25 SES 09 JS, Championing the Rights of Children in Care
Joint Paper Session NW18 and NW25
Internationally, there has been growing interest in the experiences of care experienced youth and much literature has highlighted the more significant needs and vulnerabilities of this population of young people (Sempik et al., 2008). Within Europe, this interest perhaps reflects the increased movement of people across/between countries in recent months and acknowledges the fact that many unaccompanied migrants are now entering care systems (EU Committee, 2016). Within the UK, the number of children in the care system is rising, with an increase of 3% in the last year (Department for Education, 2017). As of March 31st, 2017, there were around 72,670 children and young people in the care of local authorities in England; 74% (53,420) living in foster-care and 11% (7,890) in secure residential settings (DfE, 2017).
Care experienced youth are considered to be at risk of a range of adverse social, educational and health outcomes (Sempik et al. 2008) and are identified as one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. In the UK and beyond, concerns abound regarding the systemic underachievement of this group (Maxwell et al., 2006) and effort has been directed at narrowing the ‘outcomes gap’ by promoting involvement in activities that support physical, social and psychological development. Within the UK, it has been argued that sport/physical activity (PA) can play a role here and that care experienced youth should have access “equal to their peers”’ in this respect (DfES, 2010 p.10). Recent research contends that sport/PA can be integral to the development of social capital, resilience and identity for care experienced youth, as well as contributing to emotional, mental and physical health (Gilligan, 2008; Hollingworth, 2012). Paradoxically, it also highlights the piecemeal provision of sport/PA for care experienced youth at local levels and shows that many are unable to access activities despite their desire to do so (Murray, 2012).
Relatively few studies have considered the role of sport/PA in the lives of care experienced young people, although some studies within and outside of the UK have provided a more generalised account of leisure provision (e.g. Safvenbom & Sarndahl, 2000) and extra-curricular activities (e.g. Farineau & McWey, 2011). A recent literature review also noted the domination of adult voices in the few studies identified (Quarmby & Pickering, 2016) which suggests that there is a lack of work that engages care experienced youth themselves in exploring their relationships with sport/PA. As such, it is argued, they represent a ‘hidden group’ in relation to research, policy and practice (Quarmby, 2014). The research project outlined here sought to address this gap in the literature by examining the sport and physical activity experiences of care experienced young people (aged 8 – 25 years). Moreover, in drawing on the voices of both young people, carers and local authority staff it was intended to provide a more holistic perspective on the factors that shape the sport/PA experiences of this youth population. Within this paper, we focus predominantly on the data that highlights the voices of care experienced youth. A theoretical framework informed by elements of the social-ecological model (McLeroy et al., 1988) and the conceptual tools of Bourdieu (Bourdieu, 1985) is proposed to help understand the complex lived experiences of care experienced youth and the structures/resources that both shape, and allow them to shape, their sport/PA practices.
The project outlined here is a research-council funded study concerned with examining the sport/PA experiences of care experienced young people in England. A multi-method approach was employed, generating data through: a review of policy documents; online surveys (for local authority staff and young people), interviews (with local authority staff and carers); narrative interviews (with care leavers) and semi-structured focus groups (with care experienced youth). As noted above, this paper focuses primarily on the data generated by care experienced youth through the online survey and focus group discussions. To gain a broader perspective, an online survey was developed and distributed (via local authority and relevant charity networks) to care experienced young people (both those in care and care leavers) in England. The survey was designed with both closed and open questions and focused on issues primarily relating to: participants’ past and present sport/PA involvement; factors that support and inhibit engagement in sport/PA; the perceived value of sport/PA; and participants’ views on what might support further participation. A total of 54 fully completed survey responses were received from young people (mean age 15.6 years; 53% female/44% male). In addition, semi-structured focus group discussions (n=6) were undertaken with groups of care experienced youth across England (n=63). Reflecting the recognised difficulties in gaining access to looked-after children (Quarmby, 2014) and acknowledged value of centralising youth voices in research with vulnerable groups (Sandford et al., 2010) the project adopted a qualitative, participatory approach in the focus group discussions. In addition to questions informed by the survey responses, a range of innovative, activity-based tasks (e.g. mapping, graffiti boards, drawing) were employed, reflecting elements of the mosaic approach (Clark & Moss, 2011). Data generated through the evaluation were collated and analysed to identify key findings and points of interest relating to the aims of the project and broader academic debates. The quantitative data relating to participants’ responses were collated into an Excel spreadsheet and used to generate descriptive statistics (e.g. the frequency of a particular response or the percentage of the total data set that this represented). The qualitative data (open-ended responses from the online surveys, focus group transcripts and observation field notes) were analysed thematically using a constructivist grounded theory approach (e.g. Harry et al., 2005).
The process of data analysis is ongoing, but a preliminary examination of the data reveals some interesting findings. Firstly, it is clear that the views of care experienced youth regarding sport and physical activity (PA) bear some similarity to those of their non-care experienced peers, with individuals citing fun/enjoyment, social opportunities, skill acquisition and personal development as key benefits of sport/PA participation (e.g. Gorely et al., 2011; Holt, 2016). Many of these factors also resonate with the argument that sport/PA can be a vehicle for developing pertinent life skills (e.g. confidence, communication, leadership skills etc.) and would appear to support the notion that this might aid the development of resilience among care experienced youth through the acquisition of relevant capital (Bourdieu, 1985; Gilligan, 2008). However, there are also some important points of difference. Care experienced youth also identify significant challenges in accessing sport/PA and often point to the narrow range of opportunities they perceive to be open to them. Moreover, they note some challenges in maintaining their participation over time and the degree of agency afforded to them in this respect. Such challenges are often influenced by the official, external structures that shape their lived experiences, for example: processes of monitoring, safeguarding and consent; issues of logistics, equipment and funding; requirements for official meetings and documentation; and the transient nature of care contexts (e.g. placement moves or transitions in and out of care). The paper examines these findings and considers what implications they may hold for future policy, practice and research in this field.
Bourdieu, P. (1985) The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups. Theory and Society, 14(6), 723-744. Clark, A., & Moss, P. (2001). Listening to young children: The mosaic approach. London: National Children’s Bureau. DfES (2007) Care Matters: Time for Change, London, Department for Education and Skills. Department for Education (2017a) Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2017. Darlington: Department for Education European Union Committee (2016) Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU. 2nd Report of Session 2016-17, HL Paper 34. Farineau, H. & McWey, L. (2011). The relationship between extracurricular activities and delinquency of adolescents in foster care, Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 963-968. Gilligan R. (2000). Adversity, resilience and young people: the protective value of positive school and spare time experiences, Children and Society, 14: 37-47. Harry, B., Sturges, K.M., & Klingner, J.K. (2005). Mapping the process: An exemplar of process and challenge in grounded theory analysis. Educational Researcher, 34(2) 3-13. Heath, S., Brooke, R., Cleaver, E. & Ireland, E. (2009) Researching young people’s lives. London, Sage. Holland, S. (2009). Listening to Children in Care: A Review of Methodological and Theoretical Approaches to Understanding Looked-After Children’s Perspectives, Children and Society, 23, 226-235. Hollingworth, K. (2012). Participation in social, leisure and informal learning activities among care leavers in England: Positive outcomes for educational participation. Child and Family Social Work, 17, 438–447. Holt, N. (2016) Positive Youth Development through Sport (second edition). London, Routledge. Quarmby, T. (2014). Sport and physical activity in the lives of looked-after children, Sport, Education and Society. 19(7), 944-958 Quarmby, T. & Pickering, K. (2016) Physical Activity and Children in Care: A Scoping Review of Barriers, Facilitators, and Policy for Disadvantaged Youth. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 13(7), 780-787. Safvenbom, R. & Samdahl, D. (2000). Leisure for youth in residential care: an important context for intervention, International Journal of Social Welfare, 9, 120-127. Sandford, R., Armour, K. & Duncombe, R. (2010) Finding their voice: disaffected youth insights on sport/physical activity interventions. In, M. O’Sullivan & A. MacPhail (Eds) Young people’s voices in physical education and youth sport (pp.65-87). London: Routledge. Sempik, J., Ward, H. & Darker, I. (2008). Emotional and behavioural difficulties of children and young people at entry into care, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13(2), 221-233.
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