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

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Care leavers and practitioners sharing experiences and lessons

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 @DrLouiseRoberts


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.

Enabling talk and reframing messages: working creatively with care experienced children and young people to recount and re-represent their everyday experiences


Authors: Dawn Mannay, Eleanor Staples, Sophie Hallett, Louise Roberts , Alyson Rees, Rhiannon Evans and Darren Andrews

Year: 2018


The educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people is of longstanding concern. The pervasive inequalities they face suggest that current policies have been unable to respond fully to the complex causes of the problem. This paper reflects on a qualitative study into the educational experiences and aspirations of children and young people who are looked after in Wales. The project worked with care experienced peer researchers and drew on visual, creative and participatory techniques to explore 67 children’s and young people’s experiences of education and, importantly, their opinions on what could be done to improve it. This multimodal approach allowed space for participants to think through their subjective, mundane, but important, experiences that operate alongside, and interact with, more structural challenges. A range of films, magazines, artwork, and music outputs were developed to ensure that the project recommendations could reach wide and diverse audiences. This paper argues the voices of children and young people need to be given a platform to inform policy and practice. For this to happen researchers need to be creative in their approaches to both fieldwork and dissemination; harnessing the power of the arts to make positive changes in the everyday lives of children and young people.

To link to this article click here

British Educational Research Journal – The consequences of being labelled ‘looked-after’: Exploring the educational experiences of looked-after children and young people in Wales


Authors: Dawn Mannay, Rhiannon Evans, Eleanor Staples, Sophie Hallet, Louise Roberts, Alyson Rees, Darren Andrews

Year: 2017


The educational experiences and attainment of looked-after children and young people (LACYP) remains an issue of widespread international concern. Within the UK, children and young people in care achieve poorer educational outcomes compared to individuals not in care. Despite proliferation of research documenting the reasons for educational disadvantage amongst this population, there remains limited empirical consideration of the lived experiences of the educational system, as perceived by LACYP themselves. This paper draws upon qualitative research with 67 care-experienced children and young people in Wales. The sample was aged 6–27 years, and comprised 27 females and 40 males. Participants had experienced a range of care placements. Findings focus on how educational policies and practices alienate LACYP from dominant discourses of educational achievement through assignment of the ‘supported’ subject position, where children and young people are permitted and even encouraged not to succeed academically due to their complex and disrupted home circumstances. However, such diminished expectations are rejected by LACYP, who want to be pushed and challenged in the realisation of their potential. The paper argues that more differentiated understandings of LACYP’s aspirations and capabilities need to be embedded into everyday practices, to ensure that effective educational support systems are developed.

Understanding the educational experiences and opinions, attainment, achievement and aspirations of looked after children in Wales


Authors: Dawn Mannay, Eleanor Staples, Sophie Hallett, Louise Roberts, Alyson Rees, Rhiannon Evans, Darren Andrews

Year: 2015

Report summary:

In December 2014 the Welsh Government, on behalf of Welsh Ministers, invited tenders for a study to explore the educational experiences and opinions, attainment, achievement and aspirations of looked after children in Wales. Following a competitive tender process, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) Cardiff University, led by Dr Dawn Mannay from the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, were appointed to undertake the research project in January 2015. The project was undertaken in partnership with Voices from Care Cymru, The Fostering Network and Spice Innovations. This study was undertaken in response to two key objectives set out by the Welsh Government.

  • Objective 1: Conduct an in-depth qualitative research study with looked after children, to provide insight into their experience of education and their opinions on what could be done to improve it.
  • Objective 2: Collate and report relevant data and literature.

The Daily Lived Experiences of Foster Care: the Centrality of Food and Touch in Family Life

This chapter summary is from the book Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales.

This chapter sits within ‘The culture of care and the everyday lives of children and young people’ second substantive section of the book. The chapter draws on an in-depth, small scale study of ten experienced foster care families in Wales who were providing stability for young people. This chapter focuses on the experiences of the children living in those foster care homes (nine of the children were in foster care and one child had been fostered and adopted by the family). The study used creative methods to engage with children including, drawing, eco maps, written and audio diaries in addition to individual interviews. The analysis of the study took a sociological approach and as a result focuses on family practices and the often taken for granted aspects of daily life in foster care, with specific attention being paid to the body, touch and food. Positive touch was seen as significant for children as part of everyday child development, and as a source of reassurance and comfort. Many children had not experienced positive touch in the past, especially in the context of a very risk averse social care environment. The hug and the cwtch cannot be undervalued. Food too was seen as a vital aspect of nurturing. Children’s food preferences and ‘personae’ were catered for and responded to. The daily, family cooked meal, eaten together symbolised care for the child, reciprocity and reinforced a sense of family belonging. These mundane areas have received little research focus in the past but may form part of the ‘glue’ that helps to create stability and support for the child.

children and young people looked after

Chapter 7

Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales

This is the first in a blog series relating to the recently released book “Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales”. Read the other blogs in this series: 

Chapter 2 – Martin Elliott
Chapter 6 – Gemma Allnatt 


Understanding the educational experiences and opinions, attainment, achievement and aspirations of looked-after* children in Wales.

Project Summary

The Welsh Government commissioned the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) in early 2015 to conduct a study with care-experienced children and young people to explore their aspirations and experiences of education.

The project summary and outputs are available on the Cascade website, ‘Understanding the educational experiences and opinions, attainment, achievement and aspirations of looked-after* children in Wales’, and it is widely known as The LACE Project.

*The term ‘care-experienced’ children is now a widely used term in the sector and refers more broadly to anyone who has experienced being in care, regardless of their placement length, type or age. 

Creative Outputs

Alongside the report and executive summary, CASCADE also produced a number of innovative visual and audio materials to help disseminate the findings and recommendations of the research to a diverse range of audiences. These include the following videos, audio files, films, magazines and artwork.


Never look behind



Aspirations of Looked After Children in Wales
Looked after children’s opinions on what needs to change in education
Looked after children and education in Wales 
Educational experiences of looked after children in Wales 



Messages to schools

Following on from the LACE project, CASCADE received further funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for work around ‘Improving the educational experiences and attainment of looked after children and young people’. Consultations with children and young people led to the development of these key #messagestoschools: