Our workshops bring together researchers, practitioners and service users to develop practice and knowledge. 

From identification to support: Assessing and improving services for young carers

Date: November, 2020

Family carers are sometimes described as an ‘invisible army’ – a large group of citizens who bear a significant proportion of the national social care strategy. Child carers, commonly known as ‘young carers’, are an under-recognised and particularly vulnerable group within this ‘army’. Current policy and practice on recognising and supporting young carers is variable across Welsh Local Authorities, and the level or nature of intervention activity bears further examination nationally. This group has significant, diverse needs and disparate experiences of personal disruption depending on their circumstances and level of care required for their family members. Education and health could offer substantial support to these children and young people but research shows that they currently struggle to effectively identify and support them, in part due to a lack of clear guidance and strategic planning, and most young carers report difficulties in being recognised for the valuable work that they do. This workshop focuses on sharing knowledge from recent Cardiff University research and policy insight and strategy from national charity Carer’s Trust Wales. We facilitate practitioner-led discussion on common and differing experiences in trying to best support young carers, and co-develop approaches and recommendations to improve Welsh provision. No child or young person should be disadvantaged in their lives by being a young carer. This workshop offers the opportunity to add your experience and expertise to the national conversation around how we can best see, listen to, and support them better.

Presented by:
Faaiza Bashir (Carer’s Trust Wales), Edward Janes (Cardiff University), Jen Lyttleton-Smith (Cardiff University)

The ‘Case of Ethics’: Using creative methods for ethical research practice

ExChange recently welcomed Dr Victoria Edwards to run a practitioner workshop on her ‘Case of Ethics’ research, using creative methods for ethical research practice. The interactive workshop explored participants understanding of ethics in research, how Vicky approached this in her own research, the practicalities of using creative approaches in research and finally for participants to create their own ‘mini-case’.

On the 10th of September ExChange welcomed Dr Victoria Edwards to run a practitioner workshop on her ‘Case of Ethics’, using creative methods for ethical research practice. The interactive workshop explored participants understanding of ethics in research, how Vicky approached this in her own research, the practicalities of using creative approaches in research and finally for participants to create their own ‘mini-case’.

The second group activity involved defining what is meant by consent, confidentiality and anonymity. Participants were asked to consider when they became familiar with these terms and in what context. Discussions around this topic where generated when participants shared their ideas across the room in a ‘snowball fight’. Crumpling up their definitions on paper and throwing them to another table to be read out. Some of the key messages from this discussion highlighted that there can’t be an assumed understanding of these term especially when working with young people.

Having set the scene, Vicky moved on to talk about her own research and how she approached ethics. Her study explored young people’s video game culture across two special schools, one a mainstream school where the young people were part of a nurture class and the other at a college. All the young people involved in her study had some level of additional learning requirements. The study itself used a range of creative methods including, doll creation, video production and t-shirt design as well as some more traditional methods such as a whole school survey and focus group workshop.

When developing her ethical approach to research with this cohort of young people, Vicky drew on wider literature in this area including the work of Professor Emma Renold and Dr Dawn Mannay both Cardiff University researchers. She focused on creative methodologies where ethics are not an ‘add on’ to the process. It is with this in mind that the ‘Case of Ethics’ was invented. Using a second-hand vintage travelling salespersons suitcase with many different compartments, Vicky was able to fill it with objects to start conversations with young people about what they were getting involved with.

The objects included a voice changer, mask, tracing paper and audio recorder. Having the case in the room enabled the young people (and the researcher) to always be aware of the nature of consent and refer to any ideas that were discussed, touched and felt when introducing the work. This was also an engaging and fun way to explain to participants why she was recording information and what would happen to it.

Examples of how the objects reflected conversations about consent and the research;

  • Voices changer: Do you enjoy talking? Who will hear your voices? Why do we alter voices? What is anonymity?
  • Masks: Why do we protect your identity? What happened to the information collected about you?
  • Tracing paper: Why would we want to obscure an imagine in a research project? Where are images kept? Why won’t researchers identify your school.
  • Audio recorder: Why is your voice being recorded? Am I allowed to stop the recording? How do I feel about being recorded?

Most children loved using tactile materials but other didn’t like them at all – what works for one person can be very different for another. The key was showing understanding and being open to discussions. As an example, using the case highlighted the wished of one of the young people named Terry. Terry had a physical reaction to the felt in the case, he jumped back from the table saying, ‘I can’t touch that’. Whilst most of the young people really enjoyed playing with the voice changer Terry though it was horrible. These reactions allowed Vicky to talk to Terry about how he felt about being recorded and taking part in certain activities. She found out that he was fine with recording and transcribing the interview but didn’t want to hear it back, and later on he didn’t want to have his voice included in any video work. Vicky highlights that discussing these issues with objects adds real meaning than merely trying to explain the process may miss.

Next it was time for workshop participants to start thinking about a project they were working on and coming up with some objects to put into their own mini-case of ethics. Participants were tasked to draw or write on a piece of paper an object/objects that could be used to introduce their project or activity. This was put into their mini-case and shared with the person next to them. From here their partner would spend some time coming up with some questions based on the object and thinking about what the project might be about. This was an opportunity for participants to try out developing a creative representation related to their project and start reflecting on how things are introduced or explained. Vicky also encouraged participants to consider how it might feel be exploring projects and activities in this way.

Finally, the workshop concluded with discussions around the barriers to ethical encounters and coming up with solutions. Some of the discussions included resources, time and having the confidence to be creative. A key point raised was the fine balance between ongoing ethical discussions and recruiting enough participant to complete projects in tight timelines.

Many thanks to Vicky Edwards for a thoroughly enjoyable workshop. I left with my own mini-case of ethics and lots of creative ideas to engage young people in ethical discussion about my work!

Adopting Together – Working together to improve outcomes for children who wait

On 9th October 2019, practitioners, service providers, representatives of the Welsh Assembly, foster carers and adoptive parents braved the rain, parking metres and forewent the Wales vs Fiji game to find out about the Adopting Together service at an Exchange event in Cardiff.

Adopting Together is an innovative, child-focused adoption service. It is being led by a partnership between St David’s Children Society and Barnardo’s Cymru, with both organisations recruiting and supporting families for children who have been waiting for their forever families for over 12 months. The project is unique in its fundamentally collaborative nature, with the agencies below all involved in some capacity:

Typically, the children who wait the longest for an adoptive family are children from BAME backgrounds, those who are placed for adoption with siblings and children who have disabilities, additional medical or emotional needs. The service was designed to hold these children in mind throughout the adoption process, with the voluntary sector identified as best placed to develop and deliver the Adopting Together service.

The Adoptive Together service has matched and placed 13 children since it started operating as a pilot in mid-2017. Wendy Keidan (Chief Executive of St David’s Children Society) and Singeta Kalhan-Gregory (service manager of Adopting Together) highlighted the four key components of Adopting Together, which incorporate extra levels of support and training at each stage of the adoption process:

Enhanced Training and Recruitment

  • Child-specific recruitment (prospective adoptive parents are recruited for specific children currently within the Adopting Together service)
  • Adopter-led ‘Child Profiling Events’ where prospective adoptive parents meet foster carers and social workers to find out about specific children
  • Enhanced therapeutic training for prospective adoptive parents

Team for the Child Meeting

  • Prior to matching
  • Clinical psychology led
  • Brings together the network around the child (the important adults in a child’s life – those who know them best, with a child’s foster carer being particularly important)
  • Aims to produce a thorough understanding of a child and their needs (e.g. the impact of their early experiences, their psychological needs, but also what makes them happy or sad, what they like and dislike…)

Therapeutic Transitions

  • Therapeutically trained social workers provide transitions sessions with the child, their foster carer and their adoptive parent(s) throughout the child’s move
  • Transition sessions are play-based (using elements of Theraplay and DDP)
  • Aim is to recognise the potential difficulty of the transition and to help the child develop a coherent narrative

Psychological Consultation Meetings

  • Three meetings with a clinical psychologist once the child has moved in with their adoptive parents
  • Enables parents to reflect on the experience of parenting their child and work through any difficulties that have arisen
  • A core principle is that difficulties at this stage are anticipated and considered a normal part of the transition to family life

Adoption Manager Angela Harris and Family Finding Social Worker Katy Stamp gave a practitioners’ perspective on experiences of the service, from the Vale, Valleys and Cardiff Regional Collaborative, which they reported usually has over 100 children waiting for their forever family, a significant proportion of whom have waited six months or more. They welcomed the much-needed increased focus on the support needs of children, adoptive families and foster carers prior to, during and after a child’s transition from their foster family to their adoptive family, which Adopting Together is providing.

VVC had been the first Region to have their own Profiling Event, featuring twelve children, which Angela said had been a great success. She judged the child-specific training that adopters received through Adopting Together to be central to achieving its aims. Another crucial element was the opportunity for a child’s adopter and their foster carer to get to know one another and really work together to support the child. Angela explained that this process was facilitated by the Transitions Social Workers, and really gave the child ‘permission’ from their foster carer, the person they love and trust and who knows them better than anyone else, to move on to their new family life.

Katy had described one such foster carer, Leanne, as ‘the inspiration’ in her foster child’s life. Careful preparation through the Adopting Together Service had helped the child’s new adoptive parent to fully accept, and not feel rejected by, the child’s comments that the adopter was ‘not her favourite person’ – a role still occupied by Leanne. Leanne herself spoke powerfully about her experiences of supporting the child to move on to adoption, and how Adopting Together had given her the tools to support the little girl through the process of adoption. One year after the child’s move, Leanne was delighted to still have weekly contact. She noted that the openness of the process of Adopting Together had helped provide the best outcome for the child, as well as for herself and for the adopter.

Therapeutic social workers Judith Jones and Becky Couch talked about the transition work they are involved in as part of the Adopting Together Service. Transition sessions involve a series of games and stories that are fun for children, but also relational in nature and help with regulating emotions. For example, passing a dab of lotion around the circle or seeing who has the most warm or cold hands. The book ‘Not Again Little Owl’, about an owl who has lots of moves between different families, is often used. This forms the basis for recognising the big range of emotions, both good and bad, that children can experience through the transition to their adoptive family.

Judith and Becky talked about their experiences of transition work being that children tend to feel safer to say how they feel. For example: “I didn’t choose you – I don’t want to be here, I want to be back with my foster carer!”, with the idea that this is far more ‘real’ than a honeymoon period in the early days of adoption, where these things may be felt by children but not said. The repetition, play and stories introduced through the transition work aim to create containment and emotional safety for children, as well as for the network who surround them.

As Professor Katherine Shelton and Coralie Merchant from Cardiff University explained, the service is underpinned by an evidence base provided by the Schools of Psychology and Business at Cardiff. Data collected by the University demonstrate the service’s success. Adopters in the scheme were providing ‘exceptionally warm’ parenting, Professor Shelton commented.

Gareth, an adoptive Dad, made a plea for increased funding from the Assembly to support the expansion of the service, a view echoed by a second adoptive parent attending the workshop, who stated that Adopting Together should be the Gold Standard for all adoptions – not just for ‘harder to place’ children.

It’d be very hard to disagree.

Links for the presentations and resources from the event:

Intergenerational Care in Care Homes: Caveats and Considerations

Stephanie Green and Kate Howson from Swansea University delivered a workshop on Intergenerational Care in Care Homes in August this year. The session provided practitioners with the opportunity to learn more about intergenerational care and think about how they could overcome the potential challenges of supporting intergenerational activity in care homes.

Stephanie began the workshop by providing an overview of intergenerational care and the potential benefits. Intergenerational care was identified as being particularly important in the UK as we have one of the most segregated societies by age. The approach aims to provide purposeful, mutually beneficial activities that can enable generations to connect and learn from each other.

Most of the evidence on intergenerational care to date is anecdotal and further research is needed to explore what makes programmes effective for older adults, children and young people, staff and loved ones. It is also important to understand what makes a programme sustainable.

In groups, attendees discussed what their key considerations would be when planning and setting up intergenerational activity in a care home. Considerations included:

  • Staff training and support needs;
  • Carefully choosing activities and offering a tailored approach that appeals to residents and children;
  • Identifying a suitable environment;
  • Safeguarding;
  • Travel between the school and care home; and
  • Funding.

In the second half of the workshop, Kate presented the aims and methods of her PhD project, as well as her initials reflections and messages for practice. The project aims to explore the impact of intergenerational care in South Wales. Kate is using a mixed methods approach to compare the outcomes of intergenerational programmes that are being delivered in care homes for at least six weeks with non-intergenerational programmes. The primary outcome measure for older adults is the effect that the programmes have on their quality of life.

Attendees discussed in groups how they would overcome the challenges that they had identified earlier in the workshop. Ideas and practical solutions were then shared, for example:

  • Involving participants (both older adults and children) in the planning stage;
  • Choosing activities based on the strengths and interests of the participants;
  • Engaging with schools that are in walking distance;
  • Involving community volunteers and family members;
  • Meeting regularly to reflect on how the programme is going; and
  • Sharing good practice with other care homes.

In the final part of the workshop, attendees were invited to share their experiences of implementing intergenerational programmes. Attendees reflected on what had gone well, the barriers they had faced and the lessons that they have learnt. For example, the proximity of the school to the care home was felt to be particularly important for success by one practitioner.

The session concluded by providing attendees with resources on tips for delivering intergenerational care and some useful reading.

Fostering Wellbeing workshop

Social care practitioners came together in December 2019 to learn about the Fostering Wellbeing pilot programme, and the evaluative research conducted by CASCADE. Colin Turner, Director of the Fostering Network in Wales was first to present and spoke about the Welsh Government funded programme.

The Fostering Wellbeing pilot was delivered by the Fostering Network in collaboration with the Cwm Taf Social Service and Wellbeing Partnership from 2017 to 2019. The aim focussed on improving wellbeing outcomes for looked-after children. This was defined as meeting five basic needs of children: social, physical, emotional, cultural and learning.

With care-experienced children currently experiencing overall poorer outcomes compared to their counterparts in areas such as mental health, criminality and education – this programme was seen as a way to help tackle this. This was to happen through multi-agency working, sharing knowledge and expertise, and empowering everyone in the child’s life to become better equipped to fulfil the needs of the child. It was hoped that by working through a shared lens it would create stable placements, leading care-experienced children to fulfil their potential.

A key point raised by Colin, was that the programme facilitated foster carers as a co-professional in the child’s life. This was significant – considering the potential years of experience many foster carers bring, being the primary caregiver and spending the most time with any one care-experienced child, compared to other professionals. A key idea in Fostering Wellbeing is the concept of equality of status for all co-professionals, where everyone has something to bring to the table, and can learn from each other to bring about better outcomes for the child.

How does the Programme work?

A video from the Fostering Network was presented by Colin, explaining the three core ‘strands’ of the programme:

  • Five masterclasses. These were attended by foster carers, social workers, teachers, professionals from health and youth offending services. This was an equal learning opportunity for all, a place to understand each other’s roles and share expertise. The masterclasses were underpinned by ten principles of social pedagogy such as:
    • all the child’s needs have to be met i.e. it is essential to understand and respond to the whole child/young person to improve his/her wellbeing.
    • Encouraging aspiration and ambition is essential in the development of positive attitudes
  • Pioneers. Experienced foster carers were trained as Pioneers to help cascade the messages learned through the programme. The Pioneers spoke at events, visited schools, and operated a helpdesk for the co-professionals within the local authority fostering team offices. The Pioneer group also consisted of care-experienced people, who could bring their personal experiences to the table.
  • Service Planning. This looked at implementing the programme through service change, led by local authority staff in strategic roles such as the heads of Children’s Services and chief officers for Education. A strategic planning group with a range of representatives drew up action plans, creating various areas of work. Some of the officers shown in the video spoke of hopes to create more successful lives for looked-after children, giving them the confidence to develop skills for the future, through improving their emotional wellbeing, and through better informed and supported foster carers.

The Research

There was a lot of positive feedback about the masterclasses, and people felt encoura​​ged by the concept of having multi-agencies together in the same room to talk about looked-after children and fostering. Some co-professionals commented that foster carers were pivotal in the life of the child and therefore essential to the masterclasses. Hearing personal narratives from care-experienced young people and foster carers was a powerful learning point for some. This was especially true for those who were not solely involved with care-experienced children, such as teachers – with some commenting that it broadened their views and impacted their approach. One of the issues however, was that of low attendance by children’s social workers as well as health professionals.

Pioneers responded as feeling confident to support others with the bespoke training they received, and felt more able to advocate on behalf of the child. At the time of the evaluation the Pioneer role had not been fully implemented as it had taken time to set up. The study recommended that this innovative feature of the programme could be rolled out to more areas in Wales and evaluated further.

Children were involved in the study using sandboxes and drawing materials to share feelings about people in their lives, and what contributed to their wellbeing. Among the responses were: friendship, food, certain teachers who they considered as ‘kind’ and ‘helpful’, and social workers who spent time with them and listened to them rather than just ‘form-filling’.

Dr Alyson Rees presented some of the findings of the evaluative research.

The Discussion

Attendees got together in groups to discuss their thoughts on the presentations, and some spoke of their personal experience of being involved in the programme.

One practitioner mentioned that it was very difficult to get ‘buy-in’ from certain agencies, exploring a potential reason for low attendance by some. They found that some health professionals did not understand the need for their attendance in a fostering context, making it difficult to get them on board. Sometimes it helps, they said, to know one person at the top, who buys into the programme and fully takes on board the benefits, so that they can cascade it down within their service and facilitate greater involvement.

A social worker mentioned that they would love to do more direct work with the children, spending more quality time with them, however due to capacity issues, much of this kind of work is being outsourced to peripheral teams within the service. The child’s social worker therefore, becomes seen as just a ‘form-filling’ figure. These well-known capacity issues can also hinder the social workers’ attendance of the masterclasses. An attendee responded that some changes needed to be national, as there is only so much that can be done regionally to address these issues.

Another social worker raised a point that while foster carers were important in the child’s life, they still lacked the level of expertise a social worker would gain in less years, working daily with caseloads of care-experienced children.

For me, however, this point reinforced the idea that everyone brings something to the table – the co-professionals each have different experiences and knowledge that the others do not, but could learn from. The programme provides that networking opportunity to enrich and empower everyone involved, which positively impacts the child being cared for – and that is one common goal that all participants can unite on and work towards together.

Fostering Wellbeing programme video

Creative ways to engage children and young people in research and practice

Creative ways to engage children and young people in research and practice

November 2018

This webinar provides a background on visual, participatory and creative techniques for working with children and young people in research projects and in practice. Presented by Dr Dawn Mannay, the podcast presents and discusses a range of studies in different contexts.  The opportunities and limitations of participatory approaches are considered and a number of techniques of creative data production are introduced.