My five top tips for working online with care-experienced young people

My name is Hannah Campion and I am a painter with a love of water, swimming and scuba diving which trickles through into my practice. I specialise in making paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations with a love for working with children and young people to help them realise their potential.

Working as an Artist with Blue Cabin and South Tyneside Council on the Compass project led to incredible discoveries, knowledge and growth for me as an artist. Working with researchers Delyth Edwards from Liverpool Hope University and Clive Diaz from Cardiff University, the project sought to explore the effects COVID-19 had on Children in Care Councils and the young people who attend them. 

Working with Blue Cabin has been a phenomenal opportunity for me personally and professionally. As practitioners we are nurtured, offered sessions with other artists to discuss the working rollercoaster that has been the pandemic. 

I felt an enormous sense of responsibility as the sole creative practitioner working with the young people and the researchers. I was brilliantly supported by Blue Cabin’s Lucy Ridley as it was my first project back since becoming a parent. It was a bit daunting trying to understand and relay the nuances of the research questions and the added challenge of the delivering online and delivering hybrid sessions (me on the TV screen with one group of young people together in the room having a whale of a time). 

Key adults from their respective councils were crucial in bringing the sessions together. 

I wanted to do my utmost to get the young people’s voices heard and documented, through using creative activities and methods. I wanted to give the young people tools for expression both physically as well as mentally – a way of coping with what happens in life/a pandemic and how we can help ourselves to process this information. We worked with mark making and colour to provide tools to be able to explain thoughts and feelings. Using something like mark making (making marks with any tools – pens,  pencils, charcoals, paints, digitally) can give something external for the young person or adult upon which to focus whilst having a conversation and it can make sharing much easier and more fluid. 

The author Ben Ashcroft shared how he found it easier to talk to his social worker whilst fishing because eye focus was elsewhere and his mind was engaged with fishing (check him out on twitter @AshcroftBen – his book is called 51 Moves and refers to his moves in care before the age of 21).

The relationships between young people and their supporting adults were crucial in how they participated and communicated. They had someone there they knew, had a relationship with and felt supported. I absolutely loved working with Blue Cabin, the young people and their supportive adults. The characters and sense of focus were impressive. 

Care-experienced young people are in the best position to educate us as artists, organisations and at government level. They are able to tell us what works, what doesn’t and where we can all improve. There were some incredible insights into how the young people think and feel, but above all how much they want to help other young people in care – to improve opportunities for others and to improve the way young care-experienced people are viewed in society. 

My five top tips for working online with care-experienced young people

1) Get everyone speaking early on so you don’t run out of time. Be silly with it. 

2) Be bold with examples. I asked young people what they’d like Boris Johnson to know or what they would say to him. The young people blew my mind!

3) When working online creatively give yourself five times longer than you think you’ll need to:

  • set up your camera/devices 
  • give instructions 
  • receive feedback 

4) Share a bit of you. I possibly overshared with a tangent of an historic swimming pool story, but it got some giggles and I think moved us away from the ‘feeling like a robot online scenario’ with Zoom fatigue. 

5) HOLD SPACE! Don’t do what I do, which is get nervous when it’s quiet, fill in all of the space by talking, and forget to breathe! Breathe and enjoy. Young people are literally the most refreshing breath of fresh air in what’s been a pretty extraordinary year. 

Phew, it’s been an experience and a half. I am proud and feel honoured that I was asked to be part of the team and hope I have done everyone and most importantly the young people justice. 

I would have loved to have been together in person with the young people in a room, as I’ve realised I work much quicker and more effectively that way. I also LOVE IT! However I understand in the timeframe and with our global COVID-19 context the priority had to be keeping everyone safe whilst doing the best we could together as a team.

Please take a look at the research findings and sign up to Blue Cabin’s newsletter – it’s brilliant. Upliftingly creative ways to help care experienced young people be their absolute best in life.