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Pilot scheme to help children affected by trauma a success, says report

24 September 2020

Teenage girl

An innovative scheme piloted by Barnardo’s Cymru could form the basis of improved support for children affected by trauma, a report from Cardiff University says.

The Gwella project was a pilot for the Gwella approach – an intervention developed and run by Barnardo’s Cymru across North and South Wales. Gwella was a four-year, Welsh Government-funded research and practice project, operated in partnership between Barnardo’s Cymru and Cardiff University.

Gwella’s main aim was to reduce the risk of vulnerable children and young people experiencing Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) or demonstrating Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB), through the development of a prevention model for use in social care.

Working with 31 families over two years, Gwella practitioners used play-based activities to help develop stronger relationships between children and their parents or carers and improve their wellbeing.

Parents and kinship carers who took part in the subsequent evaluation of the project were universal in their praise for it and the changes that had occurred for them as a result.

Fifteen of those interviewed spoke of having made a bond with their children, of feeling more confident in their ability to parent, and of understanding how to play and meet their children’s needs. Three parents set the significance of this against having previously had their children removed from their care. As a consequence, they had high levels of anxiety and a lack of trust in their ability to parent.

The children involved in the research also gave positive responses about the Gwella project. The majority spoke of all the games and activities they liked to do and of missing their worker once the sessions ended. Seven of the children said their practitioner had helped them to feel calmer and less worried. Parents also marked significant improvements in their children’s wellbeing and behaviour.

Dr Sophie Hallett, based in Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences said: “Our evaluation of the Gwella project demonstrates the value of this kind of focused and relationship-based work with families. Giving children and parents or carers an outlet to express their worries or anxieties, while building up confidence in their abilities and having support to deal with challenges, is key to improving their wellbeing.”

The four elements of the research we carried out as part of Gwella support the hypotheses put forth by Barnardo’s that there is a link between childhood trauma, child sexual exploitation and sexually harmful behaviours; and that support for a child in their early years will reduce the likelihood of them experiencing abuse later in life.

Dr Sophie Hallett Senior Lecturer

Dr Hallett’s academic research and an evaluation of the pilot Gwella model will now be used to create practice guidance for social care practitioners.

Pat Duke, Assistant Director for Barnardo’s Cymru, said: “We are delighted with the evaluation findings, particularly the evidence of improved life chances for children.

“Barnardo's have long been aware of the prevalence of unreconciled abuse and trauma in the early childhood history of the adolescents and young adults we support.

“We hope early intervention inspired by the Gwella approach will prevent children from experiencing further abuse or engaging in risky behaviours in future.”

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