ERG SES C 07, Children and Education
This paper reports findings from an ongoing doctoral project which seeks to explore the PE and School Sport (PESS) experiences of looked-after children within England. ‘Looked-after children’ is the legislative term in England for all children and young people who are removed from their natural family setting and are looked after by a local authority. Internationally, this population of children may also be referred to as children in care or youth in residential/foster care. Despite this linguistic variation across nations and the differences in the social care/child protection systems, international literature relating to this group of children identifies many areas of commonality (relating to family backgrounds, needs and opportunities) and therefore has relevance across countries (e.g. Jackson et al., 2011).
It has long been established that looked-after children fall within the most disadvantaged groups in society and are often vulnerable individuals who are immediately susceptible to poorer life chances, including their educational and life achievements (Amadeo and Marshall, 2013). Armour and colleagues (2011) remind us that we must not think of looked-after children as a ‘homogeneous group’ as each looked-after child or young person will have experienced a different life trajectory. Indeed the education, careers, health and well-being of looked-after children and young people is almost solely shaped by what happens to them at home, school and community; yet unlike the rest of the childhood population, looked-after children have often suffered some form of abuse and/or neglect prior to their entry into care, making them the most vulnerable children in Britain (Sempik et al., 2008). Research has shown that, as a group, looked-after children are at risk of a number of poor outcomes (e.g. poor health and low academic achievement) and it is agreed that action is needed to address the problem (Broad and Monaghan, 2003). Literature suggests that sport and physical activity (PA) can be a provider of certain protective factors. Although arguments exist as to why it should not be considered a panacea for all deep rooted social problems (e.g. Bailey, 2007), for young people in particular, an international body of research has focused on the benefits of experiencing positive sport/PA to facilitate in reducing youth crime and substance abuse, reengaging disadvantaged youth and promoting resilience. However, few studies have considered the role of sport/PA in the lives of looked-after children, and none to date have explored the role of schools’ contribution by way of PESS. For example, studies within and outside of the UK, the focus has been on a more generalised account of their leisure provision (e.g. Safvenbom and Sarndahl, 2000), extra-curricular activities (see Farineau and McWey, 2011) or sport/PA pursuits (Quarmby, 2014). Given the perceived capacity of sport/PA to contribute to young people’s positive development, it is argued that PESS may have an important role to play in looked-after children’s educational experiences (Armour et al., 2011) and it has been suggested that more research is needed to further understanding in this area (Quarmby, 2014). This paper examines the perspectives of professionals and the experiences of young people in care in order to identify the opportunities, barriers and benefits associated with PESS for looked-after children.
The paper draws upon a number of theoretical and conceptual elements, largely based around the broader components of positive youth development (PYD) (Lerner et al., 2005) and that of the socio-ecological model (McLeroy et al., 1988). It is argued that combining the two theoretical perspectives may allow for a deeper understanding of individual contributing factors and the additional external influences of the family, schools, community and policy that may impact on looked-after children’s experience of PESS.
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