Children and young people ‘Looked after’?: Education, intervention and the everyday culture of care in Wales edited by Dawn Mannay, Alyson Rees and Louise Roberts.

“I shouldn’t be labelled or underestimated just because I am “looked after”. I am not just a number, I am me”

This timely and relevant book takes an in depth look at the many issues facing care experience young people. Its authors are mindful not to lump these young people into one group and to ensure the “voice and lived“ experience of the young people shape the narrative. What emerges is a rigorous and comprehensive account that should be read by anybody who is working with care experience young people. Whilst the focus is Wales and the importance of context is highlighted the issues raised will resonate with practitioners and policy makers across the UK.

The book is divided into three sections “Education and policy intervention”“The culture of care and everyday lives of children and young people” and “Participatory, qualitative and collaborative approaches”. The book can be read cover to cover, but I suspect many practitioners will choose to dip in and out. What struck me as I read the book was just how diverse the “care experience “ is and how so many interlocking factors can impact on the effectiveness of the support it offers.

I found it intriguing to be encouraged to think about how access to the outdoors might help children develop and how our “Safeguarding Culture” might prevent looked after children having access to the “great outdoors”. It was interesting to read chapters that sought to identify “successful practice” and I found myself strongly agreeing that “success for children in care can only be achieved through a holistic understanding of their needs”.

The section on participatory approaches is filled with very practical and “grounded” examples of how researchers can seek to work with young people and to empower them to not only voice their concerns but to frame the narratives and raise the questions we should ask. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on “Sandboxes, stickers and superheroes” that shared experiences of using creative and visual methods to encourage young people’s participation. The chapter outlining the experiences of the CASCADE Voices project’s attempts to build an effective partnership between young people and researchers is well worth a read. Not only for its many successes but also for the challenges it highlights such as how do you overcome the group of young people becoming a clique but if you seek to involve many young people how do you maintain in depth quality relationships?

The chapter “Lights, Camera, Action” deals with the very valid issue of how you get people to listen to your voice. I would hope the editors use this advice to look at how the “learning” they have brought together might be shared to an even wider audience. The book is at times quite academic, nothing wrong with that per se, but I sense many a busy social or youth and community might find some simpler briefings, videos more easy to use.

I would hope that social and youth community courses and departments  across the UK would recommend this book as essential reading for all their staff and students. Not only for the way it presents its subject matter in such a detailed, thoughtful and analytical manner but as an excellent example of researchers seeking to demystify research and empower young people.

There is an old social sciences saying that goes “we only know what we measure”.  So, books like this that seek to measure what young people themselves see as important and to proactively involve young people as “creators not consumers” of research should be the standard to which we all aspire. It may also be the foundation on which we build real change. So go buy a copy today.


Kieran Breen

March 2019

Click here for a variety of user friendly resources that will help you promote and share learning arising from the book

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