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In Dialogue with Professor Sarah Crafter about her Talk at the OPRC Launch Event

Contestation at the borderlands between migration, childhood and care: An exploration of child language brokers and lone child migrants

Eka: What’s this talk all about, Sarah?

Sarah: This talk is about the care that children provide for other in the context of migration. For example, I talk about how young people who translate and interpret for family (known as child language brokering) do this activity for family members and that it can be considered an act of care. However, I also argue that child language brokering is made harder for young people because they often translate in public spaces that are embedded in hostile immigration contexts. I also talk about separated child migrants, these are children and young people who migrate alone or without kin. I discuss how it is important to focus on their care for each other but also how this care sometimes plugs a gap left from a lack of welfare and social care provision.

Eka: That is really thought-provoking. How did you get interested in this topic?

Sarah: As a cultural and critical-developmental psychologist I have always been interested in how the person and our social and cultural contexts, mutually constitute each other. In other words, culture is not a set of external variables but something integral to our psychological processes.  I’m also particularly interested in what this means for young people as they transition to adulthood. Developmental psychology has traditionally had strong ideas about how young people should steadily mature into a ‘fully formed’ adult. These ideas are quite widely accepted in much of Western society. In reality, children’s life experiences are very diverse and when your family migrates to a new country, young people often take on roles and responsibilities that they might not previously have done, like child language brokering. Exploring the lives of young people who undertake activities like child language brokering or who migrate across continents without kin, such as separated child migrants, opens up new ways of looking at childhood and adulthood. Ultimately, I hope these insights can help improve children’s lives.

Eka: So many people would relate to experiences like that. So, how do you research something like this, and specifically, how do you research it in relation to psychological science?

Sarah: Children and young people can find it quite difficult to talk about some of their life experiences, especially if they are potentially difficult or challenging. Speaking to the young people who do child language brokering is interesting because they often tell you it is a normal part of their everyday lives, so they can’t understand why you might be interested. Equally, it is often an activity they don’t talk about with others outside the family. Separated child migrants have invariably been through very difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences and don’t want yet another adult asking them about their lives. Therefore, we usually try to use approaches that are less intrusive such as vignette methodology or participatory approaches. The way I use vignette methodology is to present a short story, perhaps about an incidence involving a child language broker and ask the young person questions about the vignette. They can choose to comment only on the story character or they can talk about their own experiences if they want to. I have also used participatory approaches in the form of arts-based methodologies, such as drawing, role-play and podcast creation as a means of giving young people alternative ways of expressing themselves.

Eka: That’s great, but why are those results important?

Sarah: This research is important because in many ways because young people in general, and children from diverse backgrounds in particular, don’t always have their views and opinions properly represented in both academia and the wider public world. As I mentioned above, these young people often undertake activities which happen all the time but are rarely discussed or made visible. Sometimes, their activities raise understandable concerns among adults because they are not considered to be sufficiently ‘child-like’. However, it is really important that we seek to understand young people’s lives as they are lived and experienced.

Eka: So, what’s next in this line of research?

Sarah: At the moment I am working on an international project funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme which focuses on improving the lives of migrant and refugee children in learning environments. It is called ‘NEW ABC: Networking the educational world: Across boundaries for community-building’. In the UK, I am working with Professor Guida de Abreu from Oxford Brookes University and our postdoctoral researcher Dr Nelli Stavropoulou, to develop an after-school program that supports young translators. A central part of our approach is to work co-collaboratively with young people to talk about care and what care looks like for the lives of young translators and those who are multilingual. We hope that the resources we develop through that collaboration can help young people in other schools.

Eka: Thank you Sarah for this very interesting dialogue.

Please see below the original blog about Sarah’s talk and the link to the recorded talk.

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