Ahead of their CRFR seminar on 13 October and National Care Leavers Week 2015 (22-31 October), Lisa Whittaker (University of Glasgow) and Emma Davidson (University of Edinburgh) reflect on their research project Young People and their Future Selves.
This project arose after a chance meeting at the Journal of Youth Studies conference in Glasgow 2013. Lisa was working for a Scottish youth charity (who we will call the Green Project) and Emma had recently finished her PhD. Lisa had always felt that the video diaries filmed by young people at the end of the Green Project’s residential programme were a potentially fascinating resource. In these videos young people reflect on, and talk to, their ‘future self’. We were fortunate to be awarded funding from The University of Edinburgh’s Challenge Investment Fund for a pilot study to analyse a sample of video diaries combined with interviews with young people who had recorded them. We hoped this would give us an insight into the social worlds of vulnerable young people that research often overlooks.
Over the past 18 months we have interviewed 20 young people, some had not grown up in care but most of our sample had. Young people had different motivations for participating. Many wanted to give ‘something back’ following a positive experience at the Green Project but several were still experiencing challenges in their lives and saw the interview as an opportunity to re-engage with support. The interviews themselves were powerful and often very emotional. While we did hear positive stories about care, unfortunately many more were negative.
Our findings highlight the importance of relationships for young people in care, specifically the role of care, love and consistent unconditional support within professional/corporate relationships. Many of the relationships young people experienced were shaped by bureaucratic boundaries and regulations. There were many examples of positive, supportive professional relationships ending abruptly and without warning, and young people’s own ‘natural’ transitions into adulthood often did not match those impressed upon them by the care system. Young care leavers articulated goals and aspirations in their video diaries and interviews, but all too often structural processes denied them the opportunities to realise their aspirations and were left in precarious situations.
Our findings add further evidence to the research and debate about young people’s experiences of care. In particular we see parallels with IRISS’s exciting project Relationships Matter, the work of CELCIS and Who Cares? Scotland. We have shared our findings at several national and international conferences and will shortly submit several papers to leading journals. However, we would like to look beyond measuring success on the completion of academic outcomes. By working collaboratively with practitioners we can share information, clarify our understandings and inform their practice. Following the CRFR seminar, we have more knowledge exchange activities planned (including a podcast for IRISS:FM) which we hope will help build a network between the University, practitioners, policy-makers and young people.
Please note: our CRFR seminar is now fully booked. If you are interested in finding out more we would really like to hear from you. Please contact Emma Davidson firstname.lastname@example.org and Lisa Whittaker email@example.com and follow us on twitter via @lisawhittaker02 @emz_davidson