Poetry as tool

Poetry as tool

Poetry as tool to reveal evidence about mental wellbeing of young people in care.


7 December 2015

Poetry used as a tool to reveal evidence about mental wellbeing of young people in care.

Recently the London Borough of Havering commissioned the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) to undertake a process evaluation of the re-launch of their Children in Care Council (CICC).

The evaluation explored the process of revamping a stagnant statutory process into something meaningful and locally relevant. The two key tools for doing this were an Action Learning Set (ALS) of cross council ‘corporate parents’ and a ‘Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment’ (MWIA). The ALS set itself the primary task of ‘Providing momentum, direction and energy to help the CICC to evolve and grow so that their voices are authentically heard so that the whole council will be a stronger corporate parent’. Through four, themed three-hour meetings they explored how the whole council could better serve the needs of young people in care through genuine engagement and embedding a corporate pledge in all services.

The MWIA was used to find out what could be the potential impacts of the new CICC on the mental wellbeing of the children young people. It was important to find this out in order to measure impacts that were meaningful for the young people and the local service. After carrying out a screening process exploring evidence based protective factors for wellbeing, these were explored and refined by the corporate parent Action Learning Set. The next challenge was engaging the young people on the CICC to find out if these key impacts had any meaning to them. A traditional MWIA workshop of small group discussions and action planning seemed too abstract so it was adapted into a poetry workshop as a way of exploring the impacts and amplifying their voices. We worked with performance poet Dreadlock Alien, who has direct experience of growing up in care.  Dreadlock Alien facilitated ‘word harvests’ around the identified priority impacts:  ‘healthy eating’ ‘diversity’ ‘a sense of belonging, ‘being heard’ and ‘jobs and training’.

Five poems were then co-produced capturing the meaning of the topics to the young people. ‘Food Translation’ speaks of the complex social and emotional issues that eating becomes to a young person who has grown up in different care placements:

Food Translation

See, sometimes in life I don’t mean to be rude, 

Sometimes I don’t like your food,

Sometimes it’s not about the pay,

Sometimes I only eat one meal a day,

Sometimes I’m feeling hungry in my tummy,

Sometimes I just want some food, mummy,

Sometimes it’s knowing when you’re full,

Sometimes it’s push and sometimes it’s pull,

Sometimes a buffet, I eat it in 5 minutes,

Sometimes I got the bowl and I just jump in it,

Sometimes I have porridge that’s cold and hot, once I start I do eat a lot,

Sometimes I don’t know when to stop, like when I open a bottle of the fizzy pop,

Sometimes I like loads of flavours but sometimes it’s about eating behaviours,

Sometimes it’s about improprieties; some people don’t eat because they got social anxieties, 

Some people eat for miles and miles, eating spaghetti with different styles,

Sometimes they eat toast with jam, I eat it differently depending on where I am,

Sometimes it’s the food of the nation, I don’t need the interpreter, I need some food translation,

Sometimes it’s about nourishment, sometimes the potatoes are hard like cement,

Sometimes I just look and ask why, I’m not gonna’ eat that family sized pie,

Sometimes, I don’t mean to be rude, but don’t exercise my right to food,

Sometimes it’s about me and you, no-one else can decide what you do,

Sometimes it’s all about your voice, when it comes to freedom, it’s freedom of choice.

All the poems will be published as part of the evaluation and available on the TIHR website later this month along with a podcast of interviews and poems by the corporate parents and young people of Havering Children in Care Council.

To know more about this project please contact: Sadie King, Principal Researcher Consultant TIHR. s.king@tavinstitute.org

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