Care through participatory research

In this blog Lucy Leon , who is a researcher on Work Package 1, reflects on undertaking training workshops with young migrant researchers.

As we prepare to break for the holidays, we look back on our first three months with our young researchers team and how much the group has achieved . As part of the CCoM study, we recruited a group of young people from migrant backgrounds to train as peer researchers and work alongside us, to explore how separated child migrants are cared for and how they care for others. We wanted to ensure that participatory research was at the heart of the project to ensure that young people’s voices were heard but also that young people were given the development opportunity to learn new skills that may be useful for their careers and futures.

We first met at the end of the summer, running information sessions at local refugee and migrant youth groups, encouraging those who were interested to apply to become of our young researchers. Since September, we have been working with a core group of young people. Our priorities were to bring the group together, getting to know each other to build a group identity and create a safe space for the young people to learn together and become a research team. Talking about care and young people’s own experiences of care as well as hearing from others about theirs can be enriching, but also challenging at times. It is an emotive topic, particularly for young people who have been separated from their family and loved ones and who have experienced the hostile environment and a culture of disbelief as they try to settle into their new lives in the UK. We’ve striven towards setting up a safe space for the group, weaving the importance of ethics into all our sessions but also pausing to reflect on the impact on their own wellbeing as researchers and helping them to identify potential triggers they experience along the way. It is a key issue we will continue to reflect on regularly as a team and individually, as we are conscious that we have a responsibility to ensure the emotional wellbeing and safety of our young researchers.

Over the last three months, we have shared and practiced various research activities with the young researchers for them to learn about research methods but also for them to narrow down to what they think would be work best with other young people. In one of our first sessions everyone brought in an object that represents ‘care for us – something that helps us care, makes us think about care or that makes us feel cared for’. It led to a fascinating discussion as we shared books, jewellery, letters and discussed everyday objects like our phones and even food that remind us of happy memories, of feeling protected, supported and loved. Over the past few weeks, we have practiced interviews, held group discussions, done observations and even drafted a joint letter to the Prime Minister about what it feels like to be a young migrant in the UK and how they could improve life for young people on their journey through the immigration system. Over the holidays, we are staying in touch through a photovoice challenge, sharing a day in our life through photos.

The last three months have been amazingly rich and thought provoking, as well as a learning curve for us all. Week after week, we revise our session plans, trying to squeeze in as many teambuilding games as we can, alongside our research activities, group discussions, team planning and building in time for reflection. Working with the young researchers has been a real privilege. Their insight as well as their openness to share their experiences and their ability to challenge and speak up have led to many rich discussions. We have been humbled by the camaraderie across the group, the genuine friendship blossoming and the invaluable peer support they offer each other even outside of the group. It is the very start of our research journey together and it has been a privilege to work alongside them, watching them learn but also learning from their strength and resilience. 2020 is going to be an incredible year working together.