Tackling the impacts of poverty and isolation

Tackling the impacts of poverty and isolation

While the pandemic still limits our daily lives, and especially the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities, it doesn’t seem a promising time to be discussing creating new care settings where older people and children can share space and time together. However, surely now is the perfect time to plan for the future communities that we want to live in?

An older woman sat down with a young girl looking through a book together

Levels of child poverty across the UK were already high before the pandemic: for example, 1 in 4 children in Scotland were living in poverty, and those numbers are now rising. These children are more likely to be unhealthy with poorer mental health, lower resilience and achieve less in school compared to their wealthier peers. We also have a rapidly ageing population with long-term conditions, who are experiencing isolation and loneliness. What if we could do something to change the outcomes for both these communities of people? And what if this could also help to address issues around recruiting care workers?

The basic idea is really simple

By harnessing the assets of the older people in our communities, including those living in long-term care and those living with dementia, and supporting them to build deep relationships with children and young people who are experiencing poverty and disadvantage, we can help improve outcomes for both children and older people. Co-locating care settings for children and older people - by including nurseries, after-school clubs and homework clubs within elderly care settings - can help to support the development of meaningful relationships that improve wellbeing for both groups. And, through improved wellbeing children will be more able to realise their potential. For example, it can help to develop skills in children that can help them access education, and provide a sense of purpose for older people that reduces their isolation and loneliness.

How do we take it forward?

My fellow Fellows Lorraine George (CF 2017) and Kay Jodrell (CF 2019) are at the vanguard of shared care and have an intergenerational programme that supports children, childminders and care home residents. We need to learn from them and grow this provision.

As well as nursery provision, there is a considerable untapped opportunity to develop wraparound care in care settings such as:

  • Ageless playgroups: play settings and groups that encourage all ages to play together.
  • Elder/child mentoring: where older people mentor a child supporting their personal development and providing guidance and encouragement.
  • After-school homework clubs: this could include using older adult volunteers to support children and young people.
  • Supper clubs: to help tackle poverty, supper clubs could be offered where older people and young people cook and eat together.
  • Skills-sharing sessions: these could include knitting groups or computer classes.

We can start with mapping the above proposed links in care within a local area, where they have the potential to support both young and older people. Mapping should consider the following:

  • How can we use the care and learning spaces that we have available now?
  • Can learning spaces become caring spaces?
  • Could we use areas in sheltered housing which no longer have wardens?
  • In which locations could we host clubs?
  • Could we have out of school care and adult day care together?

How do we know it will work?

We don’t, yet. Many of the shared-care approaches across the world don’t formally evaluate their work. There is a humanness in the perceived benefits that is lovely – happier older people, children who accept and understand older adults – and this should not be lost. However, we need to set goals and measure against those if we’re to really understand the possible benefits of shared care and its potential to address the impacts of poverty, disadvantage and loneliness.

We do know that facilitation will be key. Effective shared-care programmes in the USA, Asia and the UK have dedicated facilitation where individuals devise and drive the intergenerational programme. They are often based in either the childcare setting or the eldercare setting, but sometimes there are two facilitators who understand the needs of the people they care for and any workforce needs. Investing in champions who can drive the programme forward helps to embed shared-care approaches and contribute to sustainability.

Making shared care scalable

Housing associations are already working in communities who are affected by poverty and disadvantage. Working with housing associations and other providers also makes intergenerational work scalable. With them and other local partners, we can create a whole neighbourhood approach that supports multi-generational communities – low-cost housing, childcare, eldercare, multi-generational play/exercise, community café and community activity – a whole multi-generational ecosystem approach.

Overcoming silos to make the most of resources

National and local government, regulators and funders have a crucial role to play in thinking creatively to change how we think about and provide care to resolve more than one challenge at a time, including:

  • Tackling competition for resources through shared local and national policymaking and resource allocation.
  • Sharing approaches within government. This would involve co-ordination between teams in health, social care, education, planning and other policy teams to develop approaches that meet the needs of both older and younger people.
  • Sharing approaches within care regulation. This includes supporting the care sector to develop competencies in both elder and childcare that facilitate shared care of older and younger people, which will reduce competition and increase flexibility within the care workforce.
  • Develop a workforce qualification spanning care and learning with skills applicable to working with both children and older people.
  • Bring together funding streams. This includes making it easier for services to access joined up funding for shared care and increasing flexibility in funding that supports innovation.
  • Support partners in the third sector and public and private sectors to come together to innovate and use intergenerational shared care to meet community needs.

The needs of children and older people are often seen to be in competition, whereas the wellbeing of both could be improved by thinking more creatively, joining up policy and practice, and using our resources more efficiently. We talk about children needing ‘one good adult’ to nurture them and help them address the challenges in their lives and we have so many older people ready to be that adult. We need to create multi-generational environments that tap into the assets in our communities and allow children and older people to build relationships that can transform their lives.

Let’s make it easier, not harder, to do something that is simple and makes sense.


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.


Newsletter Sign Up