Integrating literature with design research

girl-with-appsThe DfE project is particularly innovative in its triangulated approach to designing the service. As well as co-designing workshops with young people and carers, we are building in insights from professionals, experts and academic literature to inform our design ideas, discussions and service development. Some of the key findings are discussed here.

Young people struggling with trauma and loss often find it difficult to communicate with other people yet they live in a contemporary landscape where mobile phones have made the internet almost universally accessible. We have discovered that young people exposed to early family conflict prefer online communication over
in-person contact and when they are feeling depressed they seek support from others online (Szwedo et al, 2011). Young people who have been through the carecsystem may be more drawn to using social media and communicating online as they may find it difficult to interact with others face to face (Fursland, 2010).

We know that moderate use of technology is likely to have significant positive impacts, improving
wellbeing and social connectedness (ONS, 2012). For many young people the internet is a valuable
source of information and support, alleviating concerns about mental or sexual health, for example
(Cabinet Office, 2014) and there is some evidence that suicide alerts on social networking sites have
had positive outcomes on both suicide and self-injury prevention (Lewis et al, 2014). Online
communities may be important for identity development and young people who successfully
manage their online presence may have improved self-esteem as they have an improved sense of
mastery and control (Valkenburg, 2011). Increased internet use has been associated with improved
reading and school grades among young people with lower academic performance (Pew, 2014).

However, a correlation has been seen between online and offline risk behaviours (Cabinet Office,
2014) so that young people highlighted as ‘at risk’ especially teenage girls, are potentially more
vulnerable to the risks of internet use, whilst at the same time viewing it as a safer space for
developing and maintaining relationships (Rafla et al, 2014). Young people in care are more
vulnerable than their peers online because they have increased emotional, social or behavioural
difficulties because of their early experiences of trauma, separation and loss (Fursland, 2010). The
popularity of social media with teenagers increases the potential for young people in care to
communicate with those who may do them harm (Hammond and Cooper, 2014). Some young
people in care may be drawn to seeking out disturbing content on the internet because of their early
experiences and engage in risky and sexually harmful behaviour online (Fursland, 2010). Young
people who have been exposed to severe abuse or parent conflict are more likely to talk with people
they meet online, engage in online aggression and receive aggressive sexual solicitation (Wells and
Mitchell, 2008).

Many other factors make it more difficult for looked after young people to communicate and
manage their emotions and behaviour compared to their peers. Two-thirds of looked after children
have a Special Educational Need (SEN), with almost a third having a statement of SEN compared to
one in five of non-looked after children with a SEN and less than 3% with a statement (DfE, 2014).
There were 13,305 instances of children in foster care going missing during 2013-14, with over one
in ten missing for longer than a week. Tragically, twenty two children had been missing for over a
year in March 2014 (Ofsted, 2015a and b).

For everyone on the project team, one child missing is too many. It is a great privilege and the
greatest motivation to work on a project where we have such potential to help children and young
people succeed in their journeys through care and into independence. And you can follow our
journeys and find out more by signing up to our newsletter here.

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