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.