Young people who have been in care face significant obstacles as they make the transition into adulthood. Statistics on the outcomes for this group are troubling. Almost 40% of care experienced young people are not in education, training or employment at ages 19-21, compared with 13% of the age group overall.
Yet it is essential for these young people to have the rich range of opportunities available to others, to work in industry, government and the arts. Programmes such as ‘Tracing our Tales’, an art-based training scheme run by the Foundling Museum are making this possible.
Improving outcomes for care experienced young people is a key policy area for the Government. In October 2018 it announced the ‘Care Leaver Covenant’, a scheme to support and raise aspirations and outcomes through the provision of work placements and internships in big businesses, Government, museums, theatres and charities, as well as training workshops and life-skills coaching.
Before the ‘covenant’ was announced, many organisations had already been running innovative programmes to support and train care experienced young people. The Foundling Museum is one of these. In October 2017, it launched the three-year ‘Tracing Our Tales’ project to develop a bespoke art-based programme for care-experienced young adults, made possible with funding from the Oak Foundation and led by Foundling Museum Curator Emma Middleton and artist Albert Potrony. Participants are paid, and receive training and mentorship.
‘Tracing Our Tales’ aims to equip care-experienced young adults from London boroughs with the skills to devise and deliver creative workshops at the museum for groups of children, including children in care. It not only provides paid employment but gives care experienced young people an opportunity to learn public speaking, critical and creative thinking and people management, as well as skills in art and creative expression. It is hoped that the trainees, and the workshops they lead, will inspire looked-after children facing similar life challenges, enable visitors to make links between the history of the Foundling Hospital and contemporary life in care and, for the trainees, promote a sense of identity with the Museum as part of their history.
Professor Claire Cameron, deputy director of the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the IOE, and I are conducting a three-year evaluation of the programme and our findings from the first year already highlight its positive impact on trainees’ sense of belonging, social capital, education, training and employment, life skills and emotional wellbeing.
Trainees have developed a strong connection to and identification with the history of the Foundling Museum, which has helped them to develop a sense of belonging. One trainee described the project as a ‘stepping stone’ that had provided a gradual transition from being depressed, unemployed and isolated at home to getting a full-time job. Many trainees started a new course, training or employment during or shortly after their participation in the project.
The Museum staff running the project have been critically important to its success, in particular their ability to connect with the trainees, to make them feel welcomed, accepted, valued, safe and comfortable yet encouraging them to push themselves beyond what they thought they could do. Trainees felt respected and they reported being made to feel like an artist by the Museum staff rather than a trainee, which helped them to feel more engaged and connected to the project.
We also found that the setting, staff and the nature of the project itself also had a positive impact on trainees’ emotional and mental health and wellbeing with reductions in the severity of symptoms of depression, anxiety and phobias and improved self-esteem and self-confidence.
The evaluation also highlights the value of such a project where care experienced young people can meet and train alongside others with shared experiences. As one trainee said:
“It’s a safe environment to be yourself and I think that’s a big impact of the traineeship, you’re surrounded by people that have been through the same experiences and there’s no judgement. You can openly come in and say ‘do you know what I’ve been in a bad place’ and it’s absolutely normal whereas in a normal professional environment you wouldn’t say that so I think that’s what’s different from just a normal job or apprenticeship”.
One of the standout successes from the first year of the programme was that in January 2019, trainee Rohima Poosch was appointed as artist’s assistant to Albert Potrony helping to develop and deliver training sessions for the second cohort of care experienced young people. She said:
“I’m very grateful for the Artist Assistant role…I can’t explain how much of an opportunity this is for me getting a place like this in a museum…It’s one of the best things that actually has happened because I want to become an artist and its helped me with taking that step forward and with making good connections with people”
Recruitment for the final cohort of trainees will begin from September 2019. For more information about this or the Tracing Our Tales project please contact Emma Middleton on 020 7841 3610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information about the evaluation please contact me at Katie.email@example.com