New safeguarding resource for working with children and young people

www.checkyourthinking.org developed from Cardiff University research, brings together resources and materials created from research and partnership work with young people, as well as foster carers, and social care and allied professionals. It builds on the outcomes of research led by Dr Sophie Hallett in the Keeping Safe? report which used case records to track a cohort of 205 children involved with social services in one Welsh local authority, alongside involvement from young people, social workers, foster carers and residential workers.

The resources are for use by all those working with and caring for young people. They are designed as reflective tools to help people ‘check their thinking’ about key issues in safeguarding young people from exploitation, harms and other abuses. They can be used by individuals to help support them in their work, by providing the opportunity to reflect on their own understandings and practices. Or they can be used as a way of facilitating discussion and sharing of views within and across teams.  The website, launched on 1st July 2021, premieres a new animated film developed in partnership with young people from Voices from Care and is a way of letting young people know that they have been heard, that their voices have contributed to new policy and that support is available. This work was commissioned by Welsh Government, the original research was funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales.

Social Care Wales ‘Padlet’ of wellbeing resources

As part of the ExChange Wales Well-Being Conference Series 2021, Social Care Wales has created a fantastic resource called a ‘padlet’ of well-being resources for the social care workforce.  It can be found online and contains links to:

  • Helplines
  • Social Care Wales website
  • Peer support groups
  • Care First
  • Bitesize well-being sessions
  • Free well-being Apps

Just click on the links below to take you to directly to the padlet:

English version

Welsh version

For more information, please contact Social Care Wales.

The performance and improvement framework for social services

Written by Well-being and Improvement Branch at Welsh Government

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (‘the Act’) came into force in April 2016.  The Act provides the legal framework for improving the well-being of people who need care and support, and carers who need support, and for transforming social services in Wales.  

As part of the development of the Act, in 2016 the Social Services and Improvement Division within the Welsh Government established a series of performance indicators, measures and outcomes frameworks to measure the impact of the Act on the well-being outcomes of people who need care and support and carers who need support.  

The well-being needs of the people receiving support from social services are a key priority at the Welsh Government. It was with this in mind that we set about developing a more comprehensive Performance and Improvement Framework which links in to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 as well as the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. 

The new approach

The new approach aims to encourage a deeper understanding of experiences of individuals who use social services and the impact these services are having. Through this greater understanding, we can support improvement within the sector so that ultimately the well-being outcomes of individuals who receive care and support can be improved. 

The new approach has been developed to focus on performance and improvement equally.  It includes the development of new Quality Standards alongside a new Performance and Improvement Framework. 

The new performance and improvement framework for social services in Wales consists of the code of practice as well as a series of guidance documents. The framework and supporting guidance brings together a number of key elements into a single toolkit for local authorities to use in their understanding of how social care is delivered locally and nationally and the impact it has on the well-being of individuals in Wales. It will focus on three key areas; Measuring Activity and Performance, Understanding Experience and Outcomes and Using Evidence to Drive Improvement.

The Welsh Government have worked collaboratively with local authorities and other partners within the sector to gather high quality data and evidence so that together we can fully understand and improve how social services are delivered across Wales as well as assessing the impact that this has on the well-being of the people who live in Wales.

Experiences of unpaid carers during the pandemic and beyond

Unpaid carers are the backbone of the health and social care system in Wales and across the United Kingdom. Under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, an unpaid carer is understood as an adult who provides care to another person who would not be able to cope without their support, whether due to physical illness, disability, mental illness or addiction. Unpaid carers may provide practical support, including housework, shopping and transportation, personal care, including washing, toileting and support with medical treatment (e.g., taking medication, managing dressings) and/or emotional support. People can become carers at any time in their lives and may find themselves responsible for the welfare of a partner, a parent, a disabled child, a relative, a friend or a neighbour with little or no prior preparation.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the responsibilities of unpaid carers have increased considerably. There are more unpaid carers than ever before, and most of those who provided unpaid care before the pandemic are now spending more time on providing care for another person. Despite the vital contributions they make on a day-to-day basis, unpaid carers are poorly recognised in public discussions of health and social care and have felt overlooked during the pandemic, in contrast to professional health and social care workers, whose efforts have received greater recognition.

Our study, which was funded by Public Health Wales, aimed to explore the experiences of unpaid adult carers across Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic. We carried out in-depth interviews, via video link or telephone, with a total of 47 participants, aged from 15 to 85 years. This work has helped to highlight the extent of challenges faced by carers prior to the pandemic, the nature of carers’ experiences during the pandemic, and what their hopes and concerns are for the future. 

CAER Heritage and Social Prescribing: Improving Health and Well-being through Heritage Projects

Written by Dr Oliver Davis

Over the last 10 years CAER Heritage has developed from humble beginnings into a major national award-winning Community Archaeology and Civic Mission project at Cardiff University. The project is focussed on the Cardiff suburbs of Caerau and Ely – these are two of the most socially and economically disadvantaged wards in the whole of Wales, yet are home to a number of nationally and internationally significant heritage sites, including Caerau Hillfort. These heritage ‘assets’, had up till the instigation of the project, been relatively under-used and under-valued, but through the work of CAER are now at the heart of community regeneration, education and well-being.

All CAER activities are co-created and have included geophysics, excavations, artefact analyses, exhibitions, art installations, films, performances, accredited courses and experimental archaeology. Launched in April 2019, the current phase of the project known as “The Hidden Hillfort Project” is creating a heritage centre at Caerau Hillfort along with heritage trails, interpretation, and opportunities to help co-research and co-curate the monument. Key to this work has been the contribution of volunteers, partners and visitors – over 10 years more than 3,000 participants have been actively involved in co-produced research and we have engaged with over 15,000 visitors at CAER events.  The project has worked with 15 institutional partners and built partnerships with 7 local schools involving 1,500 pupils in co-produced activities.

Measuring the impact of this work is difficult, but essential. We collect both quantitative and qualitative data with particular emphasis placed on generating personal accounts through the Most Significant Change evaluative process. Identified benefits include changing attitudes to heritage participation, challenging stigmas associated with these communities, and transforming educational opportunities for local people. However, of increasing importance to us is the way that involvement in CAER activities can positively impact physical and mental health and well-being. This was evident from much of our early project activity with participants often reflecting on the therapeutic nature of working with the CAER team. This has become particularly apparent in recent years with the instigation of weekly volunteer working groups. Participants find us through a range of different agencies, particularly our community partner and local community development organisation Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE). They get involved in everything from litter picking, to clearing vegetation from pathways, to gardening, to archaeological research, and regularly report increased confidence, identity and sense of self-worth. Working together and regularly helps to create new communities and new social networks where everyone’s participation is valued.

We firmly believe that heritage and archaeology can have enormous social and economic value to individuals and communities which should be open for everyone. To find out more about our work, please visit our website or follow us on social media (@CAERHeritage; Facebook.com/CAERHeritageProject)

A few images below of volunteers:

Volunteer gardening
Volunteer gardening

ExChange Wales Well-Being Conference Series Launch Event: The Significance of ‘Well-Being’ to Welsh Social Care

Welcome to this launch event for the ExChange Wales summer conference series 2021 on Well-Being.

In this video, Dr Jen Lyttleton-Smith from Cardiff Metropolitan University and Dr Pippa Anderson from Bangor University share their knowledge on the importance of well-being in Welsh social care. The presenters are co-leads for the Evaluation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

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

More ExChange resources are available to view online.

Our priorities: what matters to care-experienced young people

Tiff Evans, Voices From Care Cymru

Voices From Care Cymru exists to improve the lives of care experienced children and young people in Wales by being an independent voice for the care community. During the summer of 2019 we held a series of workshops for care experienced young people from across Wales. The task was to help us understand the topics that are of most importance to care experienced young people. 

The 5 key areas that received the most votes were:

  • Mental Health and Mental Health Services – “This is important for individuals who are unable to deal with their own issues. Past experiences, anxiety and depression can cause mental health issues which then have a knock-on effect with life.”
  • The Importance of Sibling Contact – “this will help young people feel like they are able to keep the relationship and bonds with their families and not be cut off from them. Also helps to make them feel secure and protected.”
  • The importance of Love – “this is important for care experienced young people to feel that they are loved by someone. It does not have to be in any particular way but everyone wants to be loved and by having someone doing that can increase their morale and help them to feel they are worthy.”
  • Stigma – “Young people in care have the label/stigma that they cannot do things that others can do. It does not matter that they are care experienced, it is about recognising that they have hopes and dreams just like everyone else!”
  • The importance of Stability – “this is important for a young person to feel happy and stable within their home. Whether it’s foster care, residential or independent living young people do not want to keep moving around as they are unable to build positive relationships with others and they are made to feel that they cannot settle anywhere as their placement is not stable.”

This has formed the basis of our work over the 3 years. Our research with NSPCC called Listen, Act Thriveexplored young people’s experiences of Mental Health. In 2019 we held our ‘Rethinking Contact conference’; which explored the terminology & process around build positive and last relationships with siblings. Most recently our 1,000 Voices manifesto for the 2021 Senedd Cymru elections was built on these key areas and further developed with care experienced young people. 

We can’t escape the fact that the Covid-19 Pandemic has had a significant impact on care experienced young people. Last summer Voices From Care Cymru and CASCADE explored the impact COVID 19 had on care leavers.

“It’s nothing like compared to what it was before. When it was normal, the help was immaculate but you can’t do anything. Staff can’t do very much now to what it was.”

“They understand where we are at, and a lot of us care kids and care leavers just want someone to love us and care about us, chat to us and sometimes when I get that feeling like someone is my uncle, I love it and I know they have done a good job. They have been great. Workers who want the best for you, who remember things about you and are fighting your corner.”

If you are care experienced and would like hear more about what we do at Voices, get in touch:

Email: Tiff@Vfcc.org.uk
Twitter: @Voicesfromcare
Facebook: Voices From Care Cymru
Instagram: voicesfromcarecymru

If you are a practitioner and are interested in finding more about our work with Care experienced children and young people you can contact us:

Email: Tiff@Vfcc.org.uk
Twitter: @Voicesfromcare
Facebook: Voices From Care Cymru
Instagram: voicesfromcarecymru

Understanding out of home care rates in Northern Ireland: a thematic analysis

Understanding out of home care rates in Northern Ireland: a thematic analysis of mixed methods case studies

Claire McCartan, Lisa Bunting & Gavin Davidson

School of Social Sciences, Education & Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast

The research

The concept of health inequalities – unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society – is well-established and accepted within public health. However, the idea that similar disparities exist with social care, in particular child welfare, has received much less attention.  The Child Welfare Inequalities project (CWIP: Bywaters et al., 2020) set out to address this gap by examining the relationship between deprivation and child welfare service provision across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (NI). We found a strong association between area level deprivation and the chances of a child being placed on a child protection plan or the child protection register, or becoming looked after. Despite having the highest levels of deprivation in the UK, Northern Ireland’s use of out of home care was lower than the other UK nations: 50% lower than England, 75% lower than Wales and 130% lower than Scotland. Why?

As part of the CWIP research, case studies exploring social work practice were conducted in England and Scotland (Mason et al., 2019; Morris et al., 2018). The case studies found similar practice across the two nations, where poverty had become ‘invisible’ even though it contributed to the risk of harm. The findings highlighted the need for new approaches and critical reflection in social work to help engage with, and support, families experiencing poverty and deprivation. 

To try to understand the differences in NI, the same case study approach was used. This involved embedding a researcher within two social work teams in two different Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) in NI, in the most and least deprived electoral ward areas. Mixed methods were used to explore two questions:

1. What is the interplay between decisions to intervene in children’s lives and their social, economic and material circumstances?
2. What are the relative strengths of the variables that influence unequal rates in decisions to intervene? 

Fieldwork was informed by analysis of routinely collected child protection data and involved a range of activities such as practice observations, semi-structured interviews, focus groups using a standardized vignette and mapping of decision-making processes. Data were entered, coded and analysed using a ‘framework’ approach (Ritchie and Spencer, 1994) which produced a table of thematically coded data.  

The findings

Early help systems and structures

The availability of early help was more evident in NI than in England. Devolution has allowed for a divergence from national policy and whole family support approaches have been central to family support and service provision in NI. This has included the development of regional Family Support Hubs with the aim of providing better access to and co-ordination between statutory and community support. Family Support Hubs were reported as effective in providing early and tailored support for families by employing a ‘step up, step down’ approach. Equally, NI’s rich history of community sector activism has not been eroded by austerity in the same way as seen in England and Scotland although social workers voiced concern that this decline was only a matter of time under current financial cutbacks which has led to a reduction and strain in available services. Contrary to English policy, NI has specific anti-poverty strategies that make provision for practical support for families in need (e.g. the 1991 ‘Targeting Social Need’ policy and the subsequent ‘New Targeting Social Need’ policy set out in the terms of the 1998 Belfast ‘Good Friday’ Agreement (https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/issues/policy/tsn/index.html)). The CWIP research has re-informed and reinforced this policy direction and the promotion of anti-poverty social work practice (Morrison et al., 2018). 

Poverty aware practice

Social workers in the study demonstrated relatively high levels of routine poverty awareness. While the implementation of Universal Credit has been delayed in NI, UK welfare reform has begun to impact negatively on families in NI. Social workers in NI demonstrated an understanding of the complex relationship between poverty and family difficulties and many felt able to provide practical support, including the routine use of Article 18 payments to provide assistance and even cash payments. Other common examples of practical support included buying heating oil and travel bursaries to attend meetings. This was in contrast to England and Scotland where special payments were difficult to make, not only because of a lack of funds, but the bureaucracy associated with applying for them.

Poverty aware systems?

Routine assessment forms include questions about benefits and there is a free income maximization service (the Department for Communities, Make the Call) available which assesses entitlement to social support. However this can be seen as an additional task in what is an already lengthy assessment process. Safeguarding children remains the foremost priority during assessment and while poverty may feature, ensuring a child’s safety is the ultimate concern and risk-based decision-making is secondary to anti-poverty practice. 

Community cohesion and social capital

The history of conflict in NI has in some ways also strengthened local communities and social ties. While neighbourhoods can be polarized along sectarian lines, there is evidence that cohesive communities can provide some level of protection for children and families.. Conversely, close communities can also be a source of abuse and risk for children and young people due to paramilitarism which is an area of ongoing concern (Bunting et al., 2020). 

Familial dynamics

Families tend to live in close proximity and are often a source of support for social workers in order to provide protection and are when a family is in crisis. Extended families ability to help was framed in NI as a much more positive assumption compared to England for example. This reliance on kinship care is reflected in national data, with NI having the highest use of kinship care in the UK. 

Conclusions

We need more research of course! Family dynamics, size, and geographical proximity may increase the availability of informal family support in times of difficulty. Less reliance on state support born out of NI’s political history may have contributed to a stronger community support for children and families. The research also suggests that social work practice in NI may have a better understanding of the impact of poverty on families, have more access to practical help and community support and have a more positive narrative about the resources of extended family.  Early help and support such as the Family Support Hubs also seem to make a difference. While deprivation levels are high, inequality is lower – inequity in the distribution of resources is arguably one of the main drivers of poor health, social problems and inequality (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009).

References

Bunting, L., McCartan, C., Davidson, G., Grant, A., McBride, O., Mulholland, C., Murphy, J., Schubotz, D., Cameron, J. and Shevlin, M. (2020). The Mental Health of Children and Parents in Northern Ireland: Results of the Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Survey. Belfast: Health and Social Care Board. https://pureadmin.qub.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/219940525/Youth_Wellbeing_FINAL.pdf

Bywaters, P., Scourfield, J., Jones, C., Sparks, T., Elliott, M., Hooper, J., McCartan, C., Shapira, M., Bunting, L. and Daniel, B. (2020). Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK, Journal of Social Work, 20(2): 193–215. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468017318793479

Mason, W., Morris, K., Webb, C., Daniel, B., Featherstone, B., Bywaters, P., Mirza, N., Hooper, J., Brady, G., Bunting, L. and Scourfield, J. (2019). Toward full integration of quantitative and qualitative methods in case study research: insights from investigating child welfare inequalities. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 14(2): 164-183. https://doi.org/10.1177/1558689819857972

Morris, K., Mason, W., Bywaters, P., Featherstone, B., Daniel, B., Brady, G., Bunting, L., Hooper, J., Mirza, N., Scourfield, J., and Webb, C. (2018). Social work, poverty, and child welfare interventions. Child and Family Social Work, 23(3): 364-372. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12423

Morrison, A., McCartan, C., Davidson, G. and Bunting, L. (2018). Anti-poverty practice framework for social work in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Department of Health. https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/doh-anti-poverty-framework

Ritchie, J. and Spencer, L. (1994). Qualitative data analysis for applied research. In: Bryman, A. and Burgess, R.G., eds. Analysing qualitative data. London: Routledge: 173-194.

Wilkinson, R. G. and Pickett, K. (2009). The Spirit Level. London: Bloomsbury Press.

Do family drug and alcohol courts (FDACs) reduce care?

Written by Professor Judith Harwin of Lancaster University

In 2020 the Welsh government announced two years funding to set up the first pilot FDAC in Wales, acting on the recommendations of the Commission on Justice in Wales in the previous year[1]. The pilot will take place in South Wales, based on Cardiff court with the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff as the participating local authorities. It opens in autumn 2021. An evaluation will help answer a central question – can FDAC help reduce the number of looked after children in Wales?

FDAC is a problem-solving court that, unlike standard care proceedings, both treats and adjudicates[2]. The central goal is to help parents address their substance misuse and related difficulties so as to promote safe and sustainable family reunification. A multidisciplinary FDAC team provides intensive support to parents, links them into local services, and advises the court on parental progress in regular non-lawyer review hearings. In these hearings the judge and parents talk directly to one another and progress is reviewed with the FDAC team. The role of the judge is to help motivate parents while reminding them of their responsibilities and to problem solve. If parents cannot make changes within a timescale compatible with the child’s needs, the case reverts to standard proceedings and the child is placed in alternative care. If parents do not wish to take part in FDAC, their case is heard in standard proceedings.

The rationale for the Welsh pilot is strong. The Commission drew on the research evidence in England which shows that FDAC has higher rates of family reunification at the end of the care proceedings, compared to standard proceedings. Reunification is more likely to remain intact within three years of the court case and a higher proportion of mothers also remain free from substance misuse five years later[3]. In addition to better outcomes, FDAC saves money[4]. The potential for FDAC to help reduce the size of the care order child population was a main driver -higher than in England and in Northern Ireland. Wales makes less use of orders that result in family reunification than England while the rate of care proceedings and care orders for infants is also higher than in England[5]. As in England, no data is collected nationally on the contribution of parental substance misuse to these trends, but Welsh children are almost twice as likely to be looked after if a parent has an alcohol or drug problem[6].

All these are compelling reasons for trialling FDAC. So is the softer evidence. Parents and professionals are supportive of FDAC because of its compassionate approach combined with procedural fairness. Parents say that they are treated as ‘normal’ human beings and are offered hope that they can change. Professionals welcome FDAC’s non-adversarial, collaborative and transparent approach, and crucially, the research shows that it is a transferable model. Court observations in both established and new FDACs in England showed that the judiciary were implementing the principles and practices of problem-solving justice[7].

FDAC is not a panacea. It cannot overcome problems of deprivation, austerity and service decline but it can help motivate and support parents to change and become better problem solvers. It does so by using the court as a time limited agent of change rather than as a last resort and adopting a holistic and transparent approach to tackling the full range of parents’ problems. 


[1] https://gov.wales/commission-justice-wales-report

[2] https://justiceinnovation.org/areas-of-focus/family-drug-and-alcohol-courts

[3] https://academic.oup.com/lawfam/article/32/2/140/4962132

[4] Centre for Justice Innovation (2016) Better Courts: the financial impact of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court in London. 

[5] https://www.cfj-lancaster.org.uk/app/nuffield/files-module/local/documents/Born%20into%20care%20Wales%20-%20main%20report_English_final.pdf

[6] https://www.wcpp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/190715-Analysis-of-Factors-Contributing-to-High-Rates-of-Care-REVISED.pdf

[7] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/car.2521.