A visit to: Carefree Cornwall

A visit to: Carefree Cornwall

Based in the former tin-mining town of Redruth, Carefree supports young people who are in or who have left care.  The team work with young people from across this large county, overcoming the numerous challenges set by Cornwall’s geography to provide a wide-range of fun, useful, age-appropriate activities which develop care-experienced young people’s self-confidence, social skills and networks of support.

Central to the charity’s success, and its ongoing popularity with young people, is the sense of agency it provides to those with whom it works.  From initial play-based activities through to training sessions with newly qualified social workers, young people’s voice and opinions are heard, respected and trusted.

Carefree’s application to The Listening Fund focused on deepening this existing approach with the ambition of not only improving Carefree’s listening, but also supporting Cornwall Council – the local corporate parent – to develop their engagement with young people.  To date the work has been successful, capturing what young people find so empowering about the Carefree model, developing a robust model of engagement, and working with Cornwall Council to demonstrate to young people that they are being heard. On our recent visit to Carefree, we learned about what has supported this success, and some of the challenges which lie ahead:

1 – many care-experienced young people can experience significant variations in their mental well-being, with periods of energy and positivity interrupted by spells of uncertainty and self-doubt.  Carefree has therefore been careful to develop different levels of participation – as demonstrated in their participation triangle – which young people can switch between depending on their capacity at any given time.  This has enabled Carefree to continue to benefit from young people’s expertise over a prolonged time period, and allowed young people to contribute to a variety of programmes and initiatives whilst respecting their other commitments.

2 – local authorities and other key agencies are interested in listening to those who rely on their services, and improving the services they provide, but often lack the capacity and/or knowledge to listen well.  Carefree has therefore developed a wide-range of touch points with their local statutory service providers, from offering young person-led training for newly qualified social workers to direct engagement with the Cornwall Corporate Parenting Board and representation at national events.  They work hard to ensure that at all levels, statutory organisations and staff are actively considering and hearing the voice of young people.

3 – whilst Carefree has been successful in engaging with young people’s ideas and opinions in face-to-face environments, the growth of numerous digital platforms has created challenges as well as opportunities.  At present, the organisation and its staff haven’t determined how best to use different channels to listen to young people in a way which is as rich and beneficial as face-to-face work. Given the logistical difficulties associated with delivering support across Cornwall, technology represents an excellent opportunity to work with and listen to more care-experienced young people, to hear a greater variety of voices, and to make it easier for young people to express their opinions.  Carefree are determined to develop this side of their work.

Since partnering with The Listening Fund, Carefree has used the additional capacity provided by the funding to refine their work and practice in Cornwall.  The next nine months will involve greater engagement with other organisations and Corporate Parents across England whilst developing their social media practice – we are excited to see how good listening practice spreads.