Foster compassion and change lives – Lesley Winton

It’s hard to believe that it was only six years ago that the unique and groundbreaking project began with just ten children from five families in East Lothian.
Lesley Winton is Founder and Chief Executive of Fostering CompassionLesley Winton is Founder and Chief Executive of Fostering Compassion
Lesley Winton is Founder and Chief Executive of Fostering Compassion

By the end of 2019, more than 700 children will have benefited from the programme, with 229 supported in this year alone – the charity’s busiest year to date.

Fostering Compassion runs humane education workshops for looked-after children who are struggling with compassion and empathy after enduring adverse childhood experiences.

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The activities share the stories of rescued animals – told in such a way that the children draw parallels between their fears and emotions and those of the animals, encouraging compassion, empathy and understanding from a unique perspective.

The programme continues to receive great acclaim and has been described as a Centre of Excellence by Dr Elizabeth Ormerod, Vice President of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations, who travels the world assessing projects of this nature.

As if this wasn’t a high enough accolade, Fostering Compassion recently won its second award – the 2020 Edinburgh Prestige Award for Humane Education Project of the Year. To top off a year of remarkable achievements, I am honoured to have been asked to speak at the Association of Professional Humane Educators Conference in America next year.

At a recent event held by the charity, Dr Ormerod, who has over 40 years experience in the field of Companion Animal Studies and “the Link” – the recognised connection between animal abuse, child abuse and interpersonal violence – recalled the many years she had spent working with serious offenders.

She reflected on how many of these prisoners had suffered adverse childhood experiences and received no help or any interventions like the ones Fostering Compassion offers, which might have helped guide them down a better path in life.

She also reflected on the cost to the public purse of keeping people in prison and if there could be an injection of funds in the early years with troubled children, the savings would be immense – not only in financial terms but also in terms of mental health, recovery and stability and community well-being.

She is not wrong. The cost of one year in secure accommodation can be more than £200,000, according to a Ministry of Justice report from 2013 – Transforming Youth Custody – putting education at the heart of detention.

The estimated cost of putting a child through the Fostering Compassion programme for a year is approximately £300. If we can prevent just one child going down the pathway of crime with early intervention, the figures speak for themselves.

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Healthy and humane connections between humans and animals are an important element of a community’s well-being. Fostering Compassion demonstrates how troubled children can be helped through a deep and compassionate understanding of both children and animals.

Fostering Compassion has broken new ground in our understanding of what can be achieved through Animal Assisted Interventions and it is vital that the project receives funding to continue and allow further development to cope with demand for the service. The project began with just three workshops and due to demand, this has now grown to 14, with the latest Animal Heroes workshop focusing on animals saving humans and humans saving animals.

This new initiative has seen the charity create its most impressive partnership to date with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

The programme of workshops and activities and their efficacy are fully researched through academic relationships with Edinburgh and Stirling Universities – and Fostering Compassion goes from strength to strength as an evidence-based project.

For more information about 
Fostering Compassion, visit the organisation’s website, which is located at

Lesley Winton is Founder and Chief Executive of Fostering Compassion