On 21 June, Leeds Beckett University hosted a seminar entitled ‘Care experienced young people: education and wellbeing’, organised by Dr Sharon Pinkney, Course Director for BA (Hons) Childhood Studies in the Carnegie School of Education. The event brought together academics from across the university, external partners from Leeds City Council who support care experienced young people (also called looked-after children), and a wide range of academics and professionals from as far away as Scotland.
The audience included foster carers, Virtual School Heads who have responsibility for the education of Looked After Children and staff from social work and kinship care teams. The seminar was an opportunity for academics at Leeds Beckett to share their research and expertise, and to discuss the implications of research findings with practitioners. This ensured that the research had clear benefit and impact for practice.
Dr Sharon Pinkney opened the seminar with a powerful presentation on ‘Emotional landscapes of care: embodied practices in educating looked-after children’. This summarised her research on the policy framework and context for supporting this group of widening participation students. A range of earlier and more recent research findings relating to the lived experiences of care experienced young people as they journey into and through Higher Education were presented. The emphasis was on the importance of enduring and positive trusting relationships for young people in care.
Dr Tom Quarmby, Senior Lecturer in the Carnegie School of Sport, shared his experiences of his involvement in a project for re-engaging care experienced young people through sport and popular culture. The findings suggested that where such young people were disaffected with traditional school learning, if they took part in relevant and engaging educational activities based around their interests in sport or popular culture, their learning and chances of success within mainstream school were much enhanced.
Professor of Social Work, Nick Frost, from the School of Health and Community Studies, then put forward the importance of ensuring that the voices of young people are heard positively, by sharing findings from his research on the experiences of care leavers. He emphasised that a supporting care experienced young people is very much a human activity, focused on relationships involving warmth and empathy.
Building on this idea of the importance of relationships, Dr Gary Walker, Principal Lecturer in the Carnegie School of Education, shared his fascinating research into understanding the lower educational outcomes for looked-after children. His findings challenge the dominant research position that these lower outcomes can be explained chiefly by a lack of appropriate support from those who work with them. Instead, he found a complex set of factors at play, including a focus on relationship-building and on meeting the socio-emotional needs of the young people while at the same time trying to navigate structural forces that militate against educational success, in order to help the young people make as much educational progress as possible.
The presentations were followed by an engaging plenary discussion and plans for future continuing partnerships between Leeds Beckett University academics and professionals. Dr Sharon Pinkney and Dr Gary Walker are currently involved in a joint research project with Leeds City Council exploring the journeys of care experienced young people into higher education, which will throw light on the significant issues that impact upon choices they make, and the barriers they face. Importantly it will also focus on the difference that positive relationships can make to attainment for this group of young people.