Working with rescued animals can boost empathy even in hardened young hearts, says Lesley Winton
The connection between children and animals is very special. For young people who have not had the easiest start in life, connecting with an animal can teach them about love, respect and empathy – and play a vital role in healing deep wounds and helping them pull away from abuse and into a world where they can begin to open up and engage.
Fostering Compassion is a unique and ground-breaking humane education project designed specifically for looked-after children who can be left struggling with compassion and empathy after difficult experiences.
Through our activities, we share the stories of rescued domestic and wild animals in such a way that the children are able to draw parallels between their circumstances and those of the animals. We work with therapy dogs and ponies to help the children see animals as sentient beings. Our workshops, designed around the stories of rescued dogs, horses, ponies and bears, enable the children to connect with animals in a way they may never have been able to with people.
Through learning the stories of rescued and rehomed animals, the children gain a greater understanding of their own circumstances and often open up about their own abuse and neglect.
The children we work with are among the most vulnerable in our society and they and their families are in need of the greatest support.
Children who have had a traumatic start in life are often at a disadvantage when it comes to fulfilling their potential. They often feel ‘different’ and ‘isolated’. We try to ease these feelings in our workshops by bringing together looked-after children and their care-givers with other children and carers in similar circumstances in a safe environment, giving them a sense of belonging.
Children who have attended our activities have shown good engagement in learning, increased feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence, a better understanding of their emotions and behaviour and improved compassion and empathy. The majority have shown an increased sense of empowerment – and an understanding that their actions and attitudes can make a difference.
Our feedback has shown us that young people who have attended our workshops often build new friendships and show improved social behaviour. Also, their care-givers find a valuable support network.
Fostering Compassion began in 2013 with ten children from five families in East Lothian. By the end of 2018, we have had more than 400 children through the programme. Demand for our service is increasing every year.
We are about to enter into a very exciting stage of growth. We have secured a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to help fund the development of our new Community Room, the ‘Woodland Haven’. Here, we will be able to deliver our workshops and activities in-house, and create new and exciting workshops to share with some of the most at-risk children in our community. It will also serve as a warm, welcoming and relaxed place for carers and vulnerable members of the community to meet, volunteers to train and provide a perfect venue for awareness and education days and activities.
With many exciting new ideas in the pipeline, we believe Fostering Compassion will continue to provide support and comfort for those in need. The Woodland Haven room is allowing us to reach out to many new groups working with children and families in need of support and will enable us to create exciting new partnerships. With over 3000 looked-after children in the East Lothian area alone, there is clearly a great need for our service.
We are so excited about our Woodland Haven and will be sharing information about the room and Fostering Compassion in an open day at our offices at Cockburn Halls, Ormiston, East Lothian on tomorrow from 10am-4pm to allow people to learn more about our work and to view our wonderful new room. To continue to deliver our high quality service we are always looking for help and support, from funding, volunteering, sponsorship of children, donations of skills or in kind, or corporate backing. Please come along to our open day to learn more about Fostering Compassion – and help children make those powerful connections that can change their lives for the better.
Lesley Winton is founder and chief executive of Fostering Compassion: www.fosteringcompassion.org.
If you cannot attend tomorrow’s open day, but still want to know more, please contact Lesley on 01875 393 102 or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org