Academic draws on her research and personal experiences as a teenager to drive forward change for children in care

Academic draws on her research and personal experiences as a teenager to drive forward change for children in care

An academic at the University of Cumbria is one of the leading lights behind a new national event aiming to change the care system by learning from those who have experience of it.

Dr Cat Hugman, who spent two years in foster care as a teenager, is part of a team staging The Care Experienced Conference at Liverpool Hope University tomorrow (26 April).

The conference, ‘The care experience – past, present and future?’, is a one-day event attracting more than 150 people with care experience aged 15-75 years old. A number of professionals from social work, academia, policy makers and education are also coming along to the day to listen and learn from the discussions.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has also given her support to the conference.

Organisers include Dr Hugman hopes it enables a much-needed debate about the care system past and present, and allows views of the wider community with experience of care to be considered by politicians and decision-makers enabling improvements to be made to practice and systems in the future.

Dr Hugman (pictured), a lecturer in social sciences, said: “The whole event is being crowdfunded and it is the first time this event is being held. I’m honoured and humbled to be a part of it. I’ve met so many members of the care experienced community compared to when I was in foster care.

“The conference involves people from across the country who come from a wide range of backgrounds including representatives from social work, the NHS and those who have care experience, whether that be as an individual who has been in some sort of care like adoption, fostering or kinship, or those who have supported youngsters.

“I’m part of the core steering group that has planned the event and I’m leading on the research strand on the back of my PhD. There are all sorts of statistics recorded for children in care but I hope that this can contribute to research about what the outcomes of care experienced people may be after the age of 25. Therefore this provides an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and celebrate the successes of many adults who spent some of their childhood in care.”

Dr Hugman, 33, was in foster care between the ages of 14 and 16. After not succeeding at her A-levels three times she embarked on an access course at the age of 20. She later achieved a degree in sociology, before going onto do a Masters in Social Research. Cat’s research for her PhD focused on giving space for the voices of older care-experienced people to tell their stories and develop understandings of the care experience across the life course.

Jim Greer, principal lecturer in social work at the University of Cumbria, said: “This is a very important development for the social work team to be represented on because it involves working jointly and on equal terms with people who have experienced the care system to create knowledge together.

“This is a practical application of social work values which place the perspective of people who use or have used social care services as the real expert perspective.”

* The University of Cumbria is hosting its third annual social work conference for students and practitioners in Carlisle on May 17. Further details are available here.