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Mind Matters: How tackling loneliness taught us the power of community among care leavers

‘You gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others – normally family type of trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.’
Mind Matters participant

Poor mental wellbeing is commonly associated with care-experienced young people. Their experiences in lacking positive family or peer groups support can also introduce a sense of loneliness. But positive activities can help to shift the state of mind to a brighter outlook.

Our Mind Matters project was launched in 2020 after Leicester City Council asked Leicestershire Cares to explore the mental wellbeing needs of local care-experienced young people. After one year of the project these are our findings:

Co-production of Mind Matters

Leicestershire Cares set up a consultation team made up of five care-experienced young people to develop the initial plan for the project’s purpose (strengthen their resilience and wellbeing), its scope, deliverables and its name. We held three meetings to discuss the project and what it could deliver for young people, including discussions of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and isolation, high levels of boredom, lack of connectivity and poor eating habits. Ideas for the Fakeaways, crafternoons and regular online social sessions emerged from these discussions. This co-production model gave the care-experienced young people tools as well as ownership of the solutions that would help to improve their wellbeing.

Online activities

At the start of lockdown, we quickly moved our support online and provided young people with data SIMs and/or laptops to ensure they could access digital activities. When Mind Matters started in July 2021, we already had a few months’ experience of delivering engaging virtual activities and built on this to ensure that Mind Matters was a success. We used our findings from our ‘Life Under Lockdown’ report (May 2020) to create a programme that would be robust, practical and inclusive. Crafternoons engaged eight young people in a six-week programme of arts and crafts activities on Zoom, along with a facilitator who encouraged them to use arts and crafts as a way of improving wellbeing. The young people reported feeling more relaxed, less anxious, and enjoyed learning a new hobby together.

Doing these activities [arts and craft sessions] allows me spread my creativity to others and that is my passion. As I have anxiety, I don’t cope well in groups but having a thing to do, takes your mind off of being in a group and you just start having conversations with people.
Mind Matters participant

Fakeaways was a great success. This fortnightly Zoom cooking session – taught by a professional cooking tutor from the Adult Education Centre, involved young people making healthy versions of the takeaways they had been buying during lockdown. The young people were then empowered to run the sessions themselves, sharing recipes that connected them to their estranged families and heritage and promoting conversations about their shared lived experience.

We had 12 regular attendees at Fakeaways, and occasionally more, and the session feedback was very positive, reporting improved confidence, money saving, healthier eating and weight loss. Those with children noted that cooking together helped to improve their relationship with their child.

The confidence I have gained cooking for myself is incredible. I never thought I would be able to make tasty dishes for under £10 and really enjoy them too!
Mind Matters participant

I have saved so much money not buying microwave meals and getting rid of my fear of feeling I can’t cook. Thank you!
Mind Matters participant

Coming out of lockdown

Young people joined weekly online Chill & Chat sessions featuring film nights, quizzes, and general chats. In the autumn we were able to hold socially distanced outdoor activities, including picnics, healthy eating sessions at a local community allotment, an outdoor Christmas party, a barbecue, canoeing at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, wood carving and gardening projects. In total, over 30 young people took part in these activities, the majority of whom said that they had helped them reconnect with other young people and feel less isolated.

Being able to see people’s faces and have a face-to-face conversations feels so natural, but has been something that has been so hard to find over these last five months. It’s opportunities like this that Leicestershire Cares offer that are so positive for me holistically.
Mind Matters participant

Long-term benefits

As well as gaining new cooking skills and an understanding of healthy eating from Fakeaways, young people said that the social activities have given them more confidence in engaging with others, given them a sense of belonging and helped them feel able to talk about their experience of being in care.

Being involved in the activities that Leicestershire Cares run means that I am able to get out and be more involved in activities which involve socialising in a group. It allows me to meet new people and feel part of a team.
Mind Matters participant

My confidence has increased and I feel safer talking about my real life as a care-experienced person. Leicestershire Cares gave me a safe space to recognise it’s okay to embrace that part of myself.
Mind Matters participant

Some spoke about feeling more independent which has encouraged them to consider what they want to do next in terms of volunteering, training or employment, and how their decisions could support their mental health.

It helped me become more confident and helps you towards independence… I’d like opportunities to try vol or paid jobs to do with animals. I think that would improve my mental health.
Mind Matters participant

While others have appreciated the chance to catch up on life that was on hold, and to create memories that many traditional families take for granted.

You also gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others, like Go-karting and Beaumanor Hall – normally family type trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.
Mind Matters participant

Going forwards

As lockdown restrictions ease, we’ll return more to face-to-face delivery, but we’ll also maintain a hybrid model of both online and face-to-face support. We feel that virtual delivery has a role to play, especially for young people who have travel anxiety or are very busy with other commitments (e.g. college) and want to join via video call.

Our steering group suggested what they would want from the programme if it would continue such as including more focus around how to manage mental health and develop positive thinking; social activities to develop life skills; and activities which promote physical fitness as well as mental wellbeing.

I really enjoy any opportunity to get outside and do something especially with other CEP. It gives me a chance to socialise in that safe space and kick myself out of bed that day. Practical things are particularly good i.e. cooking and woodworking as they can have real life applications.
Mind Matters participant

The young people also identified that the power of ‘giving back’ and connecting with their local community has an effect on their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. They suggested they might raise money for a local cause in various ways, i.e. a sponsored 24-hour gaming marathon, cake bake, art auction or a sponsored walk.

The steering group also introduced the idea of a life coach as a useful support for those who might want specific advice on how to progress towards their goals. Leicestershire Cares has recently started a business volunteer mentoring programme for care-experienced young people. We’re finding that some of the outcomes are improving mental wellbeing, and overall, the widening of these young people’s networks are helping them to grow.

Leicestershire Cares is a wonderful organisation to work with. The commitment and passion for supporting young people is evident from early interactions. The innovation in project development and commitment to agreed outcomes has been outstanding!
Diana Dorozkinaite, Business Change Commissioning Manager, Leicester City Council

For more information about our work with care-experienced young people, please contact Jacob Brown.

To read the full article, visit the Leicestershire Cares website.

How Does the Well-Being of Children in Foster Care in Wales Compare with that of other Welsh Children?

Well-being is meant to be at the heart of services for children and adults in Wales – yet there is little research on the wellbeing of children in care. How happy and satisfied are children in care in Wales – particularly compared to other children?

This seminar reports on research comparing children in care with a much larger group of other children in Wales to answer questions about how satisfied they are with life and what factors influence whether they are happy. It compares the wellbeing of 22 children in foster care aged 10-13 with a large national sample of 2627 other children.

This is as far as we are aware the first research able to make such a comparison, and the large sample allows us to explore not just care but also the impact of other factors such as deprivation. The findings were interesting and unexpected. This seminar will present initial findings and then open up a discussion about how we might help improve the wellbeing of children in care and the importance of considering subjective wellbeing alongside more “objective” measures such as educational achievement.

Presenters: Dr Jen Hampton (WISERD), Professor Colette McAuley (CASCADE)  Professor Donald Forrester (CASCADE Director) Cardiff University.

Date & Time: September 15th, 12pm

What difference does local authority care make to the lives of vulnerable children? Longitudinal analyses of a retrospective electronic cohort

The proposed research aims to examine, over time, education and health outcomes of children who are looked after (CLA) by the local authority (i.e. in care). Existing studies that use only one point in time have shown that CLA have poorer educational and health outcomes than the general population. Pre-care experiences, such as physical abuse, parental mental health illness and parental alcohol misuse, are common reasons for becoming looked after. These experiences also predict poorer health, education and social outcomes in young people who are not in care. For these reasons, it is difficult to understand whether poorer health and educational outcomes for CLA are because of differences in pre-care experiences, or of care itself. 

This research, for the first time, linked an existing Wales-wide dataset on education and health with routinely collected data on young people’s support from social services. The research is exploring three objectives. First, addresses the lack of large-scale studies in the UK that statistically examine the role of CLA status in predicting educational outcomes and health over time. Second, it will reduce uncertainty over the extent to which poor outcomes among CLA are because of pre-care experiences, or experiences of being in care. This will be achieved through comparison between CLA, and children who receive help from social services but are not CLA (Children In Need, but Not Looked After – NLA). There are likely to be differences between these two groups that predict why one group becomes CLA and the other does not, but NLA are likely to be more similar to CLA than children not known to services. To take account of some further differences between groups, we will adjust for physical abuse, parental mental health illness, parental alcohol misuse and domestic violence. Third, whilst CLA status is often based on the assumption that removing young people from adversity will move them toward better life trajectories, this study will be the first to examine over time the role of care in reducing the effects of pre-care experiences on education and health care outcomes. 

The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Presenter: Dr Sara Long, DECIPHer, Cardiff University.

Date & Time: 14th September, 11am

The PATCHES Project: Parents’ and their children’s experiences of separation and support

When a family separates, it can be a challenging time for everyone. There are difficult conversations to have and sometimes families need support to help find a way through.

When support works well, this is better for everyone in the family. If we can understand the experience of families who have been through separation, we can improve services to support other families in the future.

We are conducting research into the experiences of families who have been through separation in two areas: one in England and one in Wales. The project is being led by the University of Bristol and is funded by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. It will run from May to December 2021 and the findings will be used to inform recommendations to improve support for families going through the separation process in the future.

We are looking for people who have been affected by family separation in the past 18 months who live in North Wales and Bournemouth. We are interested in speaking to mothers, fathers, and children, but also anyone else in the family such as grandparents, or uncles and aunties. We are interested in speaking to people who have used the family court system, but also people who used other ways to make their separation arrangements.

If you take part, we will invite you to tell us about your family and the decisions you made to separate, and your experience of any support you had from friends, family members or professionals. If you would like to ask us questions, you can email us at or phone us on 07977 273329 and you can find out more about this project on our website

Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales

Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Considering the delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales during Covid-19

Louise Roberts, Alyson Rees, Dawn Mannay, Hannah Bayfield, Cindy Corliss, Clive Diaz and Rachel Vaughan.

During COVID-19, care leavers in Wales looked to their corporate parents for support. Accordingly, this mixed method study examined the experiences of care leavers during the pandemic. It included a survey of Welsh Local Authority professionals (n=22) and interviews with Welsh care-experienced young people aged 17-24 (n=17). In their interviews, some young people reported being both practically and emotionally supported.

She made sure like, I had enough food and stuff, she helped me financially, emotionally, and obviously like when I was moving out and stuff, I was pretty suicidal she helped me there as well. You know, she was just making sure that I was okay on a day-to-day basis. She came out to see me nearly every day. (Bethan)

My social worker, she phones me regularly … she actually Facetimed me the other week actually. She’s amazing, … She keeps it quite regular cos she knows I can get down quite easily… So yeah she keeps in touch quite regular. (Jess)

However, for other young people corporate parenting support was perceived as unavailable:

I could have died, and they would not know. I have only had two check-ups; I could’ve killed myself. (Mary)

I’ve had one or two texts but only [that], I haven’t spoken to her, just a text and email … It would be nice that they checked that I was alive to be honest, you know? (Bev)

I’ve tried ringing everyone in the office, but I still can’t get hold of my social worker to this day. I haven’t spoken to him in 5, 6 months my social worker, something like that. (Paul)

The Covid-19 pandemic provided a unique lens through which to consider the role of the state as parent. Whilst evidence of good practice in Wales is encouraging, with some young people feeling both practically and emotionally supported, it is deeply concerning that other young people remained in precarious situations, feeling forgotten and neglected by their corporate parents. The findings of this study illustrate the propensity of corporate parenting to provide protection against the adversities of the pandemic, but also to compound young people’s difficulties by being inactive, unresponsive and/or uncaring.

For more information about this study, read the study:
Roberts, L., Rees, A., Mannay, D., Bayfield, H., Corliss, C., Diaz, C. and Vaughan, R. 2021. Corporate parenting in a pandemic: Considering the delivery and receipt of support to care leavers in Wales during Covid-19. Children and Youth Services Review.

You might also be interested in the following related blogs hosted on Family and Community:

In the shadow of a pandemic: Harare’s street youth COVID-19 experience
The Coronavirus pandemic: Experiences and lessons for the future

New safeguarding resource for working with children and young people 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.

Choice, control and person-centredness in day centres for older people

By Katharine Orellana, Jill Manthorpe and Anthea Tinker

Journal of Social Work

Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on?

This paper argues that day centres for older people are often assumed to be outdated or too expensive, particularly given the Care Act 2014’s focus on choice, control and person-centredness. The authors explore what professionals and older people think about these services, and the extent to which person-centred support can be enacted at day centres. 

How did they study it?

The study ran for three years in total, with a focus on four generalist day centres. The centres were chosen purposefully, so that they spanned the local authority, housing association and voluntary / not-for-profit sectors. Two of the centres were in highly urban areas, one in a small town and one in a rural area. 

The lead author for the paper undertook weekly visits to the centres between September 2015 and December 2016. During this time, interviews were conducted with 13 local authority staff, including social workers, commissioners and those making referrals, 23 older people, 10 family carers and 23 day centre staff, including managers, volunteers and carers. 

What did they find?

The paper presents its findings across three themes – professionals’ views of day centres, the enactment of person-centred care, and older people’s views of day centres. 

– Professionals’ views

Practitioners viewed day centres as relevant to their work, on the whole more so than local authority commissioners. Practitioners noted the importance of having a range of services available in the area, including day centres, so that older people can make meaningful choices about what they want. However, some commissioners thought that within day centres themselves, choices would be limited by the availability of activities, meal options and impersonal staff rotas. 

– Enactment of person-centred approaches

Practitioners talked about the importance of matching people to the right centre for them, which meant knowing about the centre, and its activities, as well as the individual. Day centre managers also noted the importance of taking a personalised approach. Older people attending day centres talked about being able to choose where to sit, what drinks and meals to have, and what activities they wanted to do. On the other hand, some older people had not been offered the choice of other centres or services, and individual needs and preferences were not always provided for. Sometimes the choice available was to do an activity or not, rather than choosing between different activities, and in one centre, there was no choice of meals. Some commissioners and practitioners felt that the use of day centres was largely needs-driven. 

– The views of older people

Older people said they valued the communal nature of the day centres, and the continuity of relationships with staff. However, some older people also said they found it difficult to live with other residents, particularly if they exhibited upsetting or disturbing behaviour. Sometimes staff were too busy helping people with physical or medical needs to organise and take part in social activities.  

What are the implications?

These findings suggest that day centres can help enact personalisation and choice for older people and can have some advantages compared with individualised support packages. However, they may not represent a genuine choice, either at the macro level (because there are no other services available) or the micro level (because choices within the centre are limited or superficial). 

Review written by

A photo of the article review's author, Dr David Wilkins

Dr David Wilkins

Influence of adoption on sibling relationships: Experiences & needs of new adoptive families

The influence of adoption on sibling relationships: Experiences and support needs of newly formed adoptive families

By Sarah Meakings, Amanda Coffey and Katherine Shelton 

British Journal of Social Work, 50(5), pp. 1324-1344
Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on?

This paper looks at how sibling relationships, in their various different forms, are affected by adoption. 

How did they study it?

The case-file records of 374 children recently placed for adoption in Wales were reviewed. In addition, 96 adoptive parents completed a questionnaire, and 40 of these parents were also interviewed. The questionnaires were completed four months after the child was adopted, and the interviews took place another five months later. 

What did they find?

Analysis of the case-file records found that most of the children placed for adoption (n=325, 87%) had at least one brother or sister, and one-third (n=122, 33%) were adopted as part of a sibling group. From the questionnaire sample, nearly one-third (n=29, 30%) were placed for adoption as part of a sibling group, while the majority (n=81, 84%) had at least one sibling living elsewhere. New sibling relationships were created in nearly one-third of the families (n=28, 29%). Sibling relationships were reported to provide the child with companionship, reassurance and comfort. However, parents were also concerned about unexpected levels of sibling discord, and perceptions of harmful dynamics. Several described sibling relationships as being characterised by fierce jealousy. There were some reports of physical violence between siblings. For adopted children with birth siblings living elsewhere, parents spoke passionately about the importance of maintaining meaningful contact, although a smaller minority did not want this because of safeguarding concerns in relation to birth families more generally. All the parents who did want to promote sibling contact felt they needed help from the local authority to facilitate it. Some said they had to prompt social workers to help, while others noted a distinct lack of support. 

What are the implications?

The process of adoption does not just have the potential to sever and create child-carer relationships, it also severs and creates child-child relationships. Social workers need to recognise and value the importance of sibling relationships for adopted children, while local authorities need to think carefully about what support they offer to adoptive families to promote and facilitate sibling contact. 

Dr David Wilkins

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.