A prevailing societal discourse frames care-experienced youth as having family issues, being troublesome and uneducated and, having poor physical and mental health. These discourses shape how people come to view care-experienced youth but also how care-experienced youth view themselves. However, research into the sport and physical activity experiences of those in care, led by Dr Thomas Quarmby and Dr Rachel Sanford (Loughborough University) aims to challenges this. The Right to be Active (R2BA) project foregrounds the voices of care-experienced youth and highlights positive stories as well as the challenges these young people face.
To this end, on Wednesday 26th June 2019, the R2BA project team were invited to present key findings to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for looked-after children and care leavers at the House of Commons. The focus of the APPG meeting was on health and wellbeing, and specifically asked ‘how do we improve access to health services and community activities for children in care?’. Attendees at the APPG included care-experienced youth, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, representatives from the Department for Education and Ofsted. At the APPG, the project team shared stories of care-experienced youth, highlighted the challenges of accessing sport and physical activity opportunities equal to their peers and advocated for listening to the voices of care-experienced youth in shaping policy and practice.
The R2BA research was funded by the British Academy and sought to examine the importance of sport and physical activity in the lives of care-experienced youth. Broadly, the research consisted of four distinct phases:
- a review of policy;
- two national online surveys with adult stakeholders and care-experienced youth aged 7-22;
- in-depth interviews with local authority staff (n=4), interactive task based, focus group interviews with care-experienced youth (n=63) - that took place across six different geographical contexts - and narrative interviews with care leavers (n=4) and;
- repeat focus group interviews with care-experienced youth to check and refine interpretations of the data (n=40).
As well as exploring a previously ‘hidden group’ in research, policy and practice, the R2BA project was also methodologically innovative, drawing on individual and composite narrative stories and the use of concept cartoons. These concept cartoons, some of which are available in forthcoming reports, helped to showcase young people’s experiences in different and unique mediums, accessible for adults and young people.
Finally, in addition to the recent presentation of findings at the APPG, a further dissemination event is planned for 22nd January 2020 at Leeds Beckett University. Here, policy makers, local authorities, charities, young people and academics will be invited to explore the project findings and engage in interactive workshop activities to help consider the impact of the work and next steps in relation to research and practice for this group of young people.