Researchers behind a collaborative project between the University and fostering charity The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) will find out tonight if they have been successful in the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) 2016 Engage awards.

Fostering Hope, which seeks to tackle a recruitment challenged faced by the charity and to shift public perceptions about fostering unaccompanied child refugees, is shortlisted by the NCCPE under the category ‘working in partnership’.

With limited seed funding made available via the University’s Public Engagement Unit, the team, which included members of the social work group within the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, worked closely with a group of fostered refugee children to bring their voice to the fore in order to break down the misconceptions that persist and act as barriers to fostering.

Some of the issues identified as barriers to fostering include concerns about meeting the cultural needs of the children, as well as misperceptions about what being an asylum seeker means.

A new video about the work shows how the participatory project involved running focus groups and workshops with foster carers and young people giving them a voice to drive the research. By providing cameras, the researchers challenged young people to document their day-to-day lives and activities, depoliticising ideas that persist and showing fostered refugees first and foremost as children.

Elaine Graham, Area Manager at TACT, said: “As a fostering service we are experiencing significant challenges in finding homes for young unaccompanied asylum seekers. This project was innovative in how it brought together research expertise from Bath to help us bring about change. Early results have been very good and this kind of work shows the importance of this kind of collaboration.”

Lead researcher behind the initiative, Dr Justin Rogers from the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, explained: “One of the most significant aspects about this work was that it enabled our group of young refugees to be the ones to lead the initiative to change perceptions. Through the activities we organised and the photo-voice project that this involved, not only did they enjoy and benefit from the work but it had added impact among other audiences too.”

Co-investigator, Caroline Hickman, said: “To be recognised by the NCCPE in this way is a real honour and recognition of the successful collaboration between University research and a local fostering agency facing a particular challenge. 'Fostering Hope' shows how, through a focus on public engagement from the outset, academic research can really help to drive important societal changes.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jonathan Knight who will also attend the awards ceremony added: “Fostering Hope shows the kinds of impacts that can be achieved through partnership working and by putting Public Engagement at the heart of your activities. We are delighted that this project has been shortlisted for the NCCPE’s national award.”

Paul Manners, Director of the NCCPE said: “The Engage Competition is a highlight of our work at the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement. It uncovers amazing people, projects, partners and research. This year did not disappoint. The quality of the applications has been higher than ever, showcasing the very best of engagement practice across all disciplines and participant groups - reaching from the very local to the global.”

There are six competition categories, and the winner of each category will receive a prize of £1,500 to go towards further public engagement work.

'Fostering Hope' is the first University of Bath project to be shortlisted for the NCCPE Awards. The other researcher involved was Dr Sam Carr, from the Department of Education.

Of the 180 applications received, another project – about improving parental engagement in schools - was also longlisted for the awards. This was led by Dr Janet Goodall in the Department of Education.

Dr Goodall explained: “This project provided schools with two important means of support for their work in partnership with parents: a toolkit they could use to structure their work, and a chance to come together with other schools to discuss, plan and share what they're doing.

“Schools have put impressive work into place to support parental engagement with learning, and many have absorbed the framework of the toolkit into their everyday working. Being long-listed for this award is a fantastic honour, and highlights the importance of working directly with schools to support partnership with parents.”

Listen to our researchers and Elaine Graham talk to Ali Vowels on BBC Bristol about the project - (2h 21)