Young people with complex needs and employment opportunities
This EU-funded project was part of a larger study on youth employment led by Professor Jackie O’Reilly. It involved a collaborative research project conducted in Greece and the UK. 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 unemployment. Supporting the young people involved in this task to communicate their own ideas on youth employment challenges and solutions, rather than producing a conventional research study was key.
This project commenced in January 2014 and ended in September 2017.
The aim of this 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.
Our aim was to take a resilience approach to help tackle the mental health implications of youth unemployment. Co-producing a resource that was of value to the young people involved in the task in each country was key.
The project also aimed to produce a toolkit for foster carers and practitioners.
Finally, the project researchers conducted a literature search to understand what facilitates resilience to unemployment for young people with complex needs.
Project findings and impact
The young people decided what they wanted to do for this project and the adults involved supported their participation. Adopting a Youth Participatory Action Research approach (YPAR) the focus was to build the capacity of fifteen young people in Greece and England, enabling them to identify the issues they faced in relation to unemployment, and to consider helpful strategies to overcome them. They acted as young researchers to further understand the nature of the issues, and were supported to develop a resource that would be useful to other young people, foster carers and practitioners. Finally, young people have been supported to advocate for actions to facilitate change.
The resource begins by supporting everyone to understand the concept of resilience and the benefits of adopting a resilience approach. 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, such as Malcolm X, and such stories are illustrated for the benefit of other 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. The resource also matches these stories to a resilience framework that was previously developed by members of the team to support carers, parents or professionals to understand the practice implications. Carers, professionals and young people can use the resource and the exercises in it to:
- support their understanding of resilience
- transfer this knowledge into practice
- foster a relationship between themselves and a young person through completing the activities, or for young people to support their own resilience.
The book was used in the training of support teachers, over two hundred to date, as part of their vocational training and professional development run by the Greek Ministry of Education’s special education training programme. Many support teachers work with students from foster care and they desperately need resources to help them with these relationships. They have also used the Resilience Framework included in the resource as it contained useful ideas and basic guidelines for supporting those students. These are new resources for the Greek context where support from central government is scarce. The use of the book in training these teachers was evaluated very positively by the teachers involved and many suggested that it be used in the training of other professional groups.
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 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. These have all supported vulnerable young people to develop useful skills and to build 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 subsequently innovated. A UK-based philanthropist has also pledged a donation to the cause which will enable further marketing of the tools.
Hence this STYLE task has acted as valuable springboard for the development of further co-produced outputs. It has also already led to the 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.
Highly illustrated resources were developed by the young people themselves, including a care-leaver who was the lead graphic designer. The resources are available to download.
Hart, A., Stubbs, C., Plexousakis, S., Georgiadi, M., & Kourkoutas, E. (2015). Aspirations of vulnerable young people in foster care. STYLE Working Papers, WP9.3. CROME, University of Brighton, Brighton.
Research team and partners
Maria Georgiadi, Rethymno Child Development Centre Greece
Stefanos Plexousakis, Rethymno Child Development Centre Greece
Claire Stubbs, Boingboing
The Virtual School for Looked After Children, Brighton and Hove