Exploring how to bridge the gaps in support for children and young people with parents or carers tackling substance issues - one story at a time.
In the Autumn of 2017, Snook were invited by Corra Foundation (formerly Lloyd’s TSB Foundation for Scotland) to build on action research, Everyone Has a Story. Part of the action research, completed by Icecream Architecture, involved young people exploring how they would want to share their story. The title ‘Everyone Has a Story’ was suggested by young people engaged in this pre-discovery phase.
Corra Foundation had identified that there was a gap in support for children and young people who had parents or carers in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. A key outcome from the research was that many children and young people experienced difficulty adjusting to new routines and behaviours displayed by parents/carers, and that some felt a lack of support as their family situation was perceived as getting ‘better’. Furthermore, in some cases a child or young person did not realise their family situation was different to that of other children and young people, until their guardian began taking steps towards recovery. For children and young people, it was difficult to know where or who to turn to for help.
Taking control of stories
A core theme emerging from the research was a strong desire from children and young people to be able to tell their stories in their own words, without paraphrasing or dilution from professionals. It was understood that many children and young people had experienced situations where intimate details of their situations had been widely shared amongst professionals without their consent. This left already vulnerable individuals feeling that their stories were out of their control. Following on from this, there was also an expressed desire to include positive stories of daily life, as well as success stories.
Funding from the Scottish Government enabled Corra Foundation to progress the recommendations and explore how stories could be shared. With the help of Corra Foundation and Clued Up Project – a support and information centre for children and young people up to the age of 25 in Kirkcaldy – Snook conducted multiple workshops, drop-in sessions, and meetings with key stakeholders. The aim was to understand where a storytelling service could potentially sit within an existing care and support framework.
To support this, we spoke to children and young people between 8 and 27 years of age, teachers, support workers, and multiple organisations to ensure a breadth and depth of engagement.
Challenges, learnings and digital storytelling
Working with such a wide range of children and young people brought interesting challenges in itself. With younger people (8-17 years of age) the difficulty lay with prolonged engagement in activities. To tackle this, we made sure that workshops were kept to no longer than an hour and that at least two Snooks facilitated the sessions. This made it easier to break big groups into smaller ones and get better engagement.
We designed activities around digital storytelling, such as paper app prototyping and using true, anonymised, personas to guide discussions. With the younger groups we found that their interests lay in the reading and viewing of other children and young people’s stories, as they felt: “It’s a good way for young people to get things off their chest, and to see that there’s other people like them”.
For older groups (18-27 years of age) we found the best conversations and insights came from informal drop in sessions at youth centres. Older groups engaged well with the concept of increased control over who hears your story, and when. Some children and young people who had been involved in the care system for longer periods said they would ‘know what to say’ to avoid consequences, such as involvement of social services. On the other hand, sometimes we heard of a lack of control when it came to information. One guest at a youth centre we visited recalled an instance whereby she had told a doctor sensitive details about her life situation. That information had then been widely spread among the staff without her consent. In that moment she said she felt that her story was out of her control.
The importance of storytelling
How a story is shared can have great impact on the wellbeing of the person it belongs to. It was important to us, our operations group within Corra Foundation, Clued Up, and the children and young people we spoke to, that whatever the outcome there were many different ways to express yourself. For individuals where verbal or written storytelling was a barrier, we recognised that visual communication was a powerful tool. Drawing and visual storytelling tools are already widely used by practitioners to understand a child or young person’s situation, and can be successfully used to encourage conversation in one-on-one sessions.
The insights we gained from speaking to professionals further ignited questions about how a story sharing service could impact both their professional practice, and the children and young people they work with:
- How could the service be used to improve the professionals’ understanding of children and young people’s experiences with drug and alcohol related issues?
- In what situations could a child or young person access the service?
- Who would be eligible to provide access to the service for a child or young person?
- And perhaps most importantly, what safeguarding should be in place if a child or young person reveals information that requires urgent attention or finds themselves in crisis?
Building a prototype
To try to answer these questions we worked closely with the operations group and children and young people we had encountered during the research. We brought our UX Snook, Victoria, on board so we could develop a prototype of the digital service, with a keen focus on how it could best support both the children and young people and the professionals that needed it.
We outlined the core functions of the digital service to be:
- Signing up and logging in
- Creating stories
- Sharing stories
- Viewing stories
- Tools and resources
- Chat support
We conducted usability testing of the prototype across our stakeholder groups, which uncovered multiple improvements and feedback. These included correcting the language we used for the content, making actions more intuitive, and making on-screen prompts more explicit. Our biggest challenge was that the service needed to serve multiple user groups, while still being an accessible, confidential, and safe platform.
Our aim for this project was that Corra Foundation would have the resources in the deliverables we supplied to explain the concepts and benefits clearly and interest potential investors. Along with the digital prototype which we built in InVision, we handed over a Service Blueprint of the core functions of the prototype, a service roadmap, and journey cards.
We wish Corra Foundation every success with this, and look forward to seeing what Everyone Has a Story will bring in the future.