D E B B I E     W A T S O N

My background is as a school teacher and a sociologist. However, as a childhood academic in a department of social work and social policy, my work has increasingly focused on identity and wellbeing for children in care and adopted children. I passionately believe that academic understandings of narrative, identity and the role of tangible objects in memory work can be used to improve the outcomes for children and enable them to have a better sense of their story and their reasons for being in the care system, and that this has potential for lifelong positive mental health. Embedding objects within life story work offers massive potential and agency for children.

I chose trove because …

It is itself an object that enables children to cherish their objects and to build understandings of their care journey through these loved items.

Social workers focus on constructing a coherent narrative for children in the care system and this often takes the form of a life storybook (particularly for permanently placed children). But, through my research with adopted children and those in care, adopters, foster carers and social workers, I have been struck by how important tangible objects also are in enabling children to fill gaps in biographical memory and retain connections with past carers and family members.

This feels like a resource that we should be utilising and, importantly, places the child in the centre of the story making about their own life. But all too often children’s belongings become lost, displaced, damaged and without reminders from carers, their stories and connections to the child’s biography become lost. I have also been struck by the many accounts I have heard of children arriving in new placements with bin bags and scruffy cardboard boxes of ‘stuff’ and carers having to make sense of precious items. Things are important for all humans and connect us to relationships and events in our past. Surely this is crucial to preserve for the most vulnerable children in society?

trove has been co-designed and tested with many children and young people. It is a combination of a beautifully designed comforting storage bag, which is soft and enables things to be stored safely, and a bespoke multi-media storying app that is used on a mobile phone integrated within the fabric of the bag. Children can attach lots of different stories to loved objects using Near-Field communication technologies available on the phone. Working with creative designer Chloe Meineck, colleagues in computing science at Bristol University and three social work partners, we have now developed a prototype that we hope we can get into manufacture so that children who most need this tool are able to engage with.

trove represents this journey for me and I feel very privileged to have worked alongside amazing children and young people who have helped to design it.

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