Posts tagged as: Specialist

Therapeutic Analogy: When Anger is Like Ketchup

This is a publish article by our Head of Therapeutic Services, Michelle Newman-Brown. Michelle has been dedicated to work within the Therapeutic Care Sector for over 30 years, beginning as a Residential Support Worker.

As a Tavistock, MSc qualified Systemic Psychotherapist with an MA is SW and Diploma in Therapeutic Play she now promotes the importance of understanding the links between Attachment, Developmental trauma, Belonging and Trust. With this understanding, Michelle believes passionately that all children are able to heal and flourish from their negative experiences.

Therapeutic thinking and understanding is central to the ethos of Compass, which is why we do not simply provide therapy for the child but an on-going wrap-around service to ensure they progress successfully on their therapeutic journey.

The work that Michelle and her wider team do is incredibly important. The therapy provisions our children and young people receive is individualised for them. Read below how Michelle managed to create a therapeutic analogy with Harry about his anger.

Playing with words is one of my favourite pastimes! Some people like Monopoly and others like Lego but I like words! They’re free and easy to store; you can keep acquiring more, adapting, adding, moving, reconnecting, bending, and moulding, so this ‘word playing’ could catch on with even more people.

Sometimes I feel I am the luckiest therapist because I see a young man on a weekly basis who enjoys playing with words as much as I do. We have managed to explore and develop a significant level of change in his world as a result of this talking playfulness. Even in writing this, I am wondering about his descriptions of word play!

Henry is a chosen pseudonym for a nearly-fifteen-year-old, white, English boy who has been living in a therapeutic care home for several years. Unlike many young people in care, he does not want to move into foster care and does not yearn to return home. As a result, he is not riddled in quite the same way with the complicated emotions of permanent effort to prove to professionals he is worthy of ‘progress’.

Instead, he can concentrate fully on choices he wants to make and how he feels in the here-and- now as well as to think about and discuss his experiences in his past.

It has been through discussion about this past that we have been able to become very playful with our language. It is difficult to say now how our use of metaphors or analogies began, as there is an experience of rolling between them together in a seamless and effortless manner, a genuine evolution of therapist and client co-construction at work.

The one I am presenting today is our discussion over time about his ‘cupboard of anger’.

‘Cupboard of anger’

Henry had been talking about how he has had so many experiences throughout his life that have contributed to strong feelings of anger and acknowledged a sense of pride that he has predominantly managed them well. However, every so often, traumatic memories resurface and, as his relationship with them intensifies, he feels heightened levels of anger about them.

He recently explained to me he now believes he has not resolved his anger but, because he rarely vents it, he is frightened he has the potential for it to erupt, resulting in him being so violent he would end up killing someone.

Having listened to the language Henry used, such as “not losing”, “letting go” and “storing” his various memories that increase his anger, I began discussing this as a “store of anger”. When working with young people, one strategy I employ with them is to try to identify which episode in their wealth of traumatic experiences particularly stands out; which one resurfaces the most to try and formulate some hierarchy and to begin work with some specifics to reduce the overwhelming feelings that trauma and abuse can invoke.

However, when we attempted to talk about Henry’s experiences, he could not identify any as the least or most difficult. He just maintained there were so many things in his ‘anger store’ that they had all interconnected. He was clear that, whilst he was able to name many episodes of abuse, neglect, sadness, and abandonment, talking in depth about any of the memories was painfully difficult.

Picture of a teen boy sat on sofa

This created a contradiction for Henry who ordinarily was highly articulate and had a desire to free himself from feeling angry about so much and so many people and yet facing the events through his usual means of direct discussion was leading him to feel highly vulnerable.

Below are some of the repeating narratives Henry returned to but found intolerable to elaborate on, as he feared the outcome of his angst.

“My mum went out and my dad shut me out in the rain. I remember trying to crawl in through the cat flap.”
“My dad didn’t care who he hurt as long as he had his drink.”

“I used to think it was funny that I ran out the house down the road in my nappy and people had to take me home. Now I just want to know why my dad didn’t know I was gone.”

“A lady found me once in the street and took me to the wrong school ‘cos I had an old school uniform jumper on. No one knew what to do with me or where I was from.”

”I can’t get over that I was the only one in my family who didn’t know we were going into care.”

“I can remember the social worker asking me what pizza I wanted; like that was gonna make it OK that I left my mum and was waiting in some room to be split up from my brothers and sister.”

“My mum was allowed to choose one of us to go back home. It wasn’t me.”

We began talking about his memory being like a kitchen cupboard that has been filled with many jars, tins and sauces, each one representing a component of his anger.

I suggested we just open the door and take one sauce out at a time. In this way, we could look at the sauce, see how old it was, whether there was still a use for it, whether it could be thrown away or stored elsewhere. Sometimes, we do not realise we have food in our cupboards we no longer want or have a need for. It sits on a shelf, impacting negatively on the space and organisation, out of date and unwanted.

However, Henry was initially dubious. He was concerned he was so saturated with anger that there was the potential for the bottles to tumble out if we opened the cupboard too wide; so we tentatively imagined us opening it a small amount and peering in. I repeatedly told him we were opening it together and I could support the door and catch anything that fell out.

Identifying the ketchup

I was excited by this approach! In my thought processing, Henry could approach individual issues and discuss them in a more playful and less intense manner.

Likening ketchup to his anger about physical abuse he experienced from his father he told me that, if he opened the cupboard, the biggest thing to fall would be the ketchup. He believed it might spill everywhere, ruining and damaging everything around. He thought that perhaps this ketchup was the largest bottle possible and there was more than one in the cupboard because extra had been repurchased over the years.

Henry was able to work within the metaphor of ketchup representing all the negative experiences he remembered about his dad. We explored how he could physically hold the ketchup, when he thought he would be able to not only take a bottle out of his ‘cupboard of anger’ but also control how much he squeezed out. We anticipated in detail the dilemmas of the screw top lids in which you shake the ketchup out and at times it is harder to manage, potentially spoiling parts of a meal!

Henry grasped this concept with enthusiasm; Instead of telling me it was safer not to talk about his abusive father, he tackled the concept of the impact of his abuse in detail, multi-layering his thinking and anguish when the focus was connected to ketchup.

Everything You Need To Know About PACE Parenting

When people talk about therapeutic parenting, they often talk about the PACE model of parenting.

Children that have experienced trauma and instability throughout their lives often suffer from attachment issues, meaning it is difficult for them to form healthy attachments with the people around them, which can lead to various challenging behaviours.

In these situations, traditional parenting methods, like conditional parenting, can be less ineffective. In some cases, they do more bad than good for the child.

The PACE model of parenting, developed by psychologist Dan Hughes, is designed to provide a framework for caregivers whose children may require a different parenting approach. PACE parenting is especially effective for supporting children that lack secure emotional bases, meaning it is ideal for foster carers.

What is PACE?

PACE therapeutic parenting is a holistic approach to parenting that involves thinking, feeling, communicating, and behaving in a manner that cultivates feelings of safety and security for your child. More than just a technique, PACE is often described as a ‘way of being’, influencing the way you relate to your child on multiple levels.

Based on the way caregivers interact with very young infants, this style of parenting encourages parents and carers to focus on the whole of the child, not just their behaviour. PACE invites caregivers to consider the ‘inner life’ of the child as well as the external.

Its four principles of communication – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy – facilitate the building of healthy, secure attachments between caregiver and child. PACE asks caregivers to pay close attention to how different communication styles deliver different messages to their children, encouraging them to maintain a calm and measured approach.

PlayfulnessA colourful letter 'P'

Playfulness encourages caregivers to maintain a level of playfulness when interacting with their child. This means keeping communication fun; try using a light tone, like the one you might use when telling a story. Refraining from using a harsh tone or lecturing enables your child to maintain a sense of security, while defusing tense or difficult situations.

Adopting a playful stance doesn’t mean being funny all the time, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean making jokes when a child is sad. Rather, using a light, playful communication style when appropriate helps children to be more open.

Being playful together encourages the growth of a healthy bond, showing the child that it is okay to have fun with their caregiver, promoting a positive connection to them. It also creates a safe, engaging environment that invites closeness without asking too much of your child, signaling to them that their presence in your life is positive.

AcceptanceA colourful letter 'A'

Acceptance means validating your child’s experiences and emotions, rather than trying to change or censor how they are feeling. You might not agree with their interpretation of a situation, or the way they are expressing themselves, but you accept them, nonetheless.

You can show your child it is okay to feel the way they are by actively communicating your understanding. When your child says something like ‘everyone hates me,’ you might feel like telling them that isn’t true, or they shouldn’t say things like that. However, responses like this might invalidate their experience and make them feel unheard or misunderstood.

Instead, a PACE approach would mean answering with something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry you think that everyone hates you, that must be upsetting’ or ‘I didn’t realise you felt like that, no wonder you are angry.’ These responses not only accept their emotions, but also help to reduce any feelings of shame.


A colourful letter 'C'Curiosity invites you to ask yourself questions about why your child is feeling or acting the way they are, without placing judgement or blame.

Ask yourself questions, like what is important in your child’s life? What are their strengths? How can you bring out the best in them? Approaching your child with an air of curiosity means wondering about the experience of your child and using this to better your understanding of them.

When a child is acting out or is expressing their emotions in a certain manner, avoid asking them questions like ‘why did you do that?’. Children often do not know why they are behaving in a certain way. They may not have the right words to express their feelings.

Instead, try approaching these situations with curiosity and the goal of understanding. A PACE parent might say something like ‘what do you think that was about?’ or ‘you seem upset, I wonder if you might be a bit tired?’. These questions help to diffuse tension, all while conveying to your child that your intensions are to understand them, not punish them.


A colourful letter 'E'Empathy reminds you to always approach difficult situations through your child’s eyes, whether or not they are behaving in a way you condone.

Being empathetic is not about reassuring the child or trying to make their problem’s go away. Rather, empathy means being present for your child in the moment, helping them feel less alone in their emotions, sitting with them and providing support and comfort. By feeling the same upset or distress your child is feeling, and communicating this to them, you are helping them to feel seen and understood.

With empathy, you can demonstrate to your child that they are not alone in their experiences. That, together, you will get through this. Taking an empathetic approach and feeling your child’s emotions with them will help to lay the foundation for deeper connection, enabling you to establish a more trusting relationship.

How can PACE be put into practice?

PACEful responses can often be more appropriate for resolving conflict between you and your child. In many situations, your response will vary between Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. You might also wish to use a combination of these approaches.

Below are a few examples of situations in which a PACE parenting approach might be more effective.

Example One

A young boy in nature.
Peter has homework that he does not want to do. He is crawling under the table, drawing on his homework and cannot sit still in his chair. He says he can’t do it and he hates the work, his school and you.

Some typical responses might look like:
• ‘If you don’t do your homework, you can’t watch TV later.’
• ‘That’s not a nice way to speak about me or the school.’
• ‘You’re wasting time when you could be getting on with it.’

In this situation, using the PACE parenting model might help to diffuse the tension in this situation and lead to an overall better outcome.

A Playful response might sound like: ‘Wow! Look at that homework! It looks like a dog has tried to have it for dinner! Do you feel okay, Peter? You seem quite upset. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this out together.’

An Accepting response might sound like: ‘It can be really difficult when you feel like you can’t do something. Its not nice when you feel rubbish, but it’s okay to feel like that. I’m sorry that you feel like you hate the work and your school.’

A Curious response might sound like: ‘You usually enjoy doing your homework. I wonder what has changed today? Is there something else that is making this tricky? I wonder if you are feeling quite tired today. Do you think that is what’s upsetting you?’

An Empathetic response might sound like: ‘You seem to be really upset and frustrated right now. Is that right? I know how that feels, especially when you don’t want to do something. Why don’t we work through these feelings together?’

Example Two

A teenage girl on her phone. Lucy’s caregiver has organised a fun art activity for her. They have spent a long time preparing it, using her favourite colours and buying special materials. However, Lucy doesn’t want to do the activity right now, and says she thinks it looks boring and rubbish.

Some typical responses might look like:
• ‘That’s a really rude thing to say, Lucy.’
• ‘I spent a long time making you that.’
• ‘Why did you say that?’

A PACEful response might use a combination of Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy to approach this situation.

This might sound something like:
‘You usually really enjoy this kind of activity, I’m wondering if you can help me understand what is different today? You seem to be having a hard time settling down. Maybe you have something on your mind? I find it difficult to relax and switch off sometimes too. It can be hard to get excited about something when you are worried or upset or tired.’

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Being PACEful in your interactions with your child isn’t easy, and you won’t get it right all the time. When things don’t go to plan, its important to take time to reflect on what happened, what was said, and what can be done differently the next time.

It can be useful to plan ahead for certain recurring situations that you know can cause difficulty for your child, such as getting ready for school, bath time, or bed time. By considering what tasks might be challenging for you and your child, and anticipating how they might react, you can plan PACEful responses that you can use to diffuse those situations.

At Compass, we provide 24/7 support for all our carers. Our carers receive essential training that prepares them for all kinds of therapeutic parenting, including PACE. We also offer additional therapeutic care and support for our children, alongside specialised education plans that are aimed at supporting our young people and ensuring they achieve the best outcomes possible.

If you think you could make a difference to the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.

What Does It Mean to Be A Therapeutic Parent?

You’ve probably heard of various parenting styles, such as attachment parenting or helicopter parenting. But what about the lesser-known parenting style of therapeutic parenting?

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

When we think of traditional parenting styles, we often think of reward and punishment-based approaches. These parenting styles rely on the idea that children will increase or decrease their behaviours based on rewards and punishments.

However, for children without emotionally secure bases – such as children in foster care – these parenting styles can be less effective because they focus on regulating behaviour rather than understanding it.

The word ‘therapeutic’ is associated with the idea of healing. This notion of ‘healing’ speaks to the key ideas and principles behind therapeutic parenting. Therapeutic Parenting does not mean practising psychological therapy on your child, though.

Instead, the principles of Therapeutic Parenting are based on creating highly-nurturing, highly-structured relationships between children and their parents. These relationships combine empathy with well-defined boundaries, routines, and behavioural expectations.

Because of its healing-based approach, therapeutic parenting is an excellent tool for foster carers. A lot of foster children have experienced traumatic experiences in their life, and may suffer from varying degrees of attachment trauma, meaning they require therapeutic care.

This style of parenting allows children to creature secure attachments and begin healing, as it cultivates feelings of safety and security.
What is therapeutic parenting?

Boundaries and Routines

Establishing firm boundaries and routines is a core part of therapeutic parenting. This includes having fixed mealtimes and bedtimes, or even having a fixed seat at the dinner table.

These routines and boundaries helps children to predict their environments, enabling them to feel safe and develop a sense of security within the home setting. The consistency of routines and boundaries can be comforting, especially for children that have experienced instability throughout their lives, like foster children.

This includes minimising surprises, as surprises represent a change in the child’s routine. In young children especially, the sensation of surprise can be confused with the sensation of fear, creating a fear response.


In therapeutic parenting, reward and punishment-based approaches are replaced with more empathetic practices. Empathy refers to the ability to ‘feel’ with someone, particularly difficult emotions.

When a child is upset or distressed, an empathetic approach means their carer can feel and relate to those feelings of sadness and distress as well. By feeling what your child is feeling, and putting yourself in their shoes, you can communicate your understanding of their experience and support them through it.

This is particularly important in the building of strong, healthy connections between a parent/carer and their child.

No Punishment

As aforementioned, therapeutic parenting does not use punishment or rewards to mark a child’s behaviour. Instead, therapeutic parenting calls for the use of empathy-based responses to a child’s behaviour. These responses are aimed at helping children regulate their emotions, rather than making them feel anxious, isolated or abandoned.

Empathic responses include never asking a child ‘why’ they have done something, but rather commenting on the way they chose to express their feelings. You might say something like ‘that is an interesting choice you have made,’ or ‘I can see you are really struggling with this’ or ‘you seem upset, I wonder if you might be a bit tired.’

Another therapeutic parenting technique is practicing ‘time-ins’, rather than ‘time-outs.’ In a time-in scenario, rather than isolating the child for misbehaving, the child spends a period of time close to their carer, in order to ensure their safety and help them calm down.

For instance, if a child needs to leave the room because they are exhibiting strong emotions or challenging behaviour, their care giver will leave the room with them, and help them work through their feelings. This helps the child feel connected and supported with their caregiver, helping them to better grasp why their behaviour may not have been appropriate.

Therapeutic Foster Parenting

How can I be more therapeutic in my parenting?

Therapeutic parenting involves recognising that your child’s behaviour is communication. Your main goal should be helping them move from an emotionally dysregulated state, to a regulated one, without the use of punishment or isolation.

It can be difficult to maintain a therapeutic approach to parenting all the time, so its important to remember self-compassion. It can be tough to exercise emotional restraint sometimes, especially when your child is acting in a challenging way. However, if a caregiver can adopt a therapeutic approach to their parenting even most of the time, this will have a considerable positive impact on the development of their child, allowing them to build healthy, secure attachments.

At Compass, we encourage our carers to begin with the PACE model when adopting a therapeutic parenting style.

The PACE model, developed by psychologist Dan Hughes, is comprised of four principles of communication: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. The PACE approach provides a framework for supporting children throughout emotional and behavioural challenges.

To find out more about PACE parenting, click here.

Further resources

• Learn more about therapeutic parenting at the National Association of Therapeutic Parents
• Check out Kim S. Golding’s book ‘Everyday Parenting with Security and Love: Using PACE to Provide Foundations for Attachment’
Beacon House has numerous online resources, including therapeutic parenting

At Compass, all our foster carers receive essential training that prepares them for therapeutic foster parenting. We also offer additional therapeutic care and support for our children, alongside specialised education plans that are aimed at supporting our young people and ensuring they achieve the best outcomes possible.

If you’d like to make a difference to the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.

Dealing with Attachment Issues in Children

Attachment is a clinical term that refers to the strong bond between a child and their primary caregiver. Children can build attachment bonds with more than one caregiver, but most often the bond with people who cared for them throughout their early infancy is the most significant bond.

These early infancy bonds are developed through attachment cycles, in which the infant has a need, and these needs are met by their carer. These attachment cycles teach infants that they can rely on their carer for safety, comfort, and security.

Children who receive responsive, sensitive caregiving during early childhood develop secure attachments to their primary caregiver. These children are comforted by their caregivers, and perceive their caregiver as a secure base, from which they can begin exploring their environment.

However, when this initial cycle of care is disrupted, children no longer feel stable or secure within their attachment bond.

Unfortunately, many children in the care system suffer from broken attachment bonds. Many of them suffer from varying degrees of attachment trauma, as the disruption or loss of attachment bonds can have profound psychological and emotional impacts on a child.

How are Attachment Bonds broken?

Attachment bonds can be broken in a variety of different ways. Certain circumstances make it more difficult for children to form healthy attachment patterns.

These include:

  • Abuse, maltreatment, or trauma in child or caregiver
  • Caregiver substance abuse
  • Caregiver mental health difficulties
  • Household stressors, such as financial troubles
  • Multiple care placements or living in care
  • Prolonged hospitalisation
  • Neglect of child needs
  • Loss or bereavement of caregiver that child had an attachment with

Even though some of these circumstances are unavoidable, the effect on a child’s psyche and development is the same. In the breaking of their attachment bonds, children learn to believe that their needs do not matter as they will not be met.

What are the warning signs of Attachment Issues?

Attachment issues or disorders, such as Reactive Attachment disorder (RAD) or Disinhibited Social Engagement disorder (DSED) can manifest in children in a variety of different ways. Issues with attachment can have an effect on a child’s behaviour and emotions.

The signs of attachment related trauma can vary with a child’s age.

Signs of attachment issues in infants include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Don’t reach out to be picked up
  • Not smiling or laughing
  • Don’t respond to efforts to comfort or calm them
  • Don’t seem to notice or be bothered when left alone

Signs of attachment issues in children include:

  • Problems with control
  • Manipulative behaviour
  • Inability to regulate their emotions
  • Aversion to touch or physical affection
  • Struggle to focus on tasks and instructions
  • Failure to show guilt or remorse
  • No fear of strangers or unfamiliar places
  • Violation of social boundaries
  • Attention-seeking
  • Unresponsive or detached
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth

Looked-after children are at greater risk of developing ongoing attachment issues than the wider population. They are affected by the separation they experience when removed from their primary birth caregiver, regardless of whether their attachment to them was healthy or problematic.

What are the long-term impacts of Attachment Issues?

If a child doesn’t learn how to form healthy attachments and build positive relationships, it is likely these issues will continue throughout their life.

People that grow up with unresolved attachment trauma often find it difficult to regulate their emotions and may act rashly and impulsively. Life skills such as budgeting and career planning will be difficult, and they may be prone to high levels of stress, leading to substance abuse and an increase the risk of long-term health conditions.

Adults with attachment trauma also continue to struggle forming interpersonal relationships. They may also become overly dependent on other people in their lives, and struggle to recognise the abusive and manipulative behaviours.

Dealing with Attachment Issues in Children


How can I help my child with Attachment Issues?

It can sometimes be challenging to connect past disruptions to the attachment bond with a child’s current difficulties. Caregivers sometimes state that they feel ‘blamed’ or ‘confused’ when confronted with the fact their child may have attachment trauma. It is important to remember that each child is an individual with their own unique set of experiences that may have nothing to do with your relationship with them.

If you suspect your child is suffering from attachment trauma, you should seek professional guidance. A professional will be able to help advise you how best to support your child and may help in developing a therapeutic treatment programme. If you are a foster carer, we also recommend talking to your Social Worker about any concerns you have.

Alongside professional support, there are various things that you can do to help support your child while they learn how to get over attachment issues.

One of the most important things you can do is create a secure base for your child. This means being available for them and sensitive to their needs, all the while remaining firm in your routine and boundaries.

 How Foster Carers can Help Children with Attachment Trauma

At Compass, we encourage our foster carers to take a therapeutic approach to their parenting. Therapeutic training embraces four principles of communication, called PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy). PACE provides a framework for supporting children in crisis.

Playfulness means keeping communication fun, open and light. A playful approach creates a safe, engaging environment that invites closeness without asking too much of your child.

Acceptance means validating your child’s experiences and emotions. Instead of trying to change or censor how they’re feeling, acceptance asks that you merely acknowledge, sit and experience it with them.

Curiosity invites you to ask questions about why your child is feeling or acting the way they are without judgement or blame.

Empathy reminds you to always approach difficult situations through your child’s eyes, whether or not they are misbehaving or acting in a way you do not condone.

Your goal should be aimed at helping your child transition from a dysregulated state to a regulated one. As they learn to trust you, your relationship will begin to form a new blueprint for what a secure attachment looks like.

We see this process happen frequently with our foster carers. Foster carers can have a huge influence in helping foster children learn to understand and manage their feelings. The relationship between foster carers and foster children helps children learn how to build strong and secure attachments for the future.

Further resources

While dealing with attachment disorder can be difficult for foster carers, it is also one of the most significant ways you can have a positive impact on the life of a child in care. If you’re ready to find out more about becoming a foster carer, please get in touch today.

Small Talk Topics for Helping Someone in Need

A lot of people denounce small talk as meaningless or insincere. However, in some cases, small talk can save lives.

This week, BBC Radio One’s Teen Hero, Harry, stopped someone from taking their own life. Harry was on his way to school when he passed someone who was ‘clearly in distress’. Harry soon realised that this person was moments away from attempting to take their own life, and so, with ‘great sensitivity’, checked in to see if they were okay.

By starting a simple conversation, Harry managed to break them out of their negative thought patterns. He kept them talking and persuaded them to reconsider their decision. With small talk, Harry saved a life.

We were so inspired and moved by Harry’s incredible bravery and courage. Harry’s story is a brilliant example of the way in which a conversation can transform someone’s mood. As the Samaritans campaign states: small talk saves lives.

Spotting someone in need

The past few years have been tough on everyone. The pandemic and its restrictions have made all of us feel lonely, isolated, and down at points. That’s why its all the more important to look out for one another throughout these challenging times.

People in need don’t all behave the same. However, there are a few things you can look out for:

• Isolated or standing alone
• Appearing distressed or withdrawn
• Not moving from their position for a long period of time

It can be hard to approach a stranger. But, if you think someone might need help, it’s important to trust your instincts.

That’s why we’ve come up with a few small talk questions and topics that you can use to strike up conversation with someone in need and aid their suicide prevention.

Talking to someone in need

Introduce yourself
Many conversations begin with simple introductions. By introducing yourself, you instantly create a connection with the person you are talking to. You are also encouraging the person you are talking with to ground themselves, by remembering their own name and introducing themselves in return.

Where and What
Asking what has brought a person to this location, or where they are going, can be another good ice breaker. Sheila, one of the Samaritan’s Small Talk Saves Lives success stories, said she ‘was on the way to (her) weekly shop’ last year, when she ‘came across a young woman in floods of tears.’ Sheila stopped her car and asked the woman, ‘has something happened to bring you here today?’ and could tell immediately that this basic question ‘instantly broke her thoughts.’

Straightforward questions like this can also have a grounding effect on a vulnerable person. It can encourage them to reconsider their surroundings and centre them within the moment.

Ask about Coffee
Asking someone a question such as ‘where can I get a coffee?’ is an easy and effective way of striking up, or continuing, a conversation. This kind of innocent question might help to snap someone out of a negative place, without placing too much pressure on them. You might also ask them for directions for something else, such as the bus station, or a local shop.

Comment on the Weather
Much like asking about coffee, making an observation about the weather is another way to ease into a conversation. People in the UK are always talking about the weather, so this should feel relatively natural for both yourself and the person in need. Talking about the weather also provides an opportunity to establish a rapport between the two of you.

Sometimes, simple words of reassurance can be enough to stop someone from taking their own life. In 2008, Jonny Benjamin was preparing to take his own life on London Bridge, when a stranger stopped to talk to him. The stranger – later revealed as Neil Laybourn – stopped, and told Jonny ‘it will get better mate, you will get better’. These few compassionate words from a stranger were enough to ‘burst the bubble of that world (he) was in.’

Small talk Topics for Talking to Someone in Need

Continuing a Conversation

Once you have initiated contact with one of these small talk starters, encourage them to keep talking.

Try move the conversation somewhere safe and quiet, like a bench. By listening to what they have to say, and repeating it back to them, you can help to make them feel heard and understood.

Once they are safe, ask them if there is someone you can call for them – such as a family member, close friend, or a crisis line. If you feel it is necessary, you can also call the emergency services on 999.

If they are unresponsive or aggressive

If the person is unresponsive when you first try to talk to them, try not to be put off. Give them some time, before trying to talk to them again. Ensure you stay near them, within their eyeline, and be patient. Sometimes, when people are in emotional turmoil, they feel disconnected from the world around them, and it might take them some time to realise you are there.

If the person in need behaves aggressively to you, or is defensive, make sure you also keep your own safety and wellbeing in mind when interacting with them. You can either wait for them to calm down, and try talking to them again, or you can find someone to help you.

If you don’t feel safe approaching them, you should call emergency services.

Remember, there is no such thing as the wrong thing to say when talking to someone in need. No matter how you initiate a conversation with someone, you are doing the right thing in approaching them. Just do your best and trust your instincts.

Crisis Lines

In certain situations, you might call a crisis line on behalf of the person in need. These lines are free to use and available to anyone who might need them.

Call 116 123 (24hr)
Email [email protected]

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call 0800 58 58 58 (5pm – 12am daily)
Visit the webchat page

0300 123 3393
Text 86463 (weekdays from 9am-6pm)

Papyrus (for people under 35)
Call 0800 068 41 41 (9am – 12am)
Text 07860 039967
Email [email protected]

Looking after yourself

You can make a huge difference to the life of someone in need by talking to them, but the experience may also take its toll on you. You might feel quite overwhelmed afterwards.

If you feel the need to talk to someone about what you have experienced, you can also call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you are a foster carer with Compass, you’re never alone. You can reach out to your support team for further guidance. Get in touch to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Compass Fostering.

Fostering a child with ADHD

Half of all children in care are considered to have some form of emotional or behavioural problem, with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being one of them. In the UK alone, it is thought that between 2 – 5 % of school aged children have ADHD.

ADHD is a common neurological condition that affects the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. The symptoms of ADHD are usually noticeable at an early age and tend to become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as starting school or entering care.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD in children and adults can be categorised into two types of behavioural problems like inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Some people with ADHD will exhibit symptoms that belong predominantly to one or the other. Other people with ADHD will have what is known as a ‘combined’ presentation of ADHD, in which they show symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactive impulsiveness simultaneously.

Examples of Inattentive symptoms include:
• Struggling to follow instructions
• Daydreaming
• Short attention span
• Difficulty finishing tasks
• Making careless mistakes
• Becoming easily confused
• Appearing to not listen when spoken to

Examples of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity symptoms include:
• Restlessness (fidgeting)
• Excessive talking
• Speaking before thinking
• Impatience
• Interrupting conversation
• Difficulty waiting their turn
• Little or no sense of danger

How does ADHD affect day-to-day living?

The symptoms of ADHD can be the cause of various significant challenges in a young person’s life.

One of the primary challenges that young people with ADHD face is the barrier it creates to learning and education. ADHD affects a young person’s ability to focus, sit still, filter information and think clearly – all essential skills that are required in the classroom. This often means that, without the proper support, their academic achievement suffers.

ADHD can also have a profound effect on a young person’s ability to create and maintain personal relationships. Not only are the symptoms of ADHD difficult for the person experiencing them, but they can also be difficult for the people surrounding them to deal with.

Because of the difficulties with self-control that people with ADHD can experience, many young people with the disorder tend to behave impulsively. They react to social situations without thinking about the consequences of their behaviour, and the impact their actions might have on the people around them.

As a result of challenges such as these, people with ADHD often have a lower self-esteem, as their symptoms can make them feel incapable or unable to deal with day-to-day life.

What’s it like fostering a child with ADHD?

As a foster carer, there is a chance that you may foster a child that is diagnosed with or presents the symptoms of ADHD. Its estimated that children in foster care are three times more likely to develop ADHD than other children, possibly due to the close relationship between trauma and neurological conditions.

Two of our foster carers, Mark and Nick, have first-hand experience fostering children with ADHD. Two of their foster sons, C and L, both have ADHD.

Mark could recognise the symptoms of ADHD in the two of them straight away. “I could identify straight away that both of them had ADHD. They were showing so many signs. At school, they use to bounce around and wouldn’t sit still.”

According to Nick and Mark, C and L had great difficulty at school but were frequently told by the school and by authorities that it wasn’t ADHD. They found it very challenging to get a diagnosis for C and L, and felt they had to fight to be heard.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be quite difficult achieving a diagnosis for ADHD. This is because many of the ADHD symptoms in children can be dismissed as behavioural issues, or confused with other neurological conditions, such as autism. The diagnostic process for ADHD is also intensive and involves gathering a lot of information about the presentation of symptoms.

“Nobody would listen to us. They just kept putting it down to attachment issues or challenging behaviour, saying they were just playing up.” In the end, it took Mark and Nick three years to get the diagnosis they needed to access the right support for C and L.

“They (the school) didn’t want to put them into a category, they didn’t want to label them. But it wasn’t about labelling them, it was about making sure that throughout life they get the support that they need.”

Although getting the right diagnosis was difficult in their case, Mark and Nick will have made all the difference to the lives of their foster sons, C and L. With an ADHD diagnosis, C and L will be able to access the proper support necessary to manage their symptoms. This support could include therapeutic treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, or stimulant medication.

How can I support my foster child with ADHD?

If you suspect your foster child might have ADHD, its important you get them seen by a professional to ascertain a diagnosis and treatment plan. Compass Fostering aims to support all our foster carers as much as possible throughout this process, by providing them with specialised training and the information necessary to care for their child.

That being said, caring for a child with ADHD can be challenging, and it can often be difficult to know where to start. It is important to remember that a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour. As we established, ADHD is a neurological disorder, meaning the child is unable to supress or control their symptoms.

The NHS has some advice on supporting children with ADHD that you can find here.

You can also find out more about ADHD here:
The ADHD Foundation
The UK ADHD Partnership

Foster children with ADHD are sometimes more difficult for local authorities to place in homes, but the stability and warmth of a supportive home environment can make all the difference. While fostering a child with ADHD can be a challenge at times, it can also be incredibly rewarding if they are given the right environment within which to flourish.

If you’re interested in changing the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.

What is the Role of a Supervising Social Worker?

For some children, a foster carer plays an extremely important role in their lives; giving them a family-based environment to thrive safely. Training, developing, and supporting these foster carers to provide this care, love, security and stability to each and every child is vital – and this professional and emotional support requires a specific, specialised role: the supervising social worker. But what is the role of a supervising social worker? And how do they work with our foster families?

What is the role of a supervising social worker?

The role of a supervising social worker involves many different responsibilities. Not only does it involve the supervision of foster carers, which might include safeguarding issues raised by a child’s social worker, but they also help with the emotional and practical support a foster carer may need. The role of a supervising social worker includes:

Keeping in touch

A supervising social worker will ensure all lines of communication remain open. They will keep in frequent touch with foster families, social workers and the foster children and young people throughout the entire placement. A supervising social worker will make regular home visits to the foster parents’ homes, along with making regular phone calls and generally touching base with everyone involved in the child or young person’s life.

Arranging additional support

If any interventions are ever needed, or a child is in need of any additional support (such as therapy or learning support) a supervising social worker will be able to arrange for any additional support services that may be needed.

Day-to-day support

The role of a supervising social worker is also to support foster carers with attending all their meetings, helping with their report writing and keeping records for them. Along with this, keep records on each child’s progression and monitor how each of them is getting on in each of their placements and make all statutory visits.

Support with a child’s birth parents

The supervising social worker helps to bridge the gap between the children and young people in a placement and their birth parents and families. They will work with the child’s foster parents and social worker to manage and, where appropriate, maintain contact between the children and their birth families.

Supervising social workers will also help the foster parents navigate the emotions that might come with a child being unable to be in contact with their birth parents, which can happen for various reasons.

Identify training opportunities

Along with all of the above, the supervising social worker will also identify any training opportunities each foster carer may need. They will help to get each foster carer up to impeccable standard, and help them to achieve their own, personal learning and development goals.

The supervising social worker helps to recruit our incredible foster carers, they arrange and run ‘Form F’ assessments and let’s our carers know about all the training opportunities every potential carer may need before the child arrives into their care.

Think becoming a supervising social worker is something you would be interested in doing? Find out more about How to Become a Supervising Social Worker. Alternatively, if you have more questions regarding fostering, please contact us, or give us a call on 0800 566 8317 and we’ll be able to answer any questions you may have.

Changing lives: How to Become a Supervising Social Worker

Social workers play a valuable role in helping foster children and families. They give important guidance and support to both young people and carers, helping them navigate the sometimes-tricky realities of living in care.

While there are different types of social workers within foster care, all contribute to helping children achieve their full potential. These include supervising social workers (SSWs), who work on behalf of fostering agencies like Compass Fostering, and youth social workers, who work with children on an individual basis.

If you’re considering a career as a supervising social worker in foster care, or wonder what SSWs do, here’s what you need to know.

What is the role of a supervising social worker?

Before a child arrives with a new foster family, SSWs work with the family finding team to make sure that the child and the family are a good match. They also talk through any questions or concerns with the soon-to-be foster parents. The supervising social worker’s in-depth knowledge of fostering legislation and practice means they can support carers to give the foster child the best home possible.

Once the foster child joins their new family, the SSW checks in frequently to see how the child is settling in and how the family is adapting. They’re on hand day and night to advise whenever an issue comes up – which often helps parents get through any fostering hiccups.

The Supervising social worker role also involves help recruit foster carers, run ‘Form F’ foster assessments and get carers the train-ing they need to prepare for the arrival of a foster child and advance their skills.

How to become a supervising social worker

Social workers need an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree in social work that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They also need to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

In addition, social workers need good organisational skills, a friendly and flexible attitude, strong communication with the ability to prioritise, and a good dose of empathy and enthusiasm. Due to the nature of the work, many social workers also need a valid driving license, and SSWs should have experience of foster care practice.

If you’re a qualified social worker looking for a position as a SSW in foster care, consider joining the Com-pass Fostering family! You can view our current vacancies here.

Becoming a casework- or an 'SSW' in foster care is extremely rewarding. You'll be supporting families and helping to shape changing of lives.

Why become a social worker in foster care?

Social work is a rewarding field for anyone who wants to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Supervising social workers help improve the foster experience for children, birth families and foster families.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of social work is being able to watch a foster family and foster child go from arrival through the adjustment period, to where the child becomes part of the family and starts thriving and achieving. There are few feelings in the world like knowing that you’ve made a difference in the life of a child in need!

If you’re interested in finding out more about the foster care system, please get in touch and our friendly team will be happy to answer your questions. Or if you’d like to know more about supervising social workers, you can read about a day in the life from one of our Supervising Social Workers, Steph.

ADHD vs. Autism Spectrum Condition: Spotting the Signs & How They Differ

All children have a hard time to paying attention and focusing every now and then – but if these behaviours become persistent and a child struggles to pay attention to topics they enjoy, it could signal an underlying issue like ADHD or autism spectrum condition.

Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a series of related developmental conditions that shows up in early infancy and childhood, and its sign and symptoms can vary widely. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopment disorder that usually shows up in early childhood, often accompanied by other disorders or conditions, and can affect a child’s ability to focus.

While the two disorders are different, they can present with very similar signs and symptoms. If you think your foster child might have ASC or ADHD, you’ll want to get them diagnosed correctly so they can get the treatment they need as soon as possible.

What to look for: the signs and symptoms of autism and ADHD

Common symptoms for both include:

  • Inability to pay attention
  • Hard time focusing
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Fidgeting
  • Impulsivity
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional outbursts

Children with ADHD might also have a hard time moderating their behaviour and be unaware of obvious dangers around them, while children with ASC might lack understanding of social cues, engage in repetitive behaviour and find it difficult to be in large groups or relate to the world around them.

Consider a child’s age and maturity when observing their behaviour – children in care often have behavioural difficulties or learning delays as a result of trauma and instability. You can read about what the most common form of trauma in foster children – attachment trauma – looks like here. [hyperlink to article]

How ADHD and autism are different

ADHD and ASC work differently in the brain, but both are conditions with biological causes and do not come about because of bad parenting or trauma. While there are differences between ADHD and ASC, it’s not uncommon for children to have more than one condition – and since every child is unique, their conditions will be too.

Some common differences between the two include:

  • Children with autism can have trouble focusing on some things but are highly engaged with topics that interest them, while children with ADHD can have trouble focusing on any task that requires prolonged attention.
  • Children with autism may have less social awareness and find it hard to make eye contact or point to things, while children with ADHD may have a hard time sitting still.
  • Children with autism tend to love order and repetition, while children with ADHD dislike repetitive tasks.
  • Children with autism are prone to sensory overload, while children with ADHD are easily distracted by new things.
  • Children with ADHD may talk nonstop and interrupt others. Children with autism can do the same, but usually only about specific topics that interest them.

Finding your children help and support for their symptoms of ADHD or autism will help them navigate their world more confidently.


Early intervention can have an enormous impact on future development and skills, and as ADHD is common in children with autism it’s important to get a proper diagnosis to figure out the best treatment.

Treatments for autism are as varied as the disorder itself, but will usually include therapies such as behavioural therapy, educational and school-based therapies, and social skills training, and can also include medication.

Treatment for ADHD often combines medication and therapy, but every child’s case is unique so it will always depend on the child’s individual needs.

Some common at-home methods of dealing with ADHD and ASC include managing diet, giving positive attention and educational support, and creating a calm and structured environment.

What to do if you think your foster child has ADHD or ASC

If you think your foster child may have ADHD or ASC, it’s important to get them seen by a GP for diagnosis and to start the process of creating a treatment plan.

Compass Fostering also gives foster carers special training and support to help create a positive environment for every foster child’s unique needs. While children with these disorders can be challenging, caring for them is extremely rewarding if you can create a safe environment that allows their personality and intelligence to flourish.

If you aren’t sure if your child may have one or more of these disorders, you can find more information and support here:

The National Autistic Society
Child Autism UK
The ADHD Foundation
The UK ADHD Partnership

Foster children with special needs such as ADHD and autism are harder for local authorities to find homes for, but a stable and caring environment can make all the difference. Find out more about fostering special needs children by getting in touch with our friendly and knowledgeable team here at Compass Fostering.

What To Do If You Think Your Child Is Self-Harming

It can be frightening to realise that your child, or a child in your care, might be hurting themselves. It’s important to stay calm and know that you’re not alone. Self-harm has been on the increase in recent years, and can affect all genders – in fact, the number of boys who self-harm is now higher than the number of girls.

A child might turn to self-harm for many reasons– and there’s plenty you can do to help. The most important thing to remember is that you should never just tell a self-harmer to stop; they won’t be able to do so without a strong support system in place. You want to avoid putting any further guilt and shame on someone who is already struggling.

Here are the signs to look out for, and the steps to take if you think your child might be self-harming.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone intentionally hurts themselves physically. It is a way of taking emotional or ‘unreachable’ pain and making it into something real – turning it into an external thing that is tangible and controllable. It may feel like the only thing within a child’s control, so it’s important that you approach the situation calmly and carefully.

While more than half of people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, suicide is rarely the goal of self-harm. Self-harming is a coping strategy, and suicide happens when there are no coping strategies in place or when coping strategies stop being effective. Unfortunately, suicide is sometimes the unintentional result of an act of self-harm.

Different types of self harm

There are many types of self harm behaviour in young people. These can include:

  • Cutting or burning skin
  • Self-strangulation using ligatures
  • Hitting or biting themselves
  • Pulling out hair
  • Poisoning themselves with tablets or liquids
  • Purposefully engaging in physically risky behaviour
  • Banging their head against the wall

One method that can be used to help prevent more dangerous forms of self-harm is to redirect these impulses – by snapping an elastic band against the wrist, for example, or holding ice cubes until they melt. These give similar feelings of pain or discomfort without the risk of infection or damage.

Signs of self-harm

Some of the signs of self-harm are obvious – like unexplained cuts or burns – but often self-harmers will be skilled at hiding this kind of evidence. Subtler signs to watch for include:

  • Wearing full coverage clothing (even in hot weather)
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent illness
  • Hair loss
  • Bloody tissues in the rubbish
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low mood
  • Expressing feelings of failure and self-hatred

Privacy is essential for self-harm, so withdrawal from social and family activities is a big red flag, particularly when paired with any of the behaviours listed above.

Make sure to make yourself available to your child to listen completely. They will need a strong support network to help them with their self harm.

Why do people self-harm?

Because self-harm is a coping tool, there can be many contributing factors. Some of these include social problems like bullying and peer pressure, the glamorising of self-harm on social media, anxiety, depression, and overwhelming pressure to achieve.

Children in care can be at higher risk of having experienced trauma and abuse in their past, and will be less likely to have developed safe and constructive coping strategies – meaning they may be more likely to turn to self-harm. This is why we offer our foster carers industry leading training courses that cover a range of related topics.

What can parents and carers do?

  • Stay calm and non-judgmental. Don’t show horror, disgust or disappointment, and don’t make your child promise to stop. Instead, support your foster child in building resilience, identity, self-esteem and confidence, and work on developing other coping strategies. Ask them to help you understand why and how self-harm helps them.
  • Keep an eye out for less obvious signs of self-harm, such as injuries in areas that can’t easily be seen.
  • If your child wants to look at websites offering tools to help support self-harmers, support them in doing so – but look at the sites with them, as some may inadvertently encourage self-harming behaviour.
  • If needed, give your foster child support to keep wounds clean and cared for – but allow them to take the reins. You don’t want to exacerbate the problem by taking away their control over their own body.
  • Self-harm is often accompanied by a lot of shame, embarrassment and self-hatred that can make your foster child’s feelings and actions very hard to talk about. Encourage them to talk and express themselves, and try to help your child find other ways to deal with their emotions.
  • Seek professional help. If your foster child is suffering badly enough to resort to self-harm, they need extra support from a mental health professional.

Even if your foster child is not self-harming, someone they know might be – so raise it as a topic in your household so your child knows they can talk to you.

If your child tells you that a friend or schoolmate is self-harming, think carefully before informing the parent as you will be breaking the confidence your child has shown in you. Instead, try to get permission from the friend (with your child’s help, if necessary) to talk to their parents before taking action.

Where to get help

When you join the Compass Fostering family, you’re never alone. We offer extensive and ongoing support to help carers deal with many difficult issues that can arise when looking after a foster child. Get in touch to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Compass Fostering.