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Why do we need research?

Monday’s #CareConvos is all about how we might improve research practices and novel ways to engage people and to make research more accessible to care experienced people, practitioners and policy-makers

But first we have to understand why we need research. We asked a few academics for their views and we posted the responses via Twitter, here is what they said:

Dr Dawn Mannay from Cardiff University

It is important to involve care experienced young people as peer researchers @CASCADEresearch @VoicesFromCare provide research methods training to achieve this #CASCADEVoices

Research is pointless if no one listens to the messages – we’ve produced #films #musicvideos #art #magazines together to move beyond the academic article & create change

Care experienced young people @RootsWales @ReachingWiderSU made this film about their experiences here: FromYoungPeopleforYoungPeople 

Free to access article – Enabling talk and reframing messages: working creatively with care experienced children and young people to recount and re-represent their everyday experiences here

If anyone wants to share their ideas about how we might improve research practices  we would love to have more blogs here

Associate Professor Jacqueline Z Wilson from Federation University Australia

It is an important but complex question. I’ve published something recently on this – where I outlined my time at a youth emergency accommodation hostel in Melbourne, Australia, when I was a state ward. There I had “research” done about me by university visitors. The article discusses the relevance and ethics of research with and about Care leavers — not a lot has changed today from when I was in care in the 1980s – if anything it is worse here. The article is co-authored with Social work academic Philip Mendes and former Ballarat Orphanage inmate Frank Golding.

Dr Neil Harrison from the Rees Centre, University of Oxford

In answer to the question: Because without robust and rigorous research, we’d just be guessing.

Dr Dee Michell from University of Adelaide

Research to show the (often many) ways in which the state has failed to provide adequately for children in its care is vital, as long as that research includes those who’ve been in care and is used to improve care – or even to render it unnecessary – not to condemn and stigmatise CEP. Doing research for the sake of doing research (no matter who is included) rather making than substantive change is a way, I think, of feathering the nests of those who exploit the system – and therefore indirectly the child and young people.

Dr Delyth Edwards from Liverpool Hope University

Research when done right can give us wonderful insights into peoples lives, that ordinarily may go unnoticed. Yet these insights can be of huge importance for helping bring about change in the policy sphere or wherever . Research can help us identify and explore themes, patterns and links between things that can be extremely helpful. For me, research is not about giving anyone a voice. People already have voices, its just a matter of listening and hearing what people say and with good research, that can happen. Also i hate hate hate it when the term ‘hard to reach group’ is used. No one is hard to reach, you just have to ask and speak to people.

Dr Josie Orrell Pearse of Pearse and Black

It’s been psychologically grounding/freeing  for me as CEP to contextualise the closed adoption system I grew up in. Although it’s still the norm in many states of the USA – and seems to have come from the American ‘dream’ of a new start for everyone deemed white – in so many other countries governments stopped the barbaric practice of cutting people from their roots for the purposes of social engineering in the late 20th century – if they ever had it at all. It was a particular time in history, made when western society as a whole was frightened of being tainted by so called bad or foreign blood. I think of it as  Coulterizing  after Mrs Coulter in Phillip Pullman’s work, who cuts children from their life- enhancing daemons.  

Ian Dickson, retired Social Worker/Ofsted Inspector

What is the value of research? To me the question invokes images of “Campbell’s condensed Soup”. To get enough soup to feed many, we need only open one tin of condensed soup instead of opening many. Research to me is simply the condensed version of years of practice & experience. Either each practitioner repeats all the mistakes of the past and learns over again every time or she opens a book and has the benefit of others’ condensed learning at her fingertips. 
The question should be how could one possibly manage without research! 

Katrina Goodman, MA Career Guidance student

My area of chosen research is careers of care leavers, originally this was to be an autoethnographic dissertation, changed by ethics process July 2019, so I am now writing up a literature review on the Journey of Care Leavers in Careers Guidance, using the psychological and sociological barriers that ‘may’ affect care leavers, using 1994 as the time I was relinquished from care as a time line. My findings have been upsetting, frustrating and at times I have sworn at my pc. There are years of missing data, and an unrepresentation of BAME in care leavers in relation to mental health identity aspirations rights life expectancy, to my horror there is no literature for this group going back to the 1980’s and a horrifying rise in racism in some of this country’s top universities. For me the importance of research, is to give a voice to our history as CEP’s. To give insight to the complex difficulties and issues that have predisposed us all, but to improve careers advice for care leavers, inform practitioners and hope that my research contributes to UK CEP community. That it gives weight to the lived experience and its need to be recognised as valued research, validating our experiences and to make a difference for the next generation. It is important that BAME are recognised in our history and to embed our legacy of survival. The epitome of examples of how successful CEP adults are, beyond the historic failings of systems, that we have been consulted, participated and contributed to. To show, young people, that despite adversity they/we are a collective community and we are making it as adults, this is my caffeine fuelled answer to the importance of research.

Dr Claire Fitzpatrick from Lancaster University

Robust and rigorous research can illuminate new insights whilst also reinforcing or challenging the relevance of knowledge previously generated. At its best, it has the potential to change the world – if the right people are listening!

We’re interested in everyone’s perspectives, whether you are a care experienced person, a carer, a social worker, teacher, work for a virtual school or in any other role with care experience people…and researchers!

Reflections from #careconvos

Reflections from Rosie Canning

Since our first Twitter conversation held three weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about Aoife’s PhD research, which she undertook at the Rees Centre, and which questioned: What is the relationship between carer involvement in education and school performance of children in foster and kinship care? One of the key findings suggested that aspiration encourages children’s school performance. I wondered if there were any key findings from the first #CareConvos on Twitter.

In total teachers were the most significant people to those that took part, 62% in total. So teachers out there, be very proud that those daily connections that you make are so important to a lot of people out there and give them belief for an aspirational future.

There was talk of different pathways, but also the belief that a significant teacher encouraged many people to go into education, though there was no one route. Talk emerged of many different pathways. Looking after children, supporting and inspiring them led to strength and determination in later years.

Again, relationships are key. Recognising that care experienced people do not tend to follow the traditional educational pathway was important for people. Listening to young people is important as was support for post 25s. In amongst the responses, wellbeing and the importance of self care i.e. taking time out if needed.

A stable loving environment. Recognising different educational pathways and support post 25 came up again. Flexibility and recognition of past experiences for those who want to study was important as was recognising that care experience is for life.

Lots of ideas for those that write policy or look after children in care. Top tips: Stop moving children from placement to placement; have a consistent adult in their lives and always question: would this be good enough for my child?

We are very grateful to those who shared their experiences during the chat. We acknowledge that this isn’t always easy. We would welcome anyone’s thoughts or feedback on their experience and how we might mitigate this going forward. 

If you find yourself affected by the conversation or want to talk about this months subject, RESEARCH, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Thanks again and see you on the **Monday 2nd of September 8pm** for our second #CareConvos.

#CareConvos are back!

On Monday 2nd September, 2019, we’re talking about how we might improve research practices, e.g. how we might do research better, involve people more meaningfully across the research cycle.

We’re also interested in novel ways to engage people from recruitment all the way to dissemination. We will also talk about how we can make research more accessible to care experienced people, practitioners and policy-makers.

We’re interested in everyone’s perspectives, whether you are a care experienced person, a carer, a social worker, teacher, work for a virtual school or in any other role with care experience people…and researchers!

– We are also really keen to engage those who do research on the care experience, what difficulties you experienced in carrying out your research and what novel solutions you have used to tackles these

– We are aware that many of you straddle a number of these roles, please feel free to talk to us in any capacity. 

 – Remember to use the hashtag #CareConvos 

 – Please look after yourselves, only share what you are comfortable sharing and get in touch if you want to chat more.

Our first #CareConvos…

If you missed out on our first #CareConvos Monday you can catch up with all the tweets here.

We were really thrilled so many people joined us. Check out the stats for those who contributed to our survey. Numbers don’t add up to total participants because many of us fit into multiple categories!

We are very grateful to those who shared their experiences during the chat. We acknowledge that this isn’t always easy. We became aware of this during the twitter chat and we have been reflecting on this since. We would welcome anyone’s thoughts or feedback on their experience and how we might mitigate this going forward.

If you find yourself affected by the conversation, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Thanks again and see you on the **2nd of September 8pm** for our second #CareConvos.

The Perfect Job?

Imagine if you could design your perfect job. What would that look like?

I [Rosie] have been working at Oxford for an amazing seven weeks. I’m reflecting on how Aoife and I work together and what we are achieving. Her with the lovely Irish lilt who helps me feel at home with her welcoming foresight and inclusiveness; putting care experience at the 💜 of our research. Not only am I using life skills: organisational expertise; artistic ideas; librarian experience and social media prowess; but very importantly I’m delving into my own remembrance of care experience past and informing our knowledge exchange.

There’s more! Training if I want it; getting to know some amazing people and outside meetings in the most unusual surroundings. It really is turning into my perfect job.

Some of our projects are still being negotiated and planned – watch this space! However, I hope you will be as excited as we are and join us this Monday 5th Aug for our very first #CareConvos on Twitter @ 8pm. A discussion about the best ways to support the education of children in care.

Bring cake, coffee and come along if you are:

  • Care experienced
  • A social worker
  • A foster carer
  • A residential care worker
  • A teacher
  • A designated safeguarding lead
  • Working for a Virtual School
  • A researcher
  • Or just interested!


Supporting the education of children in care

We are very excited to be hosting our first Twitter conversation Monday 5th August from 8-9pm, join us at #CareConvos to chat! 

These are some of the questions we’ll be thinking about:

  • Who was the most significant person in your education journey?

  • How has that shaped you today?

  • Why do foster carers aspirations matter? And how can they make a difference?

  • What support helps children in care in education do well?

We also wanted to illustrate education messages through research and literature as a way to stimulate conversation.

1) Key messages from research around carer involvement in educational support of children in care:

Examples of education quotes from literature:

Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones‘.

Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte

Armansky read her [Salander’s] report over the weekend, several times, and spent part of Monday doing a half-hearted double-check of some of her assertions. Even before he began he knew that her information would prove to be accurate. Armansky was bewildered and also angry with himself for having so obviously misjudged her. He had taken her for stupid, maybe even retarded. He had not expected that a girl who had cut so many classes in school that she did not graduate could write a report so grammatically correct. It also contained detailed observations and information, and he quite simply could not comprehend how she could have acquired such facts‘. 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson.


I felt it important that I draw your attention to Conor’s superb artistic skills. As a new pupil, he is a joy to witness. Whatever materials we use, he fashions something outstanding. But most wonderful of all is his drawing ability. I understand he has lived in a variety of places and I wonder if this escape in his art is a way of coping. In which case, as a lover of art, too, I urge you to make sure Conor has plenty of materials at his disposal and plenty of quiet time to develop his talent. In my fifteen years as a teacher he is, without question, the most gifted artist for his humble five years that I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Sincerely, Mrs Connelly.” 

-The Mountain in My Shoe (2016) by Louise Beech, (This excerpt describes a report about Connor, a young boy in foster care.)


*#OrphanStones from a collection by #CEP artist Saira-Jayne Jones

Through the wardrobe… (with Rosie)

The day before I started my new role as Aoife O’Higgins‘ Research Assistant at University of Oxford; I stayed at St Stephen’s, a theology college founded in 1876.

In the room was a huge wardrobe and I couldn’t help but step inside, just in case it was the entrance to Narnia.

Ever since I was a child and read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), I have never been able to resist checking the backs of wardrobes and being a little frightened if they happened to have fur coats and moth balls in them – though that has been quite rare.

I’m usually staying somewhere and they are empty.

I slept well and as far as I remember there weren’t any ghosts, though I thought I might have met a bishop or two. I shared breakfast with lots of silent people until I was joined by a German chap from Bavaria and his son who had just finished studying medicine. They were on a flying visit to Oxford and then on to the Cotswolds. They asked about my research and I explained the background, my care experience and the public and private attitude towards unmarried mothers in the 1950s and 60s. They didn’t think that unmarried mothers in Germany were forced to give their children up for adoption, but they couldn’t be sure.

Time flew and I left to meet Aoife, at Magdalen College.

Aoife, took me through the long, stone corridors where I expected Inspector Lewis to pop up at any moment. Up a tiny stairwell past the Senior Common Room to a space for refreshment. From there we climbed more stairs and sat in a room both ancient and modern with glass doors and talked. Aoife wanted to make sure I felt welcome and to reassure me I belonged. If ever my confidence gave way, I was to speak to her.

From there we crossed the quad towards her office in New Building, built in 1733!

Joy of joys, we were located in what was once C.S. Lewis’ study. The magnificence, the splendour, the history -I was suddenly overcome.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, had been such an important book in my childhood. I knew it was a powerful story. I loved Aslan. When I eventually found out the book was an allegory of the crucifixion of Christ, it made sense. In those days I was a made-to-practise Catholic. I confessed my sins every week. And I knew about Christ’s suffering.

All the characters from the novel still have a place in my heart. They helped me through sad days. I’ve never forgotten them and occasionally they still enter my thoughts and I think of the story. And now, I was about to enter the author’s rooms. To stand at the window where he would have stood and stared at the beautiful deer only half seeing them whilst his mind drifted through furs to Narnia.

After I’d recovered, we spent some time in the recently built, Longwall Library where we discussed our project Conversations for Care. We plan to facilitate conversations around improving the way research is carried out with care experienced people as well as investigate what support works for children in care in education. We will do this by bringing together young people, social workers, foster carers and others, and researchers.

In some ways it felt as if I’d come full circle. I remembered my first day at university in 1992. I was 34 years old and completely overwhelmed. The previous year I had gone to college to take GCSE Maths and English. I could not speak without blushing bright red. And yet, without education I would not be the person I am today. Without education I would not have been a Research Assistant at Magdalen College. 

I thought of my lovely friend who owned a bookshop and night after night he would take me through my essays, line by line. Explaining what I could do or might have missed. He introduced me to ‘quintessential’ and many new words. He went to Oxford but sadly never finished. Things went wrong for him and were never really put right. I hope that quintessential gentleman was with me as I entered the gates to Magdalen.

After many amazing discussions with Aoife, it was time for lunch. There was a choice: Thai, sandwiches, salad, or pie, mash and mushy peas with or without gravy. We settled in Pieminister and had organic pies – I was ‘with’ and Aoife was ‘without’. They were delicious.

Lucky for me Aoife has a sweet tooth and so we walked the streets of Oxford until we found one of her favourite cake shops. I had chocolate pecan tart and she had a gigantic cookie.

From there we headed to the Department of Experimental Psychology. I had imagined another Hogwartian building, but it was in fact, a prefab; the washrooms were very nice.

HR gave me lots of forms to fill out and did lots of photocopying of certificates and ID things. The usual difficulties of why do you have so many different names had all been smoothed over and explained beforehand. So there were no awkward questions and I felt for the first time relaxed and able to get on and do what I needed to do, like have my photograph taken and *excitement*, complete my application for a library card. I would be going to the Bodleian the following week, for training so I can learn to be Aoife’s, amazing Research Assistant.

The day ended and I took a short cut back to the station. Only it wasn’t a shortcut. I passed a lamppost – could it I wondered be the one that inspired Lewis?

I eventually found my way and ended up puffing along the canal pathway, all the time hoping I would make the train in time and not have to spend horrendous amounts on a replacement ticket.

I made it, just; red-faced and sweaty, but with a table all to myself in the air-conditioned carriage and time to reflect on my first amazing day at University of Oxford.