Thursday, 16 February 2012

I’m not like Tracy Beaker

Monday saw the publication of an important report by Young Minds. Improving the health of looked after young people is full of information about looked-after young people’s perceptions about their care, support services and school, and about their feelings. The differences between how young people act and how they feel are stark. Outward displays of strength and confidence are often masks for inner fears, insecurity and stress. Around 60% of looked-after young people have some level of mental health problem.

The report contains valuable recommendations. In view of the course I am co-running next month on how arts and cultural organisations can support looked-after children and young people, I was especially interested in the recommendation that art, play, drama and music should be used as methods for communication and improving emotional well-being.

I attended the report’s launch on Monday evening. ‘I’m not like Tracy Beaker’ combined a plea for society to take more care about looked-after young people with a celebration of their resilience and creativity. Speakers from Young Minds, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and Flourish, a national programme to promote artwork by young people with experience of being in care, spoke passionately about the needs of looked-after young people, and about how creative activities can make them feel stronger and more in control of their lives. We heard about the powerful impact of involvement in poetry workshops and the annual Flourish exhibition. Poet Lemn Sissay, himself brought up in the care system, declared that looked-after young people are super-heroes, whom we should see not as victims, but in terms of their fantastic potential.