Deborah conducts co-research that recognises that participants are experts in their own lives and should be central to social research. She is particularly interested in children and young people’s participation across the broad contexts of their everyday lives and spaces of active influence. She innovates in research with children and young people by encouraging art and mark making to express and understand often unnoticed activism and moments of resistance to oppression that normative systems may reproduce.
Through being reminded every day by children and young people, as artist, as educator, as carer and as researcher, that we never stop learning when we remain curious and open to new ideas, Deborah’s work seeks to encourage generations to build alliances for change by looking differently through the many lenses that children and young people are able to construct. These draw out the complexity of human systems and their intra-connectedness with the world and the relationships that we all need to thrive. In exploring these methods and theories, Deborah seeks to explore new ways of understanding participation by recognising the emergence and novelty that is possible when we attend to process rather than narrow pre-conceived outputs.
Deborah is a Co-Director and active member of the Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation. She is committed to building a centre which keeps children and young people at the heart of all we do but also reaches out to the broad range of disciplines that have the potential to influence policy affecting children and young people’s lives for the better. Deborah is developing participatory approaches that can enable marginalised children and young people to positively exercise their rights to influence matters that affect them, including in their everyday school lives, a context that Childhood studies has highlighted must change. Work includes interdisciplinary and interagency approaches to enabling children and young people’s influence in schools and children and young people’s own views about what works and is meaningful. Deborah is also working with marginalised young people in community settings to explore what social inclusion and particularly belonging means to them and to co-create potential ways of building civic intergenerational alliances so that local planning and spending takes real account of what young people have identified as problems and solutions in their neighbourhoods.
Deborah’s academic career draws on interconnecting knowledge and skills from previous experiences as a teacher and as director and digital-media developer for her own company, creating educational, user oriented solutions, especially in children’s health. Her education experience spans secondary, primary, pre-school and voluntary sector education through arts, technology and interdisciplinary working. She has a particular interest in how such education can contribute to health and well-being. Collaborative projects include ‘The Asthma Files’ a multimedia intervention developed with medical, nursing, psychology and research staff from Nottingham University and multimedia practitioners in conjunction with the National Asthma Campaign and an advisory group of young people with asthma; ‘All About Diabetes’ with Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust funded by Merck, Sharp and Dohme; and ‘Guide to Living Independently’ for LCC with looked after young people about to leave care. Website design included work with the government Health Development Agency to help young people identify bias in websites, and the ‘Wired for Health’ suite of health education sites that were the fore-runners to Healthy Schools.
These experiences were consolidated through an MA Child Health and Social Care and then PhD and have enabled Deborah to lead and contribute to a range of funded projects at UCLan and other institutions. Deborah’s interests in education and social policy are reflected in her PhD study ‘Children and the transformation of schools: enabling participation through intergenerational work’ 2017. This considered interdisciplinary understandings of children’s rights, education, childhood through complexity informed participatory action research locating these in plausible practice that takes meaningful account of school communities’ lived experience and perspectives. Children were engaged in their own cooperative research, with adults from their communities, which enabled them to shape spaces for change.