The Value of Cultural and Creative Engagement: Understanding the Experiences and Opinions of Care-experienced Young People and Foster Carers in Wales

RESEARCH REPORT

Authors: Dawn Mannay, Phil Smith, Stephen Jennings, Catt Turney and Peter Davies

Report Commissioned by the Wales Millennium Centre

Year: 2018

Summary:

The research aimed to assess the current knowledge base regarding care-experienced children’s and young people’s engagement with the arts, and to explore the views of facilitators, young people, and their carers involved in the arts-based programme at the Wales Millennium Centre.

Objective 1: Collate and report relevant data and literature.
Objective 2: Conduct an in-depth qualitative research study with programme facilitators, care-experienced young people, and their foster families to provide insight into their experience of being involved with the arts-based programme, and their opinions on what could be done to improve the model and encourage engagement with the arts more widely.

Using Participatory Methods with Young People in an Education Setting

This chapter focuses on participatory, qualitative and collaborative approaches to research.  Drawing on research from my four year doctoral research study, the chapter discusses how creative and participatory methods can be a useful approach for engaging with young people who experience a variety of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  In the fieldwork, I was eager to ensure that the research approach I adopted with young people was accessible, fun and on their terms, providing the participants with a degree of choice and control over the research experience.  

I was interested in understanding the lived experiences of staff (see Smith and Connolly 2019) and young people who attended a Pupil Referral Unit, a type of Education Other Than at School (EOTAS), where young people in care are over-represented.  Given the circumstances that many of these young people find themselves in, where formal review meetings become the weekly norm, it was important that my research was not viewed as yet another form of ‘review’ for the young people.  

Therefore, I applied a mosaic approach (Clarke and Moss 2001), which offered a range of creative methods to participants such as drawing, art work, photography, walking tours, and informal interviews.  The young people were able to decide how they wanted to share their educational experiences with me, or simply use this time as a creative workshop for themselves if they chose not to participate in the research.  

Whilst the chapter highlights the usefulness of the mosaic approach, it also provides insights into some of the challenges that researchers might face when they are engaged in participatory methods.  It discusses the importance of recognising and talking about these challenges during the research process, so that we might better understand how participatory our work actually is – and in doing so, improve how we work with young people. 

References

Clarke, A. and Moss, P. 2001. Listening to young children:  the mosaic approach. London: National Children’s Bureau Enterprises.
Smith, P. and Connolly, M. 2019. Care and education. a case study: Understanding professional roles and identities of teachers within a Welsh PRU. Cylchgrawn Addysg Cymru / Wales Journal of Education 21(1), pp. 65-88.

Educational Interventions for Children and Young People in Care: A Review of Outcomes, Implementation and Acceptability

This chapter reviewed the best available evidence on educational interventions intended to improve educational outcomes for children and young people who have resided in care.

Children and young people in care in Wales have poorer educational outcomes than the general population. For example, only 23% of young people in care in Wales achieve five GCSEs (Grade A*–C), compared to 60% of those not in care .

Every opportunity should be taken to ensure good educational outcomes for children and young people who spend time in care. But how can this best be done? We undertook an international review of high-quality evaluations (published in English) of educational interventions that try to answer this question. The review found only 12 interventions. Two studies were conducted in the UK, while the others were from the US or Canada.

The interventions were diverse in the individuals they targeted, the people who delivered them, and the method of delivery. For example, the Letterbox Club involved sending educational materials to children aged 7 to 11 in foster care in Northern Ireland. In contrast, a Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care intervention in the US provided specialist foster care for females aged 13 to 17 years old who had been in the juvenile justice system. The interventions also targeted different outcomes, including school attendance, behaviour at school, homework completion, academic skills and academic achievement.

The findings from these interventions were mixed. For example, there was some evidence of improved academic skills in early childhood. Two of four studies that measured school attendance found evidence of benefits. However, two studies that measured academic achievement did not find improvements. These findings should be treated with caution as the quality of most studies was weak.

It is clear we still have much to learn about improving the educational outcomes of children and young people who spend time in care. In particular, none of the intervention evaluations were conducted in Wales. As care systems and populations differ across contexts and countries, it is important that we develop and evaluate interventions locally.

As part of the wider study, which this review supported, researchers asked children and young people in Wales with experience of care what types of educational interventions they want. Generally, they preferred targeted interventions to be provided by their carers, rather than introducing more professionals into their lives. They also acknowledged the risk that targeted interventions could be stigmatising. Therefore, it may be better to think of interventions that may be effective for a wider group of children who need additional support with their education, whether or not they spend time in care.

Chapter 3

Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales

This is the latest blog in a series relating to the recently released book “Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales”. Over the next few weeks we will be uploading blog posts from chapter authors in the lead up to the launch event for the book. Tickets to the launch are available here.