Mental health and young people and the pandemic

Philippa Watkins, Senior Research Officer, Senedd Cymru

In 2018, the Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee said a ‘step change’ was needed in emotional and mental health support for children and young people in Wales:

“We state that the urgent challenge now lies at the “front end” of the care pathway – emotional well-being, resilience and early intervention – and that addressing this should be a stated national priority for the Welsh Government. Failure to deliver at this end of the pathway will lead to demand for specialist services outstripping supply, threatening their sustainability and effectiveness.”

The Committee’s follow up report – Mind over matter: Two years on (October 2020), says that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic – and its impact on children and young people’s wellbeing – delivery of the Committee’s 2018 recommendations is more important than ever.

How is the pandemic affecting young people’s mental health?

During the pandemic, young people have reported a range of issues including increased anxiety, loneliness and isolation, loss of support networks, and more limited access to mental health and other services they usually rely on. A Mind Cymru survey found that three quarters of young people said their mental health was worse in the early months of the pandemic. A third of young people who tried to access mental health support were unable to do so.

Modelling by the Centre for Mental Health (for England) estimates that 1.5 million children and young people will need new or additional mental health support due to the pandemic (this represents 15% of children aged 5-19 in England). CYPE Committee’s interim report (July 2020) on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people cautions that there is an important balance to be struck between recognising and supporting mental health problems, and not ‘medicalising’ natural responses to a frightening situation.

Longer term impact

It is however, now widely recognised that children and young people are disproportionately affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. There is significant concern about the potential long-term impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The disruption to their education, employment and training opportunities is a key contributing factor here.

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University, nearly 7 in 10 British teenagers fear the pandemic will make the future worse for people their age. The Prince’s Trust highlights the link between poor mental health and not being in employment, education or training (NEET). It fears that, without mitigating action, a ‘lost generation’ of young people are facing long-term unemployment and lasting damage to their mental wellbeing.

In recent evidence, Professor Ann John (Swansea University) told the Health, Social Care and Sport (HSCS) Committee:

“What we want to avoid is what we call a cohort effect, where there’s a particular insult dealt to a generation and those vulnerabilities follow them through in the long term. So, it really is about leveraging protections and services and access to care.”

Role of schools

In 2018, Mind over matter identified the key role schools play in building an emotionally-resilient population of young people. It called for a whole-school approach to reducing stigma and promoting good mental health. It also described the planned reform of the curriculum in Wales as a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ to embed wellbeing into children’s lives.

The Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill was introduced in July 2020. There’s been considerable discussion among stakeholders about whether the legislation makes explicit enough provision about mental health. CYPE Committee’s stage 1 report (4 December 2020) recommends that the Bill be amended to include specific reference to mental health and wellbeing on the face of the legislation.

“Valuing mental health equally with physical health is vital, especially for our children and young people. As a society, we still have a significant distance to travel before mental health has parity of esteem. While we do not doubt that this Bill aims to address these issues, we believe that a “belts and braces” approach is needed, much like the approach adopted for RSE [Relationships and Sexuality Education]. We need to make sure that the importance of mental health and well-being in our curriculum is plain for all to see now and in the future.”

Whole-system approach

Schools however, are only one element of the ‘whole-system’ approach called for by the Committee. Its Two years on report says that continued commitment and leadership from Welsh Government and sector leads will be essential to drive the system-wide, joint working needed:

“While we are reassured that progress in education is visible and can be evidenced, we are far less confident that the pace of change in health and local government (including social services) is sufficient.”

Responding to this report, the Welsh Government acknowledges the Committee’s concerns about progress in the areas of health and social services. It has agreed to expand the scope of the existing ministerial task and finish group on the whole-school approach to encompass the ‘whole system’, enabling it to provide leadership across all relevant sectors.

Access to mental health services

Mind over matter: Two years on highlights the Committee’s concerns that too many children and young people with mental health needs are still facing difficulties accessing appropriate, timely care. The report makes specific recommendations in relation to:

  • crisis and out of hours support;
  • inpatient services;
  • psychological therapies;
  • the transition from child and adolescent mental health services into adult services, and;
  • support for looked after and adopted children.

While mental health services have been categorised as essential services since the start of the pandemic, both CYPE and HSCS Committees have heard consistent evidence from third sector services and professionals about people struggling to access support. This appears to be the case across the spectrum of need – from early intervention/primary mental health support services through to more specialist services and crisis care.

Missing middle

One of the key areas of concern for the CYPE Committee is that there is still a big gap in provision for what it calls the ‘missing middle’. This term refers to the significant numbers of children and young people who need mental health support, but who may not be unwell enough to need – or meet criteria for – help from specialist services.

The Welsh Government’s response to the Committee’s report highlights the work of the refocused Together for Children and Young People (T4CYP) programme. T4CYP is an NHS-led programme to improve the emotional and mental health support available to children and young people in Wales. One of its three workstreams – ‘Early help and enhanced support’ (EHES) aims to address the needs of the missing middle. The programme’s other key areas of focus are neurodevelopmental services, and regional partnership boards.

T4CYP’s own response to the Committee’s report said it is aiming to finalise the EHES Framework, and undertake preparatory work for its implementation, by March 2021.

Next steps and further information

The Committee recognises the progress that’s been made to date, particularly in respect of schools. And while improvements are now being seen at the ‘front end’ of the care pathway, concerns remain about a lack of provision for children and young people who need more specialist support, those with complex needs, and those who need help in a crisis. The Committee says that ‘significant and urgent’ work remains to be done to ensure that the foundations of the whole-system approach called for are in place by the end of this Senedd. The Committee’s Mind over matter: Two years on report will be debated in Plenary on 16 December 2020. You can watch this on Senedd.tv.

Also of note:

Volunteers needed for studies on social worker decision-making

Researchers at CASCADE are currently conducting two research studies related to social worker decision-making and are seeking social workers to take part. 

Registered social workers in England are eligible to take part in Study 1 and registered social workers in Wales or anywhere else in the UK are eligible to take part in Study 2.

Study 1: for registered social workers in England

This study aims to explore ways of mitigating cognitive bias in social work by testing an intervention and measuring the difference it makes to confirmation bias and forecasting abilities. 

The study is held online via Qualtrics and will take approximately one hour to complete. Participation will involve: 

  1. Reading referrals and predicting what happened next 
  2. Random allocation into a control or intervention group 
  3. For those in the intervention group, reading through a case study and using a checklist with the aim of prompting reflection about the decision-making process
  4. Reading more referrals and predicting what happened next 
  5. Completing a short online task  

If you would like to take part, please follow this link.  

Study 2: for registered social workers in Wales and elsewhere in the UK

This study is being undertaken across the UK and internationally, being jointly run between Cardiff University and the University of Otago (in New Zealand). The study is exploring whether students and qualified social workers from different parts of the UK and in New Zealand have different or similar responses to the case study. 

Participation will involve completing an online survey, during which you will be asked to read an unfolding case vignette about one family, and answer questions about the level and nature of risk to the children, the family’s needs, and what you think should happen. The aim of the study is to help explore variability in decision-making, based on the idea that variability is an inevitable part of the social work system, yet also raises important questions about social justice and equal treatment.

If you would like to take part, please access the survey

For more information or questions regarding the studies, please contact Melissa: MeindlM@cardiff.ac.uk.

Taking hold of our heritage

Leicestershire Cares has secured funding to deliver a heritage project investigating care experience young people’s memory, history and narrative. The Taking Hold Our Heritage project is funded through the Y Heritage project, Leicester, which is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s pioneering “Kick the Dust” funding programme.

The aim of the project will empower care experienced young people to discover, create and promote positive cultural histories and artefacts about care experienced life, while developing a range of employable skills. These artefacts will then form part of a touring exhibition that will be hosted in foster homes and hostels, culminating in a larger exhibition during Care Leavers week in October 2020.

Care leavers are said to be more likely to experience limited life chances (BBC 2017), resulting in a perception of negative personal histories. This heritage project will work with young people to investigate the complex nature of the identity of care leavers, producing an archive of artefacts including oral histories, photography and photovoice. The young people will investigate the memories and experiences of Leicestershire’s leaving care community, by looking at themselves, but also visiting and interviewing and documenting care experience young people. This project may well include collecting stories from older care experienced people.

Casey, a care-experienced young person, writes:

“Leicestershire Cares worked closely with care experience young people in developing the funding bid and took one of our young people to pitch our idea to a selection panel of young people from the Y Heritage.

This project helps give hope and helps care experience young people to feel better and more confident about their experiences. This will help to promote positive thinking in other care experience people of all ages. It provokes us to think about our own positive experiences when watching. All the time, it is the negatives spoken about: ‘my social worker did this wrong’ ‘the system failed me here’. Why aren’t we taking a second to look at the good it did for us? It wasn’t all negative and this project allows all care experience people to stop and look at how it did help for once in our lives. In therapies, people are always told to look at and list the positives all the time. We don’t do that as care experience people and we are never encouraged to do so.

I do a lot of advocacy for looked after children and care experience young people, all anyone ever speaks about is the negatives! This is so unhealthy! It’s time to start turning these things around. Everything has to start somewhere. We deserve to have our own heritage when our own biological families are often lost. Our stories are important and deserve to be heard. Let us be heard, let us raise awareness and let us have our heritage.”

The project will start in January 2020, with the exhibition in October 2020.

If you are interested in finding out more about our Taking Back Our Heritage project, please contact:

Jacob: jacob@leicestershirecares.co.uk
T: 0116 464 5215, M: 07738 403 732
info@leicestershirecares.co.uk

Y Heritage

The Y has been awarded £707,500 through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s pioneering “Kick the Dust” funding programme. This will fund our project “Y Heritage”, which will be a collaboration between The Y, key civic partners such as our universities and local authorities, and the city and county’s wide and brilliant variety of heritage, cultural and creative organisations. The money will be used to better engage young people with heritage across both city and county.

Y Heritage will run a series of “Dragons Den” style pitches over three years where Leicester/Leicestershire based organisations can apply for funding up to £30,000 from a panel of young people. The young people all engage in some way with The Y. The organisations must build opportunities for work or training into their project funding application. Our aim is that our young people and the heritage projects develop and thrive together – it really is a win win opportunity!

With thanks to National Lottery Players for their support, without them projects such as Y Heritage could not happen.

Family conversations during Covid-19: Differences in Chinese families

Family conversations online and abroad during Covid-19: The differences between Chinese Families with daughter and with son

International students at the uncertain stage between teenage and independent adulthood have been particularly vulnerable during lockdown. Many are living far from relatives, with limited social networks and lacking the experience to navigate this public health emergency. At the same time, forms of socialisation shifted. Social gatherings disappeared, while digital family communication in transnational families increased. Online family communication for many has become a substitute for physical contact, rather than a complementary channel for family intimacy.

During my own lockdown experience as a student, I gathered data from my peers on their experiences of family communication during the Covid-19 outbreak. The research took place during June and July of 2020, and involved one-to-one interviews with 20 Chinese international students. Most were internet-based conversations, conducting using the digital communication tool, WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose messaging App. This is the main choice for Chinese transnational-family communication; other messaging apps have been blocked in China due to Internet censorship (Yang and Liu, 2014). Several interviews were conducted face-to-face because we live near to each other.

Study background

The interviewees consisted of 10 female students and 10 male students, aged from 19 to 28, and included undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students. Although the interviewees occupied different education levels, most were still supported financially by their middle-class family. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown my interviewees were situated across the globe: in Europe, USA, Australia and Southeast Asia (e.g. Hong Kong and Japan), all popular destinations of oversea study.

After a short demographic survey (e.g. age, gender, topic of study and family background), we talked about their daily family connection during the Covid-19 such as communication frequency, preferred mode of chatting, levels of participation by mothers and fathers, popular topics of conversation, as well as their perception of changes in family practices as a result of digital communication (for example, sending ‘Lucky Money’ online, animated stickers and sharing content). We also talked about students’ self-disclosure during family communication, that is, their decision about self-censorship when saying something in front of parents to manage their presentation of digital-self (“Do you intend to show an expected online persona or say something that your parents prefer to listen?”).

Findings

My research broadly supports prior studies of transnational family communication which stress that information and communication technologies has transformed families’ ability to maintain intimacy despite physical distance. 

Yet my data also revealed notable differences between Chinese families with daughters and those with sons. Chinese daughters appeared more active in communication with parents, with a higher frequency and better quality interaction. Those daughters who are fond of sharing personal life “moment” on WeChat every day keep a lower family communication frequency. They speculated that it was because these moments were the evidence to prove their safety and could relieve parents’ worry.

Yet my data also revealed notable differences between Chinese families with daughters and those with sons. Chinese daughters appeared more active in communication with parents, with a higher frequency and better quality interaction. In some cases, parents sought frequent contact so that their daughters could ‘prove’ their safety. This involved keeping parents informed by posting personal life on social media every day.

At the same time, Chinese daughters and sons had different preferences on the frequency of family conversation, as well as ‘impression management’. Daughters, for example, spent more time talking about their daily life – this was the last choice of topic for sons. Detail about family members’ lives and gossip were popular topics in family communication with daughters, while news and politics were considered low interest. Food was a common theme, with several female interviewees noting that they had obtained a family recipe, which they had cooked and then sent a photo of the meal home. 

Female participants were also more likely to share the experience of illness, stress from study and loneliness with parents, demonstrating their willingness to reveal their mental dependence on family and clearly express their need for emotional support. Indeed, amongst daughters this was considered the core reason for keeping in touch with parents. Daughters were also better at taking new family practices online and maintaining relationships, through the sharing of emoji and memes. For some, sharing emoji had become a new, entertaining cross-generational practice. As one female interviewee said, “my mother has ‘stolen’ the meme I sent to her and use it as well. She likes to guess the meaning of a certain meme. Sometimes she will play a joke on me to say, ‘this cute doggy looks like you’. I am happy to hear she also likes it.” 

Male interviewees, conversely, hesitate in acknowledging the existence of emotional need, homesickness or adaptation problems. They prefer to attribute the reason for regular communication to the filial responsibility of children to their parents. For many, they simply could not find a proper word to explain their motivation for parental communication: “It is too ordinary in my daily life, and I have never thought about the reason for constant family communication. Sometimes, it is more like clocking in.” The passive behaviour and attitude of sons partly results from social expectation that men should not be concerned with intimacy – rather they should be brave, strong and focused on their career. Difficulties in self-adjustment, or presenting too keen an interest in family trivia may be considered evidence of inappropriate sensitivity and vulnerability. The choice of a son in these parental conversations is to either end any parental concerns quickly, or merely talk about his interests, such as political affairs, family decisions and personal hobbies. 

Although the interviews suggest that Chinese daughters are good at seeking help from parents in communication, surprisingly more than half of them also intended to “leave an ideal impression in front of parents,” that is, maintaining an “innocent, polite, positive and lovely” image. As the ‘good girl’ expected by Chinese society, daughters should not let parents worry or ‘let parents down’. This intention also implies they have to present their life and thoughts online selectively, leaving certain issues hidden or unspoken. Parents often show excessive concern and more control to daughters, who are considered more vulnerable than sons in the ‘dangerous’ society. This was illustrated, in some cases, through repeated verbal warnings, unsolicited advice on healthy diet and rest, how to best spend their free-time, alcohol intake and smoking behaviour. 

Sons did not demonstrate a strong desire for presenting an ‘ideal’ digital-self in family communications. Male interviewees, for example, indicated their preference to “keep it real”. Indeed, in some cases, they preferred to depict their life negatively in order to lower parents’ expectation and potential pressure. 

Although daughters and sons had different styles for building their digital image for parents, self-disclosure was based on the balance between social expectations of their gender, and their identity as an emerging adult. With awareness of their increasing autonomy, the authority of parents decreased for both daughters and sons. 

Conclusion 

Studying digital family communication in Chinese context can help us examine the changing parent-children relationship which is shifting from the traditional intergenerational exchange model to mutual communication and interaction. It can also help to explain the social and cultural reasons for self-disclosure and digital self by gender. 

References

Yang, Q. and Liu, Y. (2014). What’s on the other side of the great firewall? Chinese Web users’ motivations for bypassing the Internet censorship. Computers in Human Behavior, 37

Yang Shuhan is a Postgraduate in Digital Society at the University of Edinburgh.

Blog originally posted at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.

In the shadow of a pandemic: Harare’s street youth COVID-19 experience

Janine Hunter has worked as a Researcher on Growing up on the Streets since January 2013 at the University of Dundee. She is also in the first year (part-time) of a PhD on the love relationships of street youth in Accra, Ghana.

In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Harare’s Street Youth Experience COVID-19 is a freely available ‘story map’, launched on 30 June. Made with visual data recorded by street youth in Harare, it includes films, photos, and details of lives lived on the streets under lockdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has had unprecedented impact on all our lives. In Zimbabwe, where two-thirds of the population live in poverty (World Food Programme, 2019), lockdown has exacerbated water and food shortages and seen curfews, roundups and forced removal of young people living on the streets. Growing up on the Streets research project has been working with Street Empowerment Trust (SET) and a network of street youth there since 2012. We knew how hard conditions were there under normal circumstances, how much harder would it be under COVID-19 lockdown?

In late May and early June 2020, street youth collected the videos, images and stories around the low-income settlements, alleyways and areas of disused land around Harare where young people eke out a living in the informal economy, for example collecting and selling plastics – earning them less than half a pence (GBP) per kilo. The story map includes the story of Mai Future, a young pregnant woman who shows us the shelter she has put together on wasteland where she and her young child live; Denford, who demonstrates how he and his friends sleep in a new socially distanced manner, no longer able to huddle together for warmth; and, Zviko, who cooks up mopane worms in discarded paint tins used as cooking pots. 

Making the story map was challenging for participants, because ongoing curfews meant that street youth weren’t supposed to be in the city centre at all. Groups were confined to the secret alleyways or ‘bases’ (effectively their homes) or in the low income settlements outside the centre. Unable to move across the city, different participants captured visual data in the areas they lived, on a borrowed mobile phone.

The story map is a Zimbabwe–UK collaboration: Shaibu Chitsiku from SET worked with street youth in Harare to capture the visual material, while at the University of Dundee (which provided ethical approval as well as the licensed web application), the visual and context data were edited and the online resource created using ESRI’s ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Harare was one of three cities (alongside Accra, Ghana and Bukavu, DRC) in the Growing up on the Streets research project, which took place between 2012-2016 and involved 229 core participants and hundreds more in networks and focus groups. Growing up on the Streets legacy funding from Backstage Trust enabled the 24 street youth (9 of whom were original participants) to visually capture what life is like on the street as young women and men try to survive under COVID-19 lockdown in Harare.

Growing up on the Streets original methodology used a capability approach, drawing on Sen (1999) and Nussbaum (2000), where participants defined their own capabilities on the street and are seen as experts in their own lives. The project aims remain: to change the discourse around street children and youth and their right to make lives of value while living on the street. This story map is a continuation of that approach, and a unique and timely resource on how the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns are experienced by homeless young people living in urban poverty.

It’s the project’s second story map: in 2017 the University of Dundee Stephen Fry Award funded an online showcase created with street youth in Accra, Growing up on the Streets: A Story Map by Accra’s Street Youth includes sections built around the ten capabilities the street children and youth had defined as key to their lives. Other outputs from which are freely available online include: Briefing Papers in English and French, and the award-winning Knowledge Exchange Training Pack.

The films from the Harare story map are available on YouTube on the Growing up on the Streets channel. After seeing the final result, Shaibu said: “I participated in the collection of the pictures and videos, so I obviously have more information about the happenings and context; however, the story moved me, even though I was there when it was created. My verdict is ‘bolato’! (It’s great!).”

The story map was created by Growing up on the Streets:

  • Participants and visual creators: Arnold, Claude, Denford, Fatso, Fungai, Henzo, Jojo, Jonso, Jude, Mada, Madnax, Mai ‘Future’, Mathew, Mavhuto, Ndirege, Nixon, Ralph, Ranga, Tarwirei, Taurai, Tobias, Tonderai, Yeukai, Zviko. Please note all names are pseudonyms, chosen by the participants.
  • Project Manager, Harare: Shaibu Chitsiku, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe. Story map editing, construction: Janine Hunter, Geography, University of Dundee, UK. Film editing, subtitles: Victor Maunzeni, Street Empowerment Trust, Harare, Zimbabwe. Directors of Growing up on the Streets: Professor Lorraine van Blerk, University of Dundee, UK; Dr Wayne Shand, EDP Associates, UK; and the late Fr Patrick Shanahan, StreetInvest.
  • NGO Partner: StreetInvest, UK. Funding: Backstage Trust, UK.
    There is also a Conversation UK article associate with this storymap and a Conversation Africa podcast with Pasha 88.

References

  • Nussbaum, M.C. (2000). Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
  • Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
  • World Food Programme (2019). Country Brief. WFP Zimbabwe, January 2019.

Original post located at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.

Ministry of Life Education: Support us to improve the lives of young people

Ministry of Life Education are a community interest company that provide technical and vocational alternative educational opportunities for marginalised and disengaged young people aged 11-25. We have recently formulated a five-year plan to manage future growth in a responsible way. As such we are refreshing our Ministry of Life Education Board and we are looking for people with a passion for improving the lives of young people to join us as new Board Members.

We provide alternative educational environments, off campus, where young people can be supported in a more focused setting. We offer an individualised approach with our learners and the main aim of our organisation is to engage with young people who are not ready for mainstream education or the workplace, spend time with them working on vocational topics, which help them to progress to further education or employment. We achieve this aim through partnerships with Cardiff and Vale College and Cardiff Council.

We have a proven track record of working with young people who have left, or are at risk of leaving, school with little or no formal qualifications, and supporting them through forms of vocational education. We specialise in multimedia modules that feature music and video. These modules have proved to be effective in engaging young people and sustaining their involvement to successful completion. We offer young people the opportunity to learn how to record their own music and create videos. Ministry of Life Education enable and encourage young people to use their time constructively and guide them towards more positive futures.

If you would like to find out more about our courses or apply to join us as a Board Member please get in touch. tim@moleducation.co.uk

@MOLEducation
www.moleducation.co.uk
www.facebook.com/moleducation

Understanding higher education experiences of care-experienced young people

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

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

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

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

Hannah Bayfield
CASCADE, Cardiff University
BayfieldH@Cardiff.ac.uk
@HBayfield

The Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic: Experiences and lessons for the future

The Coronavirus (COVID 19) Pandemic: Young People leaving care and practitioners share their experiences and lessons for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has had a major impact across the world, with a disproportional impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. This research study was designed to contribute to the emerging evidence base exploring both the receipt and delivery of social care support during this period.

The research study was funded by Voices from Care Cymru and CASCADE: Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre. It offered a platform for the views of 21 care experienced young who provided vivid and detailed accounts of their experiences of lockdown. The inclusion of a professional survey with 23 participants enabled consideration of local initiatives providing a valuable backdrop for analysis of young people’s accounts. The study therefore provides important learning for policy makers, social care managers and front-line practitioners who work with care experienced young people and other vulnerable groups.

Encouragingly, the study revealed positive attempts to adapt to the unprecedented working conditions. It was noteworthy that the professionals who responded to our survey were positive about the support that they had provided to care leavers. Efforts to maintain communication with young people, combat loneliness, isolation and boredom, as well as ensure access to resources demonstrated good practice. However, it was noted that efforts to respond to the needs of young people were constrained by the absence of additional funding.

The perspectives of young people sometimes stood in sharp contrast to those of professionals and concerns remain about parity of support within and across areas, and the alignment between support needs and available provision. Our findings did not suggest consultation and inclusion of young people in decision making about new ways of working, and the focus appeared to be on immediate and short-term crisis needs, as opposed to transition planning or taking a rights-based approach. Of particular concern were reports of young people anxious about basic provisions, living in inappropriate accommodation and struggling with absence of mental health support.

However, despite these issues young people valued contact from social workers and social care professionals and positioned this as essential in the COVID-19 pandemic, as illustrated in this poem from one of the care experienced young people who participated in the study.

Times have changed, time is passing,
But our need for you to care is not lapsing,
We may whinge and shout and say we don’t want,
But we do, we really want you to.
We are isolated, changed and really not sure,
We need that face, the one we say we dislike
we need those texts that we never reply to,
We need the language that you share, they hey,
`how are you doing, I am still here’,
This is the real language that cares, the language we need,
The language which shows us not everything has changed,
The language that comforts us, like a weird aunt would send
Which would make us cringe, and smile,
A smile which means something hasn’t changed
-the language you use to show us you care.

You can also watch the Care Leavers and Coronavirus film about the key findings:

We would be pleased to hear from you with any feedback, comments, or suggestions:

Louise Roberts, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University RobertsL18@cardiff.ac.uk @DrLouiseRoberts

References

Roberts, L., Rees, A., Bayfield, H., Corliss, C., Diaz, C., Mannay, D. and Vaughan, R. 2020. Young people leaving care, practitioners, and the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic: experiences, support, and lessons for the future. Cardiff: Cardiff University.

‘A Portrait of Care’: Combating the negative stereotypes people have about children in care

‘A Portrait of Care’ is a collaboration with the University of Southampton, Widening Participation Department. The project will form an online exhibition via Instagram using self-portraiture as a way to combat the negative stereotypes people have about children in care. The project invites those with care experience and those that work in or with the care community to take part and it will feature in the National Care Leavers Week # NCLW2020 between 26 October and 1 November 2020.

Each Instagram post featured in ‘A Portrait of Care’ will have three frames:

  • A selfie or representation of self, for example an avatar
  • Something about the participant now (present)
  • Reveal of ‘care’ role/experience, for example, why participant chose to take part in the project? Or what the participant’s role in the care system is now?

People are free to define themselves and they can define their identity by taking their photograph and by writing whatever it is they want to write about themselves. They do not have to reveal their care status.

This project invites care experienced people, social workers, kinship or foster carers, residential care workers, teachers, charities, designated safeguarding leads, virtual school staff, social care researchers or anyone in the care community, to submit entries for the exhibition as a way to bring together professionals and those with care experience as part of #NCLW2020

Due to the negative connotations associated with being ‘looked-after’, almost every care experienced person comes into contact with discrimination at one point in their lives because of their background. By using portraits, we would hope to de-stigmatise the experience of care to improve perceptions and general public awareness. You cannot tell a person’s care experience from a photograph!

We have launched the event on Instagram/Twitter/private care experience groups and promote leading up to and during #NCLW2020 and continue beyond that until end of November.

We will hold a draw among the first 30 people who participate. The 10 ‘winners’ will have their portrait drawn by a Care Experienced artist. Additionally, every care experienced person who takes part will receive a £5 Amazon voucher.

If you are interested in participating in ‘A Portrait of Care’, contact Rosie Canning at rc11g14@soton.ac.uk, or:

Online services, mental health & wellbeing of the care-experienced

Online services and the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced children and young people

Good mental health and wellbeing is important particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the new restrictions around social distancing, there has been a move to deliver mental health services online. However, as yet, we do not know the best ways to develop online services, or how to successfully adapt programmes that have been delivered in person to now be delivered online. Research is required to understand how interventions can transition to online or blended (a mixture of face-to-face and online) delivery, what models are perceived to work most effectively, and which approaches warrant additional development, adaptation, and evaluation.

This new study funded by the TRIUMPH network aims to explore how to best develop online programmes for care-experienced young people. A team from Cardiff University and Voices from Care Cymru are working with The Fostering Network in Wales to improve online services to better support mental health and wellbeing.

We will interview and run consultations groups with care-experienced young people, foster carers, and social care professionals to explore their experiences of online programmes and understand what they want from online services. This will help us to consider the best way to develop or adapt services and discover what types of programmes participants would like to see in the future.

The research findings will enable us to develop a set of guidance and principles to support policymakers, practitioners, and researchers in developing and or adapting programmes for delivery online. If you are a care-experienced young person, foster carer or practitioner and you would like to contribute to developing online services to support mental health and wellbeing please contact us to register your interest.

Rhiannon Evans
DECIPHer (Centre for Development, Evaluation, Complexity and Implementation in Public Health Improvement), Cardiff University
evansre8@cardiff.ac.uk
@1RhiannonEvans

Dawn Mannay
School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University
mannaydi@cardiff.ac.uk
@dawnmannay