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Developing an arts strategy for looked after children and young people in County Durham


Background and introduction

This paper sets out the development of Durham's Arts Strategy for looked after children and young people. In August 2005 a group of looked after young people worked with an artist to create a visual art display as part of "Ignite '05", a Regional Looked After Arts Event. During the preparation for this event, strategic managers from Arts Development and Looked After Services recognised that although one-off arts events had their place, they failed to fully explore the range of opportunities the arts can provide in relation to strategic development and operational delivery. Therefore the decision was made to commission a piece of research which would lead to the development of an Arts Strategy. An artist/researcher/consultant was commissioned to carry out a time-limited piece of research and produce an Arts Strategy for looked after children and young people.


The aim of the research was to produce an Arts Strategy that reflected the aspirations of looked after children and young people in Durham, and of the staff who work with them. The research was carried out throughout late 2006/early 2007. It included consultation with a wide range of organisations, agencies and individuals with responsibility for looked after children. The most important part of the consultation was with looked after children and young people and care leavers themselves.

Consultation with children and young people took the form of:

  • Face to face meetings
  • Telephone interviews
  • Group discussion meetings
  • Practical (crafts activity) workshops
  • Questionnaires

The artist/researcher/consultant attended various events to find out what arts activities young people were, and had been, involved in and their views on the arts. Input was also included from a wide range of adults, including foster carers and care professionals, to ascertain how they currently use the arts and creativity within their work with looked after children and young people, and how additional creative input might enhance existing working processes and practices.

Finally, local arts agencies and organisations gave their views and experience of working with looked after children and how that work might be further developed in the future.


Key findings

The research and consultation illustrated that there was a significantly high level of interest in the arts by looked after children, young people and care leavers. Most children and young people were or had been involved in a range of arts activities, with most interest lying within drama and music. The research also highlighted the aspirations of children and young people in terms of what arts activities they wanted to become more involved with and how they wanted to participate:

 "There are lots of difference kinds of art we can get involved with -music, drawing, painting, writing, theatre, dance...."

There was wide debate about whether events and activities should be arranged specifically for looked after children and young people, or whether efforts should concentrate upon integration within mainstream arts activities. The consensus was that there is no "one size fits all" - looked after children and young people vary in their wishes and preferences and choice is the key factor:

"Sometimes we want to be with other looked after young people- sometimes we don't"

There was also a very positive response from staff to suggestions as to how artists, care professionals and carers might work in partnership to enhance existing services for looked after children and develop new areas of work.

Any lack of involvement in the arts appeared to be due to practical barriers, such as money, transport and limited access to information.

Communication was acknowledged to be a key factor; some young people were not always aware of the range of activities and projects they could become involved in:

"We need to know what is going on, so we can join in"

The research highlighted that there was a need to consider and develop ways in which arts input and initiatives can dovetail into the structures in place for looked after children and young people such as care planning, pathway planning and life story work.

Implications for policy and practice

Developing the Arts Strategy has been a starting point for developing new ways of cross-sector working across County Durham. The research, and the resultant Arts Strategy, have made a real difference to the way the Durham's Multi-agency Looked After Partnership (MALAP) approaches participation and service delivery.

There are now a range of projects in place that are benefiting from the approach developed through the Arts Strategy. These include an artist "embedded" with a group of care professionals working on new approaches to Life Story Work, involving artists in MALAP multi agency "Stakeholder Events" and using the arts to reach harder to engage young people through Durham's Teenagers to Work programme.

 "There is no way we can do anything meaningful if the arts are an add-on- they must be embedded into our everyday working systems"

 Example artwork

There are also plans underway to use the arts to promote Durham's "Staying On" policy for older looked after young people and to develop strategies for building aspirations as a key part of the "delaying parenthood" strategy.


Arts Strategy Research Looked After Children, Young People and Care Leavers. Cultural Partnerships. March 2007.

MALAP Looked After Arts Strategy, August 2007.

Contact details

Meg Boustead, Strategic Manager Looked After Children, Durham County Council, DH1 5UG, UK.

Tel: +44 (0) 191 383 4552

Email: meg.boustead@durham.gov.uk






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