Network in Wales