“Talking about it without talking about it”: Engaging young people in care through animation and film

Cath Prisk
Thursday, February 5, 2015

What is it really like growing up in care?

This is the story of the making of three short but very powerful films made by young people about growing up in care. Two of them were shortlisted for the CYP Now Children in Care Award, and have won various awards.
I became interested because they beautifully illustrate an issue that had been picked up in a small bit of play research a few years ago – a hint that children growing up in care have less opportunity for independent play than other kids. I’ve been doing a literature review for Learning Through Landscapes on what evidence existed and had asked the team if it was okay for me to blog about their film, but they sent me a fully formed text.
Please watch these films – they will connect you to the real lived experience of these young people. For me the lesson is a continued push to ensure these professionals know the importance of independent, child- and young person-led play. But there are so many messages here, for all of us that work with children in whatever capacity. Not least the importance of simply listening, and providing spaces to speak. The music and animation is pretty fantastic too.

My Name is Joe

Finding my Way

Our House

This is the story of how these films came to life as told by Valerie Dunn, research associate at the University of Cambridge/NIHR CLAHRC East of England:
Sitting at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London with a group of dapper, excited young people, finalists at the CYP Now Awards, I reflected on how we got had got there. The group was nominated for making two short films about life in the care system (no, sadly we didn’t win).
I am a researcher working on mental health and wellbeing of young people in care and wanted to find a way of involving young people in research and of putting their voice at the centre of a new training course about mental health for foster carers. I decided film was the way to go.
Finding the right team was key. Trish Shiel at the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium (CFC), a not-for-profit film education organisation, suggested animation as a medium, as it is fun, endlessly creative, timeless and would protect the anonymity of the young people. Trish engaged the artistic team: Lizzy Hobbs (Spellbound Animation), James Rogers (Simply Sonic Studios) and Ryd Cook, independent filmmaker, were on board.  

Through Cambridgeshire County Council I signed up Michelle Dean who manages the Children’s Participation Service and Tom Mellor (Youth Offending Service) using his drama and performance skills to help young people safely address difficult and sensitive issues. Andy Dunn, independent documentary maker, stepped in for the final film. These were individuals who not only excel in their own areas but who are caring, empathetic, flexible and patient.

The first film, My Name is Joe, focused on the experience of being taken into care – a huge topic for these young people. The young people suggested leaving care (Finding my Way) and living in residential homes (Our House) as topics for the following films.

Each film was developed over a four-day intensive summer school. Day one was about getting to know each other and “playing” with the state-of-the-art animation and sound recording equipment. On the second morning we watched a selection of short animations on the big screen at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse. Then discussions began about the issues, the content, the words and the pictures. Tom ran workshops – drawing, writing, drama – through which the young people considered, re-visited and shared their experiences, found common ground and brought their ideas to life through animation and sound.
As one young person astutely observed:

“We’re talking about it without talking about it.”

Through the four days confidence levels soared, friendships grew and new skills were learned.
I hadn’t really thought this through three years ago when I first had the idea: the amount of work, the number of people, the logistics or the cost. But neither had I appreciated what an engaging, thought-provoking, fruitful and enduring project it would prove to be with national impact.
Finding my Way was the winner in the documentary film category at the BFI Future Film Festival in February 2014. My Name is Joe is now used UK-wide to train foster carers and social workers and is part of the Fostering Network’s The Skills to Foster training for prospective carers. I’m certain Our House will also make its mark.
The young people are, rightly, extremely proud of their achievements and delighted to realise that they have found their voice through the films. They have learned a range of useful new skills like self-expression, timekeeping, team working and working to a deadline – and some perhaps slightly less useful like clapperboard operating.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without this project,” explained one of the young people at the CYP Now Awards – she’s just completed a BFI academy course and is investigating university courses on film design.

Read more about the project: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/trilogy-of-short-films-explores-young-peoples-views-of-life-in-social-care

Cath Prisk runs her own social enterprise Outdoor People, and is a trustee for The Wild Network. She was formerly director of Play England

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