Mid and West Wales Adoption Service (Nov 2019 – ongoing)

Mid and West Wales Adoption Service

The Need

KCA was contacted in July 2019 by the Adoption Service Manager in Carmarthenshire, who is also the Regional Lead for Adoption across Mid and West Wales (four sparsely-populated, largely rural local authorities spreading across over 4000 square miles).

Budget was available to strengthen adoption support services, enhance staff levels an improve ways of working in key areas of support for adoptive families across the Region, and four adoption support workers were being recruited who would need appropriate training to enable them to work strategically with vulnerable and traumatised children and young people and their adoptive families. Particular emphasis was to be placed on raising levels of emotional wellbeing among the children, their adoptive parents, and support staff alike.

KCA was invited to work with the Regional team to design a suitable programme of training, and the possibility was mooted of including some adoptive parents directly as learners sharing in the programme.

Reasons for approaching KCA included:

  • KCA was known and respected throughout the Region following successful programmes of training delivered from 2015 onwards to schools and other stakeholders working with Looked After Children under the auspices of ERW (Education through Regional Working)
  • KCA had previously, over several years provided: valued monthly consultancy and training to the Fostering Service in Pembrokeshire; training programmes to groups of teachers and whole school staffs across Ceredigion; training in Emotion Coaching and Attachment Awareness to teachers from mainstream and special schools in Powys; and training in a variety of areas to multi-disciplinary groups of workers engaged with vulnerable children and young people in Carmarthenshire
  • Commissioners were aware of consistent high standards maintained by knowledgeable and engaging KCA trainers
  • KCA e-learning was already freely available to, and used appreciatively by adopters across the Region, and was prominently featured on the Service's website
  • Kate Cairns' book “Attachment, Trauma and Resilience” (CoramBAAF, second edition 2016) was already on the reading list for pre-adopters across the Region

The Solutions

Discussion continued by telephone and email across the next 3 months. KCA believes strongly in co-creating learning pathways with commissioners of training and indeed with participants as the pathway develops. In Wales the bulk of the planning and contracting was taken on by a senior Project Officer. At KCA there was involvement of a Business Development Manager and the Business Development Director, the Training Director, and an Administrator who liaised with colleagues in Wales on logistic and organisational arrangements.

The learning pathway agreed by the autumn of 2019 included:

  • Enrolment of the four new adoption support workers on KCA's Level 4 Award in Working Strategically with vulnerable and traumatised children and young people and their families;
  • Agreement on the learning delivery method for the Award – a blended approach of on-line and face-to-face courses;
  • Agreement that the face-to-face elements would be customised to produce a coherent learning experience for the adoption support workers whilst also opened up to adoptive parents and other practitioners involved in adoption support as stand-alone sessions at venues across the region;
  • Identification of a very experienced KCA Associate, himself an adoptive parent as well as a foster carer and former Head of Virtual Schools for Looked After Children, and with additional expertise in the lifelong effects of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, to deliver the face-to-face training sessions and act as online tutor/assessor for the workers undertaking the Level 4 qualification;
  • Agreement on the topics of the face-to-face full day courses, to be delivered to the adoption support workers together with adoptive parents and others across the morning sessions, with afternoons exclusively for further input/discussion with the support workers.

The face-to-face topics were agreed as:

  • Vulnerability, Trauma and Recovery: Relationships Build Brains
  • Transitions and Vulnerability: Developing Resilience through the network
  • Building Resilience: Five to Thrive and Resilience Mapping
  • Community Resilience and Secondary Trauma: Maintaining Wellbeing for everyone in the network around vulnerable Children and Young People

Participants would have access after each event to linked e-learning courses to assist them in assimilating the knowledge and skills presented in the face-to-face training, and further KCA e-learning courses would also be available to participants.

The first three face-to-face events took place as envisaged in November 2019 and January and February 2020. The final event was planned to take place in March and had to be cancelled at short notice as local authorities curtailed group training in anticipation of national lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic .

Within days discussions took place to agree a new approach to completing the programme in the changed circumstances.

KCA moved quickly to alert customers to newly-developed webinars on “Covid-19, Toxic Stress and Community Resilience” and members of the Mid and West Wales cohort were enabled to take up places on a bespoke version of this and a related online tutorial session in June. The adoption support workers were also invited to join into a nationally available KCA open webinar on a similar theme.

Further discussion among commissioners and participants resulted in provision by KCA in November 2020 of webinars on “Adolescence” and “Self-Harming Behaviours” in November. This method of accessing training was by then one with which participants had become comfortable and which allowed busy adoptive parents to access group training without having to leave home and travel considerable distances.

Following these successful events, the commissioners looked again at current needs, and requested two further online events.

A group of 25 prospective and current adopters joined in a tutorial event on Brain Development and Positive Parenting;

A larger group of learners including both social workers and carers attended a webinar considering “Sexualised and sexually harmful behaviour: Managing Risk, Promoting Recovery"Wevb. These events took place in April and May 2021.

The Outcomes

Three of the adoption support workers have successfully completed their tutored online Level 4 qualification, having attended all three of the pre-Covid-19 training days and some of the later webinars and tutorials. The fourth support worker had to withdraw from the training due to personal circumstances after attending the first two training days.

The work of the successful candidates – and of their KCA assessor – was externally validated by the Examining Body's External Quality Assessor. A selection of her comments about the course, the process, and the learning/assessment process includes:

"The centre offers customised programmes which are knowledge based. They are not Ofqual regulated qualifications."

"The centre has good learning resource materials provided as part of the programmes, they offer all students support and opportunities from induction to exit of the programme."

"The students work which has been presented demonstrates a good understanding of the programme they are undertaking ensuring all the verbs and learning outcomes are met."

"All learners work is stored electronically on an inhouse portal, which is very easy to view, the company is always improving the portal and they have included a quick glance overview of each student as their file is opened."

"The senior Management team are committed to offering a quality service to students, which is captured by personal phone calls to students to ensure each student has been happy with the programme and service offered by the centre."

The face-to-face training courses and webinars attracted steadily growing numbers of participants. A the programme continued, an increasing number of carers, both adopters and foster carers, joined the sessions, some attending virtually every available session. Social Workers from the Adoption Teams and other Children and Families' Teams across the four local authorities also attended in growing numbers, as did an Early Years provider, an Activities Co-Ordinator, and an Emotional Wellbeing Practitioner. The online format of the later sessions facilitated this further opening up of access to the learning at no additional cost to the commissioners, and also took forward the aim of developing a shared conceptual vocabulary and value base for planning, discussing and evaluating ongoing multi-disciplinary work.

Many positive online evaluation comments were recorded, of which a sample appears below:

Great training which encouraged reflection and was presented in an engaging way without being overly formal or rushed”

Really good refreshing training – which made me feel much more motivated afterwards”

Fantastic – can't wait for 8 July (the next session) and to implement some of the tools”

Very easy style which engages the audience really well”

The face-to-face trainer was equally complimentary in his feedback about the learning groups, appreciating their contribution to the shared learning:

Motivated group, great questions”

Excellent focussed group, keen to share, offered much experience to illustrate the theory”

One area which divided participant opinion was the trainer's use of examples from his own experience as an education professional and as an adoptive parent and foster carer to illustrate his subject matter. This was very much appreciated by some who found it particularly helpful, but less so by others who found it distracting or difficult to relate to their own circumstances. A lesson learned by KCA is to tune in very carefully to the needs and preferences of each group and of individual participants as far as is possible.

Customer Response

A reflective discussion took place with the commissioners in June 2021. They felt that the aims of the programme had been achieved notwithstanding the change in approach necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic – indeed, these changes had brought some unexpected benefits.

They observed real development in the knowledge of their adoption support workers about the underlying needs of the children with whom they worked and how to support their recovery from earlier trauma. The workers’ confidence had grown through engaging in demanding, challenging work to gain an accredited and recognised qualification, and they have developed a much wider range of skills alongside the confidence to try new approaches. They feel more able to offer meaningful support to adopters, and have gained an increased sense of team identity and purpose. They are more at home in professional discussion with colleagues in other disciplines and appreciated the shared concepts and language which they could use in discussing their work.

The commissioners were particularly pleased with the involvement in the training of adoptive parents who benefitted greatly from training alongside the support workers, though they would have liked more current adopters to participate, whilst recognising the unusual constraints of the past year.

Prospective adopters had also participated, and had found the training both illuminating and exciting. There has been good sign-up from adopters to the related e-learning and they are enjoying the flexibility of online learning alongside the convenience of not having to travel long distances to meet (which has in any case not been possible during the pandemic). They report feeling liberated and empowered to be more creative in their work and relationships with their children and having a clearer rationale for what they do and how they reflect on it. They are more able to ascribe meaning to behaviour and to see and understand the child differently and more sympathetically as a result.

Online webinars and tutorials have made it possible to involve professionals from other disciplines in the training. This also contributes to the shared concepts and language underpinning discussion about the needs of individual children and adoptive parents.

The commissioners and participants had appreciated the co-creative and flexible but efficient organisational approach taken by KCA to joint planning and working. KCA provided information clearly and engaged in discussion thoughtfully, demonstrating awareness of and sensitivity to customer need. KCA’s contribution to the practical organisation of both face-to-face and online elements of the training was described as “spot-on”: assistance with promotion and registration was smoothly achieved, and the scope and user-friendliness of the KCA website “Connected” made it easy.

The quality of the training was viewed as “very good”. Both trainers drew interestingly on their own experience to illustrate the theory base, an approach which was particularly liked by the support workers and carers. The training was felt to be pitched at a level which was appropriately challenging but warmly presented, well-explained and encouraging real learning. The commissioners appreciated the repeated message that the training event itself is only a step on the learning pathway which is being initiated: the learning can and should be reinforced by reflection on the taught element, using the written materials provided and the wide range of further online resources to which learners are directed, and of course by informal conversations among participants after the event, and the re-framing of professional discussions about the needs of individual children.

The commissioners felt that they had received good value for money, particularly when the difficulties of providing meaningful and effective training over such a wide geographical area were taken into account.

Next Steps

The commissioners feel that they can take further steps towards shifting practice across their four Local Authorities to become still more trauma-informed. They see schools as an area of particular need, along with health services, and acknowledge that there is still work to be done within Children and Families work in Social Services Departments, with Independent Reviewing Officers particularly well placed to encourage new ways of thinking. They also feel positive about sharing with colleagues in the other regions of Wales the benefits of the work they have undertaken with KCA in bringing about changes in ways of thinking and focus in practice which are important to and for children and for those who care for them.

The experience of the past year has brought to the commissioners of this training programme an awareness of many benefits in the use of online training. They recognise KCA as having particular expertise in bringing together complementary programmes of learning which make effective use of both face-to-face and online models delivered in creative partnership with the customer agency.

Mid and West Wales Case Study

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