Looking after the staff who work at Ashdale Care is a core focus of the organisation. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so keeping our staff cups full is vital in the care of our children and young people.

One of the newest introductions to supporting our carers’ mental health and wellbeing are Reflective Spaces.

Olivia McGrath, Clinical Service Manager, explains more: “During the first 90 minutes of a team meeting a member of the Clinical team will facilitate a Reflective Space. This is a protected time and space to explore situations that have come up for the team, specifically quite challenging situations and their emotional reaction to it. The aim is to further develop the skill of reflective practice, by asking the questions, ‘what really happened, how am I feeling now, and following the event, what did I learn from this?’ This practice, once embedded in a carer’s daily working life, enhances the development of self-awareness, stress management, and resilience. These qualities are vital to bolster our carers’ emotional well-being.’’

Ashdale Care staff experience highly demanding and often quite stressful situations with our young people. The young people in our care are placed with us due to adverse childhood events, categorised as developmental and relational trauma. The effects of emotional and physical abuse along with neglect or parental substance misuse, on a child’s emotional and psychological health can be extremely detrimental. Children understandably experience high levels of anxiety, anger, severe emotional distress and complex behavioural difficulties.

Our carers are often the most significant attachment figures for our young people. This can be richly rewarding on the one hand – with success stories and amazing achievements celebrated with the young people along the way – however, there are days when the pain of the past is too much to bear. On these days, our carers work tirelessly to therapeutically support angry, fearful, sometimes violent young people. These are the difficult days.

Reflected spaces are: “A regulated and boundaried forum where clinical and residential workers come together to explore the emotional and professional aspects of their work”

These spaces allow carers protected time to reflect on challenging and enriching experiences facilitated and guided by a member of the Clinical Team.

Reflective practice sessions encourage self-awareness and emotional intelligence, guiding staff members to think about the emotional intensity of these difficult situations and their emotional ‘selves’ within their responses. “If you can develop awareness of your own thoughts and emotions, it will invariably affect your response,’’ says Olivia. ‘’True awareness is the corner stone of reflection, which is the foundation of good practice.’’

When you work in stressful environments, it’s essential that you can communicate (in a safe space) if you have been affected or upset by an incident. “It’s fine to say, ‘that was a tough shift’,’’ Olivia points out. “These spaces allow our staff to reflect on incidents with a young person – or a staff member – and to share within the team what they think or feel about it. It’s a safe and contained way to help people deal with their feelings.’’

The Protected Reflective Spaces were introduced after Ashdale Care psychologist Carleen Cumiskey guided the organisation to introduce the practice after a training course with Jarlath Benson, renowned psychotherapist, and acclaimed author of ‘Working Creatively in Groups’. The book has been used for many years by social workers, youth workers and therapists.

Carleen recognised that there was a need for additional support for our carers to decompress and drain off some of the emotional impact of their role.

Olivia explains: “The young people we work with have experienced varying degrees and types of trauma. They may have a history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence. Living with them in our homes, as our carers do, can often lead to a ‘transference’ of the emotional load of that trauma onto the caregiver. It’s called vicarious trauma. It’s like the child giving you their heavy bag to carry on your shoulders. If you don’t find somewhere safe to put this down your back will bend and sometimes break under the pressure.

“We have a phrase – Name it to tame it. It’s something we do with the young people, but it is healthy for the staff too. If we recognise an emotion within the space, we will name it to allow the team to figure out where it is coming from. Once recognised and acknowledged together as a team, it can be a cathartic experience to use the facilitator to explore its origin and, like a heavy load no one needs to carry, find a space to safely set it down or at least store it.’’

It goes without saying that everything raised within these protected spaces is confidential.


Open and honest nature of discussions adds to the development and enhancement of team cohesion and sense of togetherness

Forum for developing psychological mindedness for social care practitioners

Aimed at helping individual practitioners and the team as a whole embed reflection into their daily practice

Utilises the resources of the group (experience, wisdom, skills) to promote a professional learning culture

An opportunity to process the demands and challenges arising from the role.


Other ways Ashdale Care looks after staff wellbeing

Employee Assist Programme: In recognition of the impact on emotional and mental health, there is an external organisation that provides free and confidential counselling. The details of this service are given to everyone on induction, and we encourage everyone to use it freely. Olivia says: “I encourage people to give them a call, regardless of whether they feel they need ‘counselling’ or not, to reduce some of the stigma that is still attached to ‘asking for help’.’’

Individual Development Plan meeting: Each month the team gets together to talk about the care plan for each child. During that meeting, staff will have a chance to explain how the work is impacting on them and the team. These are forums where reflective practice is encouraged and supported by the Clinical Team.

Team building days: Usually held at an activity centre where the team can take part in outdoor pursuits. “It’s a chance to have a lot of fun,’’ says Olivia. “And of-course there’s usually a few drinks and a sing song later in the evening!’’

Finally, Olivia explains that there is a culture of supporting each other, which comes from CEO and founder Paula Kane’s own attitude towards her staff. “Paula looked after everyone, and of course people who also have the same attitude to caring for each other gravitate towards her. We have a culture of asking ‘what else can I do to help?’ rather than one of ‘that’s not my job’. She has built a beautiful strong foundation for all of us to stand on, and to be proud of.’’

Find out what opportunities there are for working at Ashdale Care