Supporting Families Through Care Farming

Supporting Families Through Care Farming

In 2020, I had a series of conversations with several health, education and social care professionals who voiced concerns that families who had not previously been considered vulnerable families, may have become so as a result of the challenges they had faced during the COVID19 lockdowns.

"In January 2022, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship Covid Action Grant. This gave me the opportunity to investigate in more depth the question of how families might be supported through care farming."

They pondered whether such families may need specialist support services or programmes going forward and what these programmes might look like. I wondered if green care projects which include not just care farming but also initiatives such as animal assisted interventions, green exercise, environmental conservation and therapeutic horticulture might help deliver something as part of a holistic approach.

In September 2020, I contacted 118 care farms across the South East of England to ask if they took families onto their farms. Care farming provides health, social and educational care services on working farms or purpose-built farms through farming-related activities.

Interestingly, only seven of those farms said they would consider working with children under seven years old and/or families due to health and safety and safeguarding concerns. Even those farms that did accept children, did so under very strict conditions. The feedback I had included comments such as it was a very specialist area and out of the scope of most family farms.

In August 2021, my Churchill Fellowship Report ‘Care Farming: the benefits for farmers and the rural community’ was published. I noted at the time that only 1 of the 33 participants said they would take children under 7 years old or families on their care farms - citing health and safety and safeguarding concerns.

In January 2022, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship Covid Action Grant. This gave me the opportunity to investigate in more depth the question of how families might be supported through care farming. Initially, I focused on a 12-week research project. I worked with 15 participants from care farms using semi-structured interviews as my main method of data collection along with a desk-based analysis of any articles, websites, video, or materials provided by participants.


Almost all the participants said that they would not be comfortable taking children under eight years old due to health and safety concerns. Five of the participants had taken whole families for individual sessions, but on reflection only two of the participants said they would consider taking families again.

All the participants raised concerns about how to keep the families, staff and animals safe. Several participants said that taking families, especially those with complex needs, would be out of the scope for most family farms because of the level of advanced preparation, such as additional training and employing extra staff because the core staff would still be required to carry out the daily farm jobs. The additional staff may need a social care, health or therapeutic qualification or experience and would need to be paid accordingly. Participants raised concerns over who would pay for all these additional overheads. Another concern raised was ensuring that animal safety remained at the heart of the programme, especially if participants have mental health issues.

The benefits for vulnerable families being able to spend time on care farms can be that they offer a quiet, safe space to spend time together in nature. However, from spending time on care farms, I have realised that running family sessions can be very intense, tiring and stressful for the care farm staff - even for those with professional training.

As a results of my findings, I have put togther the following recommendations for care farms that would like to take families.

  • First consider if taking whole family units is appropriate for the staff and farm. Think about the type of people the farm lends itself to and the activities that could be provided. If you do not feel you can take whole family units, then be clear with your boundaries and do not feel obliged to take clients, you are not prepared for. If you do decide to take families then consider if the farm needs further preparation. This preparation may include finance, training, staff ratios, staff skills, numbers of clients on site at any one time or the use of the animals and animal welfare.
  • Ask the families for the three things they would like from the placement. This can then be used in planning the session or sessions and remember to keep everything simple and low key to begin with as some families may be very anxious.
  • It is vital to have a parent orientation session before the children arrive at the farm to set the ground rules. For example, who has been allocated as the key supervisor of the children? The parent or staff member? Ensure they know how and when to step in and put advance plans in place if a child becomes out of control.

Since completing my Churchill Fellowship and the Covid Project, I have been offering pro bono training and support to care farms across England, Wales, USA, Australia, Eire and South Korea. My hope is that, with the right help, this form of green care will be able to continue as part of the speclialist support services vulnerable families can access.

If you would like to find out more, please do get in contact.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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