Engaging young people through animation

Some young people are vulnerable to mental health problems which have a serious impact on quality of life and the ability to achieve and function in society. This is difficult for all young people affected by such problems, but even more so for those who are particularly vulnerable, such as those in care, and at times of stress such transitioning from one service to another. Our research project Transfer of Care at 17 looked at  two groups of potentially vulnerable 17 year olds:

  •  young people leaving local authority care
  •  young people leaving NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Our findings suggest that transitions may be compromised by poor mental health, particularly in young people leaving care. We also surveyed foster carers in our region and they told us that they would like more training, improved support and improved access to psychological services for the young people in their care with the greatest need. As a result, our researchers devised a training course to help foster carers identify, monitor and record core symptoms of emotional distress in young people entering foster care for the first time. The hypothesis is that early identification of mental health problems with timely and appropriate interventions will prevent the serious escalation of problems for young people at risk.

As part of the training course (called CloseUp), a short animated film was made by a group of young people who have experienced foster care first hand.  The film called ‘My Name is Joe’ gives a powerful insight into this life-changing experience, is freely available on YouTube, and has been very well received.

The young people involved in the making of the short film received an Outstanding Achievement Award at the Children’s’ Service Annual Awards. The film has also been used in social work seminars at Anglia Ruskin University and the University Admissions Office are exploring links with their Realise programme which aims to encourage young people in care to consider entering higher education.

Valerie Dunn, University of Cambridge and CLAHRC CP researcher, scientific co-ordinator for this project, said “The young people, supported by the adults, have co-produced a unique, raw, honest and insightful film which is a resource for use by multiple audiences, and has been used to train social workers and foster carers, and we’ve formed a strong link with a group of young people for future work.”

My Name is Joe was made with the help of Trish Shiel of Cambridgeshire Film Consortium, James Rogers, a recent Film Composition graduate at Anglia Ruskin University (under the supervision of Julio D’Escrivan Head of Department), and award-winning animator, Lizzy Hobbs of Spellbound Animation. A four day summer school was held for the group of 11 young people, during which time they learned new practical skills (animation, drawing, camera work, editing, sound recording), social skills (team work, collaboration, developing and sharing ideas) and had a glimpse of university life – an opportunity all too rarely open to young people in care. Val Dunn paid tribute to the role of Tom Mellow, Restorative Justice Coordinator at Cambs Youth Offending Service, “Tom brings creative techniques and exercises to create the conditions under which young people can explore sensitive, difficult and intensely personal matters safely. It’s important because the young people didn’t all know each other, or us, and or what to expect. The group created the character, Joe, through which they could explore their own experiences at a distance – Joe became the focus of the film.  One young person at the end of the 4 days commented ‘We’ve been talking about it, without talking about it’ – which was very insightful it and why it all worked so well.”

At the suggestion of the young people who made the first film, there is another film in the pipeline on leaving care. Workshops and an animation summer school will take place in August 2013, with the film launch planned as part of Cambridge Film Festival, September 2013. Val Dunn said “We will run workshops which introduce variety of animation styles, play with sound equipment, consider the issues, as well as introduce the research and practicalities of the project”.

See Val’s blog on the Rees Centre’s website.