Young people with mental health difficulties are much more likely to have difficulty finding any form of employment. Young people who have grown up in foster care experience multiple disadvantages. Within the STYLE project, we established a collaborative research project between Greece and the UK to examine these issues. It aimed to understand the work aspirations of a group of vulnerable young people in care and the barriers they face in terms of youth employment.
The task within the project was to support young people in foster care using a qualitative participative approach to identify resilience strategies to help other young people in care. The main outcome from the collaboration resulted in co-producing an open-access resource book called One Step Forward, which is of value to the young people involved in the task in each country. We wanted to explore with the young people the questions ‘What are the work aspirations of vulnerable young people in care? And what barriers do they face in finding work?’
What we did
Adopting a Youth Participatory Action Research approach (YPAR), the goal was to build the capacity of fifteen young people in Greece and England, enabling them to identify the issues they faced in relation to getting a job and to consider helpful strategies to overcome these problems. They acted as young researchers seeking to further understand the nature of the issues, and were supported in developing a resource that would be useful to other young people, foster carers and practitioners. The young people themselves developed highly illustrated resources.
(The resources are available to download from: http://issuu.com/boingboingresilience/docs/one_step_forward_-_resilience/1 (UK edition) http://issuu.com/boingboingresilience/docs/one_step_forward_-_resilience_-_gre/1 (Greek edition).
The concept of resilience
The resource begins by helping everyone to understand the concept of resilience and the benefits of adopting a resilience approach. The resource helps people understand resilience from a Boingboing perspective which includes a strong inequalities angle (Hart et al., 2016). The approach is brought to life through interactive activities that carers, young people and professionals can use in support of promoting resilience.
Through their work, the young people shared stories and role models that had been significant in supporting their own resilience. There are also examples from the political activist Malcolm X and the actress Jennifer Lawrence. These stories are used for the benefit of other young people.
How we used the resource to involve young people
The resource details the young people’s pathways through foster care and the resilient moves that have been important in their lives in overcoming barriers to success.
Following on from the completion of this task, members of the project team have used the resource in numerous training and conference presentations. The book was also exhibited in an art, play therapy and theatre studio in Greece. Parents and practitioners were invited to participate in experiential activities from the book.
In a second phase, children were asked to draw on a specific theme called the ‘Forest of Good and Evil’. Those drawings were presented in an exhibition in the Cultural Centre of Rethymno, Crete, with large success. The Greek section of Play Therapy International has highlighted the One Step Forward book as a valuable resource for their membership.
In the UK
In the UK context, the use of the One Step Forward book has inspired the project team to develop further resources through the Boingboing social enterprise (www.boingboing.org.uk) with grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK.
Academics, practitioners and young people have worked in partnership to produce games and other activities relating to resilience. (www.boingboing.org.uk/utopia-fair-somerset-house-blog/).
These have all supported vulnerable young people in developing useful skills and in building their own resilience.
Three young people with complex needs who were previously unemployed have gained employment with the social enterprise Boingboing to develop and market these resources.
Most recently, a funding bid to set up Boingboing Blackpool has been successful. With support from the Big Lottery Fund in England as part of Boingboing Blackpool, further resources and training packages will be developed based on the resource produced in this task and on other resources that were subsequently innovated.
A UK-based philanthropist has also pledged a donation to the cause that will enable further marketing of the tools. The One Step Forward book produced in this project has acted as valuable springboard for the development of further co-produced outputs with vulnerable young people.
It has also already led to the actual employment of young people with complex needs and looks set to be a springboard for the development of even more social enterprise opportunities for young people with complex needs as well as further research into how to make this happen.