As part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2015, UEP held three separate events focusing on work carried out in three of the project’s cultural ecosystems. On the 19th of June, the School of Museum Studies hosted one of these events, a workshop on Care experienced young people and Participation. Delyth Edwards has summarised the event.
The theme of the workshop stemmed from ethnographic work carried out with and by young women growing up in foster care in Gateshead. The research took place during September and October of 2014 and sought to investigate the ‘facilitated’ and ‘everyday’ participation of young people growing up in care. The research set out to explore young people’s experience of the activities that were facilitated (cultural and non-cultural) for them and to understand the ways in which both they and carers valued these ‘facilitated’ activities. In relation to this, we further sought to explore the ways in which the ‘everyday’ activities of the young people were valued. The young participants were invited to visually explore their participation through film and photography using iPads. The snippets of film they created were edited into a film that was shown at Gateshead Borough Council’s Achievement Awards in October 2014.
Following on from this, a second film was edited for the festival and shown as a starting point for the day’s discussion. This film was edited around research themes and findings of the UEP project. The purpose of showing and establishing the workshop from the film was not to simply disseminate the findings of the UEP research, but instead to use the research as a catalyst for thought and discussion between the festival participants. The primary aim of the workshop was to debate the theme of participation and what this means for young people growing up in care, not only in Gateshead but also throughout the UK. We wanted to create a space for exchange between social and cultural policy practitioners, with the intention of working towards proposing a collaborative working framework that can be taken into the future provision of facilitating the participation of young people growing up in care.
First up on the day was Lisanne Gibson explaining the UEP context, followed by myself talking about the Gateshead cultural ecosystem in particular.
Following the introduction, guest speaker Dr Jim Goddard and Carrie Wilson from the Care Leavers Association (CLA) discussed participation in the CLA. Their presentation drew on the understanding of “culture as historical knowledge” and the importance history has for young people growing up in care, yet how often it is overlooked in social and cultural policy. Carrie discussed the work being carried out in the GOAL programme, in particular the finding that participation in this peer-led programme can be beneficial for mentor and mentee. Participating in the programme can provide a sense of community and belonging to those young people on the verge of leaving care and care leavers by creating a “care leaver family”, explained Carrie and participating as a mentor can be self-healing, highlighting emotional affect involved in ‘participation’ for young people in care and care leavers.
Session facilitators came from different parts of the UK and from different cultural sectors to share their practice of working with and facilitating the participation of young people, in museums or music programmes, for example.
Dawn Williams and Eleanor Mooney presented an evaluation of the Loud and Clear family learning project facilitated at the Sage Gateshead, which utilised the artist’s pedagogical learning framework to work with fostered children and their carers.
When adults tell children to “go and play”, what does this actually mean for child and adult? Loud and Clear has identified the need to create a new and common language around children’s play that can be understood by children, carers and facilitators. Dawn and Eleanor incorporated a performance into their session to demonstrate that the value of cultural practice in playful sensory integrated music sessions can help build trusting relationships between foster child and carer and foster child and other adults (the musician for example); help children develop relationships with other children and help children develop layers of confidence (e.g. self-expression which can feed into creativity).
Katrina Siliprandi shared examples of how Norwich Museums Services has facilitated participation in museum activities for looked after young people (special museum days, museum club, free entry for children in care and their families and once the young person leaves care, there is a card to ensure continued free entry). The benefits of participating in museum activities include: improved self confidence and self-esteem; allowing young people to experience the joy and wonder of museum spaces; empowering young people to accumulate cultural capital; while object based activities in an informal setting can help the learning experiences of children and young people. The significant message I took from Katrina’s session was her argument that museums can be “effective corporate parents” and that it is important for museums to fulfil this role in some way. For example, Katrina argued that museums deal with different narratives, so there must be opportunities for working with young people in care to facilitate their personal narratives and identities in a productive manner within museum context.
Pippa Joiner continued the discussion, using the “brokering” service provided by Richmond Upon Thames Arts Service between social and cultural services to highlight possible barriers to participation, such as understanding the terminology used in children’s services; helping support foster carers participation in museum activities and cross-borough participation for young people living between neighbouring boroughs. Mapping what each council authority provides in terms of leisure (e.g. sports, libraries, arts) can suggest future successful cross-borough working. Pippa also shared practice from the Connecting Culture project, which included artists and designers working with children on cultural projects. Cultural services need to be aware that working with young people in care on a ‘topic’ can be difficult because children in care may not have access to family history, but looking at history of a geographical area gives them an alternative means to create a sense of belonging. Enabling and supporting children to create exhibitions or outcomes from participation in cultural activities gives them a positive sense of control and empowerment.
Following Pippa, Peter Chivers and Emma Collins from Brighton & Hove Music and Arts, introduced festival participants to the conversation taking place within Our Future City Brighton which aims to widen discussions about culture, amongst and between arts/cultural and non-arts/non-cultural people, which may open new doors and ways of working. For example, they stressed the importance of putting in place a longer, 10-year strategy that is reactionary to local need rather than to national policy and context. Strategies need to take into consideration that children are “creative assets” and recognise that children are the future of a city. Peter and Emma, like others throughout the day noted the social benefits of participation; that taking part in activities can act as a bridge for isolated children in the community.
The final facilitator of the day was Ioannis Athanasiou, from SHAPE Arts who encouraged workshop participants to think about and discuss the participation of young people in care who have a disability. Like others, Ioannis touched upon the problems with language and terminology. He argued that there is a need to unpack what ‘disabled’ means and for those looking after and working with young people to distinguish between children with complex needs and those with additional needs because it affects participation. Adding to common theme which came out throughout the sessions, Ioannis added that disabled children can act as mentors and examples to other disabled children in care.
A number of common interests and experiences emerged during the sessions. In attendance at the workshop were people working in the cultural, education and social work sector as well as museum studies students, who each had something to share about their own experiences of working with children and young people and share their reflections of the day. Below are some of the points raised during the concluding discussions:
- We should not make assumptions about young people and their creative interests.
- We need to develop cross cultural ways of working and to widen conversations about culture amongst different service providers.
- Peer-led mentoring is a model that has proved to be successful, but it needs further research and further application in projects.
- We need to work more strategically in the long term, without reinventing the wheel. This can be hard because there are no national organisations like there are for mental health, for example, which makes it hard to identify projects and to have a strategic overview.
- Consider the needs of children in care in particular ecosystems and contexts; in other words at the local level.
- Academics can play a role in bringing together evidence, data and making arguments for the success of cultural projects with children in care.
- Need to recognise that ‘facilitated’ and ‘everyday’ participation is not just about improving academic attainment, but it is about growing up, developing a personal narrative and identity and being well adjusted.
These are only some of the highlights from the day. The debates need unpacking further and are currently being considered and written into a report that will be available on this website shortly. Further reflection on these discussions will be important to demonstrate and enhance the impact of UEP’s research beyond the project and academy and into the realms of policy and practice, benefitting the lived everyday lives of young people in care.
The programme of the workshop can be found by clicking here
Photo credits: Natasha Barrett