It has been over a year since we received our seed funding from the Public Engagement (PE) Unit to undertake a community based participatory research project and there is plenty to reflect on as I sit here in Sydney, Australia preparing to present the findings at a conference!
From the outset, we understood the term ‘public’ in its widest definition, anybody and everybody outside of academia. We may not have reached everyone just yet but the project certainly engaged with a wide range people! Initially we had very focused discussions and involvement with unaccompanied asylum seeking young people their foster carers and social workers, but this has quickly spread - watch our video about Fostering Hope here.
On the back of being finalists in the NCCPE Engage Awards we have found ourselves engaging with the media and this has allowed us to start a critical dialogue with the public. This has really enabled us to meet the aim of the project, which was to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions around unaccompanied asylum seeking children and to present the day to day reality of their experiences in foster care.
From local to international engagement
With the support of Andy Dunne in the Press Office and the PE Unit we started this media engagement locally on BBC Bristol. However, in the past week I have found myself as far from Bristol as you can get, in Sydney Australia, on the live TV breakfast show on the national news channel ABC. Our local community based project has officially gone global.
The experiences of seven young people from Afghanistan and Albania who live in foster care in Bristol have resonated on the other side of the planet, such is the global impact of forced displacement.
Watch Justin's interview for ABC Weekend Breakfast
In this project, we have been sure to balance research with action, using photography and focus groups we have gathered rich data about the experiences of the young people as well as the perceptions of their foster carers.
Today I'm presenting a keynote presentation drawing on results from the project at the Create Foundation Voices in Action conference. The conference is like no other, with nearly 400 registered delegates, nearly half are children and young people who live in out of home care in Australia. It is a unique opportunity to speak with those at the centre of foster care practice, the children, alongside their carers as well as practitioners, academics and policymakers in the field.
Visiting Bath alumni at Kids Express
The trip has provided opportunities to engage with colleagues working with refugees here in Australia. I have visited the offices of the charity Kids Express, where Bath alumni Dr Ben Rockett is the general manager. Kids Express provide creative forms of counselling to children and young people across New South Wales, including those in public care as well as those from migrant & refugee communities.
The past week has been a truly amazing experience and I will return to the UK feeling inspired and committed to developing my research in this field to ensure I make a positive impact on the lives of the children and young people who are at the centre of all of this.
Dr Justin Rogers is a lecturer in social work within our Department of Social & Policy Sciences.