School of Education

Leeds Centre for Interdisciplinary Childhood and Youth Research


A student’s perspective on the LCYR child and youth poverty conference 2

I have recently graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Sociology. I am now studying a Masters in Childhood Studies, and then hope to become a social worker. I am passionate about challenging social inequality, particularly where children and young people are concerned. My dissertation for my undergraduate degree researched food poverty and inequality, with a particular focus on stigma. This was my first extended research project and was something I really enjoyed doing. My dissertation tutor, Kim Allen, brought the Child and Youth Poverty Conference to my attention. The conference was the first I have ever been to, and so I was very excited to attend.

The day was very enriching and enjoyable, and I learnt a lot from both of the keynote speakers Jonathon Bradshaw and Tracy Shildrick, and all of the papers discussed in the parallel sessions. The first parallel session I attended was chaired by Jonathon Darling and was centred on child welfare and youth justice. A particularly interesting paper for me was from Jayne Price, titled “Exploring the pathways and transitions between juvenile secure estate and adult penal institutions”. Jayne discussed the way in which young offenders move from a Young Offenders Institute to an adult establishment when they turn eighteen, receiving little help with the transition, despite the many differences in the two settings. This evidently presents problems and difficulties for the young people, but as Jayne points out, there are so few young people making the transition, the difficulties have not been discussed or researched in much detail, and are far from being resolved. Whilst I have always been interested in young people and crime, and have taken modules during my Sociology degree on crime in general, this is not a topic I have previously come across. I understand that Jayne is researching this topic for her PhD and I would be interested in keeping up to date with her research.

The second parallel session I attended was chaired by Gill Main and was on poverty and policy. Again, it was very enriching to hear about a variety of papers, but there were two papers in this session that were of particular interest to me. Abigail Knight discussed a paper which she has been involved in on “young people’s food experiences in contexts of poverty and gentrification”, and Annie Connolly discussed the beginnings of her research on “child food insecurity in the UK: dimensions, definitions and measurement – the importance of child self-report”. As previously mentioned my dissertation for my undergraduate degree was on food poverty and insecurity. To aid my research I worked at a food bank in Leeds for a year and learnt a lot about the topic through interviews and observations. When I was doing my literature review I found that there has not been that much research on the topic, despite it being a serious and rapidly increasing social issue. It was very exciting to hear about both of the papers, and I found I could relate to what was being said. My dissertation did not focus on young people, and I would take interest in looking at food poverty among young people specifically. These papers and the discussions at the conference have inspired this interest further.

The day ended with an open discussion, and I found it very valuable to listen to what other people had enjoyed and got out of the day. I found the conference useful for my studies, and I feel that there are papers I have been introduced to that will aid my Masters. I would definitely like to attend more academic conferences in the future!

Imogen Wilson 

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My First Conference Paper. By Annie, aged 41 and ¾

As a second year PhD student at Leeds, researching child food insecurity, I recently attended and presented at the LCYR conference on child and youth poverty. In this blog post I reflect not so much on the content of the conference but rather on my experiences as a postgraduate student reaching that daunting milestone of presenting your first academic conference paper.

To be totally honest, the spectre of my first academic conference hung over my whole summer. Actually, it didn’t so much hang, but was more like a little tiny knot in my stomach that was ever present, except for about 15 minutes whilst I attempted to body board in the North Sea. I got used to public speaking in my 20s, then had a decade of not needing to (very little call for it when you own a restaurant and live music venue). And so when I received the email confirming my abstract had been accepted for the LCYR conference it became a BIG issue. The thought of standing up in front of people made me want to be sick on the floor. But practice makes perfect and so I recently got used to speaking to activists and non-academic people through my voluntary campaigning work. But in terms of having academics listening to every word I say? Ugh. I am still waiting for them (not sure who ‘them’ is, but they loom large) to find me out as an imposter, and kick me out of the University. So this is why I had that tiny knot in my stomach over the summer holidays. However ……

The LCYR conference came at the end of a fortnight in which I attended two day-long workshops (one for academics and the other a multi-sector event), went to my first ‘big’ academic conference, and travelled to London for a campaigning meeting (on the topic I am working on – food poverty – but not directly connected to my PhD). So I was full of conversations and new contacts and ideas and examples of how NOT to do a presentation. It was maybe because of this that on the morning I felt fine. I introduced myself to Kim Allen, one of the organisers, and she asked me how I was feeling about presenting. By doing this she acknowledged that I might be feeling something other than totally nonplussed and made it ok to be nervous. Which then made me feel less nervous.

It was a really fantastic day and marked a kind of tipping point for me – I came home saying that I finally felt like an academic. I don’t think it was just that I popped my academic conference cherry, but rather that I really liked all the people who were there, and felt proud to be associated with them.

Attending the conference helped me reflect on and refine my own research. In particular it reinforced for me that small sample studies are legitimate and can generate useful data. Desperate to ensure that my PhD study is useful and will have impact, I had originally planned to do what I now realise is an unrealistic number of interviews. Since the conference I have halved my proposed sample. This is a direct result of a conversation with a fellow researcher with 20 years of experience in my area who kindly came over to talk to me after I had presented, and listening to other presentations on the day which drew on small samples. These papers confirmed that despite being ‘fragments’, individuals’ stories are a ‘rich elaboration of experiences’ (Emmel, 2013 p. 139) and, as such, can be very powerful.

I also learnt several important things about conferences:

  • Reading your presentation is ok – if you do a TEDtalk, then you have to spend three months learning it off by heart, but otherwise, it’s absolutely fine.
  • Lots of people get really nervous – all the other PhD students I spoke to that morning said they were feeling scared about their talks.
  • Pictures are good – Katy McEwan did an amazing presentation with beautiful, arresting images and about 25 words of text in the whole thing and I loved it.
  • I will take away a few shocking statistics –for example, I learnt that 52% of Indonesian children do not have any kind of sanitation in their homes.
  • One of the best things about conferences is all the connections you make with people.
  • The pub afterwards is the best bit.

I think actually everybody knows these things already. But my number one best ever top tip for public speaking that I’m going to share came from my little sister who stands up in front of audiences of hundreds of people. She said: ‘WEAR A TOP THAT DOESN’T SHOW THE SWEAT’.

Annie Connolly

References: Emmel, N. 2013. Sampling and choosing cases in qualitative research. A realist approach. SAGE Publications.

About Annie: I am a ‘non-standard’ PhD student. For that, read old (nearly 42), a parent, and not having been in an academic environment or research before. I have a background in project management, campaigning and owning a restaurant and live music venue. I did an MSc in Food Policy in attempt to bring together my campaigning and my constant ranting about food and social justice and somehow ended up doing a PhD. My study is about child food insecurity and the impact of welfare reform on household food insecurity. I love the topic of food, as it is a brilliant lens through which you can examine any issue: the environment, gender, class, neoliberalism, social justice. I tweet at @connolly_annie and more information about my research can be found here:

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A student’s perspective on the LCYR child and youth poverty conference

Despite what felt like the end to the summer weather, it didn’t stop the delegates arriving at Devonshire Halls of Residence for the LCYR’s first ever conference. What a lovely setting for the conference. The organisation of the rooms and catering was fantastic and as a student helper it was wonderful to meet so many different people and have the opportunity to take part in this, the first of such conferences. Having never been to anything like it before I was a little unsure what to expect. I had nothing to worry about. The speakers all presented their papers in an accessible way and I realised that what I had learned during my first year studying on the BA in Childhood Studies at Leeds with regards to academic writing and presentation skills will be useful in the future.

The conference theme of child poverty had been the subject of one of my assignments last year and so I felt I knew a little about some of the issues some children in poverty face. However, throughout the sessions as the speakers put forward their research I found myself stopping to think about this topic in new ways.

Having read work by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw last year it was great to put a face to the name and hear what he had to say about child poverty in Europe. As he showed in his keynote paper, it seems that the UK is still not getting it right when it comes to children’s well-being: although things seem to be getting better with time, according to his research data we are not doing as well as we thought in relation to other European countries.

I sat in on the education sessions which are of particular interest to me having worked in early years education for seven years prior to studying and volunteered in a school during my summer break. Several papers were of particular interest to me as an ex-practitioner. Donald Simpson’s paper “Quality early childhood education and care for children in poverty: routine supportive human technology or detrimental site for division?” struck a chord because I recognised some of the issues he raised such as the tendency to treat disadvantaged children slightly differently. He made me really think critically about the government’s notion that attending quality day care and reaching developmental goals somehow magically lifts disadvantaged children out of poverty.  Donald’s research also highlighted the fact that often practitioners receive no specific training in how to help disadvantaged children and their families, something I could relate to as an ex-practitioner.

Dr Steven Puttick and Tony Luby’s research on “Teacher’s perceptions of poverty”, similarly suggested that teachers don’t always have the understanding of what it means to be living in a deprived area or the issues faced by families living in poverty. They pointed out that emotional poverty is often seen by schools as the easiest and cheapest form of poverty to address, through being welcoming and providing support for all. Again I found this resonated with my experiences of school settings but one I had never previously stood back and thought about.

After a delicious lunch Professor Tracy Shildrick gave her keynote paper about ‘Youth disadvantage and the new politics of poverty’. It was particularly fascinating to hear how the language used to describe disadvantaged people is often stigmatizing and hides what such families face and are trying to do to help themselves.

In the afternoon education session I got to listen to Taiwo Gbadegesin speak about her research in Nigeria. It was very interesting to discover that children living in poverty in Nigeria face similar problems to children living in poverty here in the UK. This is something I had never considered as the media often portrays each country’s problems very differently.

I really enjoyed the experience of being part of the conference and would recommend other students getting involved in the future. It gave me the inspiration to consider continuing with my studies post-graduation and also got me thinking about possible dissertation topics. Attending the conference enabled me to make links with topics I studied in my first year and I am sure I will be able to use some of the research in my future studies. This experience certainly got me thinking about what it might mean to live in poverty and how those working with children in poverty can make their lives perhaps just a bit easier.

Catherine Denham

About Catherine: I am married and mum to two grown up boys who still live at home. I am currently in my second year as a mature student at the University of Leeds studying for a BA in Childhood Studies. Prior to studying I worked in a preschool for seven years where I became a Forest School leader. I have recently volunteered in a local primary school and at a Forest School. I continue to volunteer with young people though my role as cub scout leader. When I am not studying or volunteering I like to travel and have been lucky enough to visit Peru and Nepal where I was part of a group carrying out project work building infrastructure in remote villages.

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