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Fostering People embark on '5 Ways to Wellbeing'

Over the last few months we have devoted some of the time discussing Wellbeing and its importance for us not only as professionals working in a stressful environment, but also as human beings navigating our way through the complexities of the modern world. At Fostering People we are dedicating 2023 to the '5 Ways to Wellbeing', join us as we embark on our journey and let's feel good together.

Oliver Kirkland
Registered Manager
March 1 2023 - 6 min read

Those of you who came to our autumn forums will recall that we devoted some of the time we spent together discussing Wellbeing and its importance for us not only as professionals working in a stressful environment, but also as human beings navigating our way through the complexities of the modern world.

Part of my wish for us to focus on Wellbeing related to a recognition of our particular susceptibility to Compassion Fatigue when working with and looking after children who have experienced trauma, and a sense that we were not doing enough as we could do as an agency to equip our foster parents and staff with the knowledge, resources, and support to develop the resilience to prevent and withstand the debilitating effects of Compassion Fatigue.

My concerns led me to research whether there was any guidance out there specifically relating to actions we can take, as individuals and an organisation, to take better care of ourselves and each other and to promote a greater sense of Wellbeing within Fostering People.

This led me to finding out about the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’. This was actually a government initiative going back to the late 2000s based on research undertaken by the Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation. The stated intention of the project was to develop a “mental health equivalent” of the popular and well-known message that people should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to maintain good physical health.

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing are intentionally straightforward and incorporate behaviours that are easy to incorporate within our day-to-day lives (but just as easy to overlook if we are not careful). They are:

  1. Connect
  2. Be active
  3. Take notice
  4. Keep learning
  5. Give

At the forums, we did some work in groups looking at the things we consciously or unconsciously do in order to promote our own wellbeing within each of these 5 broad headings. My sense was that those of you who took part really enjoyed the exercise and sharing your ideas and experiences. There is a short video here that we watched to get us thinking:

As we discovered when we talked about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing at the forums, the initiative has not entered the public consciousness in the same way that other public health messages have (such as ‘5 a day’, ‘Smoking Kills’, and recommendations around weekly alcohol consumption). This seems like a real missed opportunity to me because the last few years have really shown us just how important wellbeing is to us as individuals and a wider society

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that there isn’t much we can do as a fostering service looking to support each other working with society’s most traumatised and vulnerable children because I believe the implications of enjoying or not enjoying wellbeing are massively exaggerated for us when compared to the majority of people.

With this in mind, we have decided, as a fostering community, to place a real emphasis on Wellbeing in 2023, with the 5 Ways to Wellbeing as our focus. I guess we all have our own strategies and approaches to taking care of ourselves and encouraging others to do the same for themselves. That was one of the things that made the exercise at the forums so interesting and sometimes entertaining.

So, starting in March with ‘Connect’, we are going to devote a couple of months to each of the 5 Steps to take us through to the end of the year. We will be setting up or pointing you towards activities, locally and nationally, to encourage and motivate all of us to think about and pay more attention to our overall sense of Wellbeing.

The older I get and the more I get to know and hopefully understand people a little better, the more I appreciate that different things work for different people. Frustrations and misunderstandings often arise when others fail to see our point of view or vice versa. So, what I really don’t want this to be about is me or us telling you what to do. That said, I sincerely hope you and your families get something out of it.

For what it’s worth, one of the things I do for myself is run. I started when I was recovering from a serious illness 12 years ago and wanted to get fit again, and have pretty much kept going with it since, give or take the occasional month out when I have been getting various body parts replaced. Since I took up running, one of the things I have taken part in consistently is parkrun

As the website states, parkrun is a free, community event where you can walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate. parkrun is 5k and takes place every Saturday morning. junior parkrun is 2k, dedicated to 4-14 year olds and their families, every Sunday morning. parkrun is positive, welcoming and inclusive, there is no time limit and no one finishes last. Everyone is welcome to come along.

The reason I mention this is that, for me and the thousands of people who take part every weekend, parkrun is very much integral to my personal ‘wellbeing strategy’. Linking it specifically to the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, it enables me to: Connect with people I see most weeks and those I might have not seen in a while; Be Active (obviously); and Give (through volunteering). There are also less easy to explain ways in which I Take Notice and Keep Learning, but I won’t go into that here. Anyway, it might not be for you, but if you have thought about doing it before but felt a little unsure about it, give it a go.

I do appreciate that there are some situations we work with that are so complex and traumatising, that it can seem almost impossible to prevent them from becoming overwhelming. What I don’t want to do is create an impression that those of us who circumstances cause to hit ‘rock bottom’ are responsible for what is going on for them, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard the evidence and guidance that is out there in terms of promoting our Wellbeing and reducing the risks of us getting to that point.

I hope we are able to come up with at least a few ideas over the course of 2023 that resonate with you and encourage you and your family to get involved in some way or another. We will be sharing more over the next couple of weeks, but that’s all from me for now.

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