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