Friday, 25 March 2011

Looked-after children and young people

I recently felt very privileged to attend the final event of Following Footprints, a great partnership project run by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Natural History Museum. For the fourth year in a row, looked-after children, along with families and friends, made a series of visits to the Museum, going behind the scenes, handling some of the Museum’s collection, meeting scientists and researching a specimen of their choice. It was fantastic to witness their enthusiasm for their chosen specimens and their presentation skills in talking about them to a large audience, in addition to the incredible knowledge they had accumulated. All the children and young people I spoke to had done a phenomenal amount of research, questioning scientists, going online and using a wide range of books, some of them extremely learned. Museum staff told me how impressed they had been by their interest and dedication. One group had to be virtually ejected from the Museum at closing time. They had been there all day. I am so impressed with schemes like this that break down barriers to learning so successfully. I am quite sure some of those young people have brilliant careers waiting for them as science communicators.

Si Wharton, Education Support Officer for LAC in RBKC, and Dean Veall who played a huge part in setting up the project from the Museum end, presented a fascinating case study about it at a course on working with looked-after children that John Vincent and I gave in Bristol a couple of months ago. After a day of discussions about ways in which museums, libraries and other cultural and heritage organisations can play a significant role, it was really good to hear just how well such approaches can work in practice.

Wednesday’s Guardian Society had two interesting articles relating to looked-after children. ‘On home territory’ is a moving article about Neil Morrissey’s terrible experiences of growing up within the care system, and the documentary he has made to educate the public about being in care. He wants to de-stigmatise young people in care and improve the ways they are treated. ‘Care Home Kid’ is in two parts, going out on BBC2 on 28 and 31 March at 9 pm. Should be really worth watching.

In ‘Centre Stage’ Madeleine Bunting explores the value of the Scandinavian and German approach to residential care, social pedagogy, now being piloted in this country. Relationship building and mutual understanding are at the core of social pedagogy, with care workers trained to nurture children’s social and emotional development. The approach is leading to major improvements at a children’s home in Staffordshire visited by Bunting.