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The wisdom of lived experience: Learning from adults who were once children in care

May 2022

Written by Lisa Cherry

The wisdom of lived experience: Learning from adults who were once children in care

Lisa Cherry is an author, researcher and leading international trainer and consultant, specialising in assisting schools, services and systems to create change that supports working with the legacy of trauma. Lisa has been working in Education and Children’s Services for over 30 years and combines academic knowledge and research with professional skills and personal experience.

Lisa’s MA research looked at the impact on education and employment for care experienced adults who experienced school exclusion as children in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Currently, Lisa is undertaking her DPhil studies at The University of Oxford in the Department of Education, asking the research question “How do care-experienced adults who have been excluded from school understand those experiences? How do their experiences deepen understandings of belonging?”

Lisa is the author of the hugely successful book ‘Conversations that make a difference for Children and Young People’ and ‘The Brightness of Stars’ 3rd Edition out in June 2022.

The beginnings …

As an adult with lived experience in out of home care, I have often wondered why adults with care experiences are not called upon to inform academic literature or service delivery. Is it that we – sometimes as early as 16 years of age, but definitely after 25 – fall off the radar because we have lost the allure of being a child in need of protection?

In 2009, as I approached midlife, my interest in adult stories about the care experience started to become harder to ignore within myself. I found my own ‘primal wounds’ bursting open, forcing me to deal with all that I had not yet dealt with. This internal exploration took me back to my arrival into the world in a mother and baby unit in 1970 before reflecting on the care experience that I had during my teenage years.

In 2013 I began to write The Brightness of Stars, due for release by Routledge, in its 3rd Edition in June 2022 by Routledge. The motivation for me in writing the 1st edition was to try and find other people with the shared experience of ‘being in care’ as I had felt very alone in the experience. The era of social media groups joining people together by their shared experiences or interests was yet to arrive so the feeling of isolation and therefore shame, was real. With some research, I found people who shared the experience. While not sharing all that the experience entails, because there are many different types of care experience, it was through the sharing of these and the impact of those experiences that the book was created. My own experience, the research I have undertaken and the writing of this book, has demonstrated that no two care experiences are the same, and this is both a challenge and an opportunity for policy and service provision.

 

Further research

After writing Brightness, I then went on to complete a Masters which looked at the experiences of care and school exclusion and how they impacted education and employment trajectories. Shortly after completing that, I began my PhD which I am still very much engrossed in.

My PhD research asks the question:

How do care-experienced adults who have been excluded from school understand those experiences? How do their experiences deepen understandings of belonging?

Having had both of those experiences myself, care and school exclusion, there is an acknowledgement that this is ‘insider research’ but it is the inclusion of exploring belonging that has really captured me and invites the question, how do we use belonging as an intervention? The question of ‘belonging’ has been the soundtrack to my life; where do I come from? Who do I belong to? Who do I matter to? Where shall I call home? The PhD then, feels like an accumulation of not just my professional experience in Children’s Services and Education, but also my academic knowledge and most importantly, my personal life and it is an honour to have the opportunity.

As I start to work through the wisdom (the data), there are some key messages about what creates ‘belonging’ and what doesn’t in the context of ruptured home life and ruptured school life during the child development period.

In my next blog, I’ll be sharing some of these insights with you and what it is that we can learn from adults with lived experiences that can impact our practice today for our children, for the adults that they will become.

 

Going further:

You can access more of Lisa’s writing and reflections here:

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