About Friendship For All

The Children’s Society’s Friendship for All website is the legacy of three years of direct work in York with 60 disabled children, many of whom were in care, to help them establish friendships. The site was produced by an experienced team, with a long history of delivering direct work with disabled children and children in care, before the closure of the service in York in 2016.

We have worked intensively in over five local authorities, in partnership with Dr Anita Franklin, Reader in Applied Children and Families Research at Coventry University.

Our Friendship for All research and direct practice identified disabled children and young people and children and young people in foster care as experiencing particular disadvantage in relation to making and sustaining meaningful friendships.

Investigating barriers

We sought to find out what prevents disabled children and children in care from having friends. Unsurprisingly we learned that while the overwhelming majority of children and young people want to have friends or a friend, they face a multitude of intractable barriers.

The most frequently mentioned barriers were:

  • Disabled young people’s attendance at special school away from their home community
  • Reduced autonomy and independence of disabled young people and their lack of access to social media
  • Children in care enduring multiple moves (often in a hurry), resulting in broken friendships, with little or no consideration given helping them maintain contact with the friends they left behind.
  • The friendship history of children in care not passed on to foster carers
  • Frequent changes of social worker resulting in the loss of information about friendships
  • The life story records and memory boxes of children in care not inclusive of friendship history
  • Inconsistent interpretation of delegated authority for children in care

Friendship for All’s intensive work with participating local authorities helped to identify what professionals are doing well to mitigate against these barriers and find out more about the prohibitive factors that have been preventing them from addressing this important issue for young people.

We can be quite clear that all of the professional partners we met including foster carers and short breaks workers demonstrated they understood and respected the importance of friendship in the lives of disabled children and children in care.

Short breaks

Our long standing experience of running short breaks for disabled children helped us to see how Local Authority funded short breaks services offer significant potential for disabled children and young people to see their friends outside of school without incurring additional cost. This was important because there are few if any other ways in which disabled children can safely see their friends outside of school. We found good examples of short breaks schemes providing holiday clubs and groups for friends to meet together. However, if we were to respond to feedback from disabled children and young people and make friendship an integral part of their short break offer, it was important to test out new approaches to the design and implementation of services.

We ran short break ‘friendship’ pilots in York, North Yorkshire and Nottingham authorities. The learning and outcomes from the pilots demonstrated there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to achieving good friendship outcomes, that health and safety was not compromised and there were few additional costs to providing friendship inclusive short breaks. Our How to guide for short breaks provides a pragmatic solution based approach based on the pilot outcomes. The impact of the pilots on participating young people was significant with improvements reported in their independence, negotiations skills and confidence.

Children in Care

To help local authorities and independent foster care agencies to increase friendship in the lives of children in care required us to look at the explicit inclusion of friendship on procedural forms and carer training and supervision.

Friendship for All How to guide for children in care provides a clear indication of where opportunities have been consistently missed, along with pragmatic, flexible, workable solutions based on good practice.

While the children in care resources are tailored to the requirements of children in foster care, the resources are easily adapted and could be adapted to meet the needs of children in residential care

Our partners and supporters

We have been fortunate to work directly with CoramBAAF and The Fostering Network England at national and regional level. Their support with our consultations, pilots and surveys has been extremely valuable and a strong endorsement of their commitment to the friendships of children in care.. The Fostering Network England’s additional friendship questions now included in their Skills to Foster Assessment is further recognition of the importance they place on friendship when assessing foster carers.

We couldn’t have put together these resources without input from many different organisations and individuals and wanted to acknowledge the contribution of:

  • BBC Children in Need
  • The Children’s Society in Lancashire
  • CoramBAAF
  • The Fostering Network England
  • City of York Short Breaks Team
  • City of York Fostering Team
  • North Yorkshire County Council Fostering and Short Breaks Team
  • Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Nottingham inclusion and disability Short Breaks Team
  • FosterCare UK
  • Biomation
  • Fostering Outcomes North East and North West
  • WAC Arts Interactive
  • All of the children and young people, parents and carers who contributed to our interviews and pilots and shared their experiences so generously
  • Professionals partners who contributed their valuable time to share experience , good practice, challenges and solutions.

The members of The Children’s Society’s former Friendship for All team in York:

  • Lynda Corker, Senior Project Worker
  • Anna Barrett, Project Worker
  • Emily Collins, Project Worker