‘Youth are not something to check off your to do list’: Poetic inquiry into the symbols youth, parents and professionals use to reimagine supports for youth in foster care

Shelby L. Clark, Becci A. Akin, Sarah McCall, Meg Paceley, Kaela Byers, Mariana Gomez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The child welfare system is characterized by fixed power structures, coercion and hierarchies that privilege the perspectives of a select few. These oppressive aspects of the system quelch youth voice and others' voices, especially those with lived experience, frequently omitting them from case- and system-level decisions. Acknowledging the empowering potential of creative and arts-based research, this study used poetic inquiry with youth in or formerly in foster care, parent partners and professionals working in child welfare, inviting them to reimagine how the system could support youth in foster care towards thriving. Through seven poetry focus groups, 41 participants wrote individual and relational poems. Analyses focused on how symbols were used and their suggestions for revisioning child welfare. Seven themes identified the types of symbols used in poems: 1) Nature/Natural Phenomena, 2) Human Body/Senses, 3) Actions, 4) Physical Objects, 5) Paperwork, Cases, Bureaucracy, 6) Connectedness/Family and 7) Strong Emotions. Beyond demonstrating a novel arts-based method, findings offer a new, creative space for understanding the foster care system. Symbols were powerful and cut across life experiences and identities. A key implication pointed to using symbolic language to aid the work of revisioning child welfare towards humanistic and embodied approaches, social justice and well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-599
Number of pages11
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Keywords

  • child welfare
  • foster care
  • poetic inquiry
  • symbolism
  • systems change
  • youth voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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