25 SES 09 JS, Championing the Rights of Children in Care
Joint Paper Session NW18 and NW25
Care experienced youth include anyone who is currently, or has been at any stage of their life, in care. This includes, but is not limited to, those who have been removed from their biological families and placed in foster care, kinship care or local authority run residential care. The number of care experienced youth continues to increase internationally. The number of children and young people in care continues to increase internationally. In England in 2017, the number of children and young people being cared for by local authorities rose by 3% from 2016 to 72,670 (DfE, 2017); the largest proportion (39%) of whom are aged 10-15 years (DfE, 2017). Internationally, this youth population may also be referred to as children in care, looked-after children, youth in residential/foster care. However, we adopt the term ‘care experienced’ to foreground the transient nature and experience of being in care and the influence this has on young people’s lives. For instance, 61% of care experienced youth are placed in care due to abuse or neglect (DfE, 2017) and unsurprisingly, those subjected to severe neglect, violence or abuse tend to find interacting with wider networks and communities outside the care system particularly difficult (Scott, 2011). Unsurprisingly, this can result in fewer stable relationships and problems with attachment and lack of resilience (Simkiss, 2013). Care-experienced youth also typically suffer poor physical and mental health, have difficulties with their social and emotional wellbeing and have poorer educational outcomes than their peers (Jones et al., 2011).
A large body of international literature points to the potential benefits young people can accrue from participation in sport and physical activity, with a growing focus on the capacity for such activities to nurture life skills and facilitate positive youth development (e.g. Armour & Sandford, 2013; Holt, 2016). Within the context of care-experienced youth, there is some limited evidence to suggest that sport and physical activity may help such individuals overcome earlier disadvantages (Gilligan, 2000). However, it has also been suggested that care experienced youth may not always have the same opportunities as their peers in this respect (Quarmby & Pickering, 2016). While this group of young people are becoming more prominent in sport and physical activity research, the studies that have been conducted have tended to focus on what has prevented care experienced youth engaging in sport and physical activity (e.g. Quarmby & Pickering, 2016; Murray, 2014). Instead, emerging from a British Academy funded national project that examined the sport and physical activity experiences of care experienced youth in England, we argue here for an appreciative inquiry perspective (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2001). By adopting this strength-based view, we feel we are better placed to highlight care-experienced youths’ positive interactions with sport and physical activity with a view to “discovering and generating stories about success” that research participants, scholars and practitioners might build on (Enright et al. 2014, p. 912). In order to foreground these positive stories, a narrative approach (Smith & Sparkes, 2009) was employed to complement the appreciative inquiry perspective, with the aim of telling a more complete story of some care experienced youth’s engagements with sport and physical activity.
It has been noted that research within the field of sport pedagogy has traditionally been grounded in more of a deficit model and that much can be gained from instead taking a more strengths-based approach (Enright et al., 2014). Recent work has highlighted the potential value of appreciative inquiry (AI) here, as a perspective that is grounded in strengths rather than weaknesses and which allows researchers to identify ‘what works’ as a start point for further positive change (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010). Enright et al., (2014) note that in educational research, AI is strongly aligned with student voice and participatory approaches. A large (and growing) body of research exists to support a youth voice approach (e.g. Heath et al., 2009). Often grounded in a recognition of the rights of young people to be consulted in matters that concern them (UNICEF, 1989) such research attempts to provide authentic opportunities for young people to speak and be heard (Flutter & Rudduck, 2004). As with other fields, within sport/PA contexts there is much agreement on the need for/importance of making spaces for the voices of young people to be heard, acknowledged and acted upon (e.g. O’Sullivan & MacPhail, 2010). One way that this can be achieved is through narrative research. Narrative inquiry is underpinned by interpretivism which suggests that there is no social reality ‘out there’ independent of us that can be accessed and known; that realities are constructed and multiple and knowledge socially constructed and subjective (Smith & Sparkes, 2009). In this study, a narrative approach was deemed useful as a means to explore complex, subjective experiences, as well as how participants found meaning in these (Smith & Sparkes, 2009). As a means of showing the positive stories, we adopt the role of the storyteller and refrain from adding additional layers of analysis and theory; instead treating the stories from participants (in this case, care experienced youth) as analytical and theoretical in their own right (Smith & Sparkes, 2009). As part of a larger project focusing on the sport/physical activity experiences of care experienced youth, three narrative interviews were undertaken with care leavers (aged 20-25 years) to explore the positive role that sport/PA had played in their lives. The collated narratives were reviewed alongside the broader body of project data to highlight key themes and issues, and participants themselves were engaged in shaping/refining their own stories.
The analysis process is ongoing, but a preliminary review of the data indicates that there is much to be gained from the use of narrative research to explore the lived experiences of care experienced youth and the positive role that sport/PA can play in their lives. As with the broader findings from the study, the narrative accounts highlight the ‘complex social realities’ (Sandford, in press) of care experienced youth and the impact of this challenging context on their day-to-day practice. While there are some challenges, however, the narratives confirm that participation in sport/PA also has notable perceived benefits, including being able to spend time with family, pursue personal interests, develop skills and engage with peers. In addition, the narratives highlight a number of key factors that can support and sustain care experienced youths’ participation in sport and physical activity. In particular, they note the importance of being given opportunities to access sport/PA, to have appropriate clothing/equipment (allowing them to ‘fit in’) and to have sustained participation that can facilitate both skill acquisition and a sense of belonging/identity. Moreover, they highlight the key role of key adults (e.g. carers, teachers, coaches etc.) in recognising young people’s interests, facilitating their access to activities and providing the necessary support for continued involvement. Such findings resonate with the broader body of literature regarding the potential benefits of sport/PA participation (e.g. Bailey et al., 2009; Holt, 2016) and highlight once again the significance of social processes with young people’s experiences (Armour & Sandford, 2013). They also point towards the need to consider the broader nature of care experienced youths’ experiences and raise some important questions for research, practice and policy regarding how best to developing a climate for positive development through sport/PA (Holt et al., 2017).
Armour, K.M., Sandford, R.A., Duncombe, R. (2013) Positive Youth Development and Physical Activity/Sport Interventions: Mechanisms leading to Sustained Impact, Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 18(3), 256-281. Cooperrider, D., & Whitney, D. (2001). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. In D. Cooperrider, P. F. J. Sorensen, D. Whitney & T. F. Yaeger (Eds.), Appreciative inquiry: Rethinking human organization towards a positive theory of change (pp. 3–26). Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing LCC. Flutter, J. & Rudduck, J. (2004) Consulting pupils: what’s in it for schools? London: Routledge Falmer. Heath, S., Brooke, R., Cleaver, E. & Ireland, E. (2009) Researching young people’s lives. London: Sage Publications. Holt, N. (2016) Positive Youth Development through Sport (second edition). London, Routledge. Holt, N. et al., (2017) A grounded theory of positive youth development through sport based on results from a qualitative meta-study, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10:1, 1-49, DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2016.1180704 O’Sullivan, M. & MacPhail, A. (2010) Young people’s voices in physical education and youth sport. London: Routledge. 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. Sandford, R.A. (in press) ‘I’m Many Different People’: Examining the Influence of space and place on girls’ constructions of embodied identities, in, H. Cawood & S. Thomsen (Eds.), Space Place and Cultural Identity, Inter-Disciplinary Press. Smith, B. & Sparkes, A. (2009) Narrative analysis and sport and exercise psychology: Understanding lives in diverse ways. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10: 279-288 Wiles, R., Heath, S., Crow, G. & Charles, V. (2005) Informed consent in social research: A literature review. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. Whitney, D. and Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
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