Should Culture Care?

12 October 2015

The latest figures from the Department for Education show that the number of children in care has risen for the seventh year running, and is at it’s highest since 1985. But what role should arts organisations play in working with young people in care?

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On 22nd October A New Direction (AND) will be at the Southbank’s annual WHY Festival – running a discussion with Barnardo’s, The Southbank Centre and Artswork asking 'What makes a good childhood?' Our discussion tied into our Cultural Capital campaign and will ask ‘How can we ensure a cultural offer for all children and young people in care?’

At AND, we have become increasingly focussed on the inequalities that exist for young people in London, and our previous research on the cultural engagement of young Londoners has shown that young people from disadvantadged backgrounds are less likely to take part in every category of cultural activity but it is particularly marked in certain areas including visiting exhibitions (62% vs. 70%), music activities (61% vs. 69%) and heritage visits (61% vs. 71%).

In our Qualitiative Research study – we looked specifically at the lives of disadvantadged and vulnerable young Londoners to establish what role arts and culture played in the lives of young people with disabilities, young carers, young people at risk of offending and looked after young people. The study suggested a series of recommendations including the development of work with families, carers and other early intervention programmes, and establishing creative starting points that resonate with what young people are currently interested in – but what does all this mean in terms of ensuring the cultural sector can actually support children in care?

There are many cultural organisations that provide life-changing and supportive projects and opportunities for children in care, but there seems to be little evidence or clarity about the impacts of cultural engagement on young people in care – and particularly why it is important over other interventions – the evaluation of CCE and NCB’s programme of arts and cultural activites with looked after children points towards the impact that these kinds of activities can have – but seems to demonstrate generic outcomes that aren’t necessarily specific to the cultural sector (such as resilience, confidence etc.).

Whilst project based approaches to working with children in care do have value – it seems that there is space to develop and grow a deeper understanding of what culture can specifically contribute to the outcomes that children in care need; and that cultural organisations need to articulate clearly the importance of their work in relation to these outcomes.


What works for children in care?

The ‘In Loco Parentis’ (2010) report from DEMOS looked at a range of existing data and research to try and establish the factors that influence future outcomes of young people in care – they identified three areas that answered the question ‘What works for children in Care?’:

  • A secure attachment 

  • ‘Authoritative’ parenting that provides a combination of ‘responsiveness’ and ‘demandingness’ (or warmth and consistent boundaries) 

  • Stability 



These three areas are suggested as providing young people in care with outcomes that ensure that they are able to progress into their adult lives, minimising the chance of engaging in risky behaviours, mental health issues and other negative impacts. So with these three points in mind:

  • How can organisations best shape their programmes and work with corporate parents to support more young people in care and ensure that their impact is doing the most to support the young people they work with?
  • What radical changes need to happen, and what new partnerships need to be in place for organisations that want to support more young people in care? For example – do termly or annual programmes best support young people in care that may need stabilitiy and long term interventions?
  • How can programmes support better connections between young people and the foster carers (for example) that are responsible for them?


The other part of the picture is about how those responsible for young people in care are made aware and engaged in the offers cultural organisations have and the outcomes they can demonstrate for the young people they work with.

Join us at the Southbank to establish who we need to work with, how we can broker new relationships and define what a cultural offer should be for all children and young people in care.

For more details about the event and to book your place, go here

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