18 SES 10 A, Marginalised Young People in Physical Education and Youth Sport
There has been much focus recently on the potential impact of trauma on young people, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions (UNICEF, 2020). Trauma is thought to result from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – a term used to describe a range of stressful events (e.g. exposure to abuse, neglect, poverty, racism or domestic/community violence) that children and young people up to the age of 18 years have been exposed to whilst growing up (Felitti et al., 1998). Importantly, it is an individual’s response to these ACEs that determines whether they are considered traumatic or not (SAMHSA, 2014). Fundamentally, trauma is understood to be an overwhelming experience that undermines a person’s belief in the world as a good and safe place (Downey, 2007). Hence trauma, defined in various ways, occurs when an individual is exposed to an experience that engulfs both the internal and external coping resources available to them, creating a sense of extreme threat that has lasting negative effects on their functioning and wellbeing (SAMHSA, 2014). Even prior to the pandemic, increasing numbers of young people internationally were experiencing traumatic events, leading to childhood trauma being recognised as a global health epidemic (Department of Health & Department for Education, 2017). Significantly, some marginalised youth populations are disproportionately affected. For example, care-experienced young people (i.e. those who are for various reasons placed under the care of the state) are especially likely to have experienced trauma (Denton et al., 2016), the impacts of which – neurologically, physiologically and psychologically – can have lasting, negative effects (SAMHSA, 2014).
It has been noted that the impacts of trauma can often ‘play out’ in young people’s behaviour within the school context (e.g. via disengagement, disruption, conflict with others). However, without the benefit of a ‘trauma-aware lens’, which allows teachers to better understand the reasons underlying potentially challenging presentations, student behaviours can be misinterpreted as intentional and within their control. As such, there is a need for practitioners to be ‘trauma aware’. Physical education (PE), as a subject whereby participation is public and in which the body plays a central role, may be particularly problematic for those who have experienced trauma as a result, for example, of abuse or neglect (e.g., Quarmby et al., 2018). However, paradoxically, it is evident that PE also has much potential to provide beneficial developmental opportunities for young people who have experienced trauma. Indeed, it is argued that PE occupies a somewhat unique position within the school curriculum, with regard to the subject matter it covers, the environments in which learning takes place and the nature of interactions that occur within these environments (Ciotto & Gagnon, 2018). Such elements are argued to render the subject a valuable site for positive development (McCuaig et al., 2015). As such, we argue that it is important to highlight the pedagogical implications of trauma within the PE context and to consider how practitioners might best support young people who have been affected by it.
Within this conceptual paper, our discussions are underpinned by two key questions. First, why is it important for physical educators – and, more broadly, those wider practitioners who deliver school-based PE (e.g. generalist teachers, sports coaches, PE specialists) – to have an awareness and understanding of trauma? Second, what principles might underpin trauma-aware pedagogies for PE? In seeking to answer these questions, we draw on our recent work with care-experienced children and young people both in the UK and Australia.
As noted, this paper draws from two empirical studies that have each sought to examine the lived experiences of care-experienced youth. These are the ‘Right to be Active’ (R2BA) project in the UK (Sandford et al., 2021) and the ‘HEALing Matters’ project in Australia (Cox et al., 2017). The R2BA project was concerned specifically with examining care-experienced young people’s engagements with sport and physical activity and sought to understand both the structures in place to facilitate engagement and young people’s lived experiences of these. Similarly, the HEALing Matters project examined the presence and impact of barriers to engaging in physical activity (including sports and/or recreation activities) for young people living in residential children’s homes. Although constructed independently, each project shared design features. Firstly, each study sought to understand care-experienced young people’s experiences of sport/physical activity and looked to do this via conversations with both adult stakeholders (e.g. carers, social workers) and young people. Moreover, each study was underpinned by a participatory approach and facilitated youth voice through the use of interactive methods such as drawing, mapping and narrative creation within semi-structured focus groups. In comparing the findings of these projects, it became clear that there were common themes within the young people’s experiences. For example, there were notable challenges with regard to access/opportunity that were shaped by the structures of the care system (such as safeguarding processes or placement moves) and both studies noted the complex social landscapes that care experienced youth are required to navigate. Importantly, both studies also identified schools as being an important facilitator of activity for care experienced youth, though they questioned whether educational institutions were adequately prepared for such work. Thus, taken together, and with consideration of findings from related work we have collectively been involved with (e.g. Quarmby et al., 2018), we began to question: to what extent schools – and more specifically, teachers – were equipped to work with care-experienced young people; how might our work with care-experienced youth help to inform teachers in this respect; and what might trauma-aware pedagogies ‘look like’? This was considered to be particularly important in relation to school-based PE, which is increasingly being seen to have an important role to play in relation to students’ health and wellbeing.
Within this discussion we seek to extend the limited research within the field that emphasises the need for trauma-informed approaches in PE (e.g. Ellison et al., 2019). We do so by adopting a cross-disciplinary approach informed by empirical findings from two youth-voice led studies that worked with diverse groups of care-experienced young people in different geographical contexts (the UK and Australia). In a concerted effort to move away from more deficit-based language, we choose to focus on the concept of trauma-aware pedagogies – rather than ‘trauma-informed pedagogies - within this discussion. Examining both our own research and findings from broader literature, we have identified several principles that we argue could help to inform practitioners as they seek to shape more trauma-aware practices. These principles are: (1) ensuring safety and wellbeing, (2) establishing routines and structures, (3) developing and sustaining positive relationships that foster a sense of belonging, (4) facilitating and responding to youth voice and, (5) promoting strengths and self-belief. The principles we identify all point to the need for creating safe environments, shaped by consistency, positive connections and opportunities for interaction and engagement. In doing so, we recognise their alignment with broader work within the field of PE and sport pedagogy. In particular, these principles would seem to resonate well with notions of restorative practice (Hemphill et al., 2018) and the concept of pedagogies of affect (Kirk, 2020). Thus, it is not our intention to suggest that there is a single way to enact a trauma-aware pedagogy, rather we propose that having an understanding of trauma may enable physical educators to ask when, and for whom, it might be best to draw on particular models in the teaching of PE, through which the principles identified here can be applied.
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