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Children of migration as brokers of 'care'

Sarah Crafter

The Open University hosted Sarah Crafter’s inaugural lecture on 30 November 2021.

Sarah Crafter, Professor in Cultural-Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counselling in the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, explored what it means for children and young people to be ‘brokers of care’ in the context of migration.

Drawing on her research with child language brokers (young translators) and separated child migrants, Professor Crafter explored transitions to adulthood through a sociocultural and critical psychological lens. By doing so, transitions are a dynamic process of change influenced by wider discourses and practices about what means to be a child and how we think about childhood across different socio -cultural, political and historical contexts. Intersecting with this wider landscape is a focus on dynamic change that occurs within a person’s sphere of experience, and in the interactions and relationships with others and objects.

Watch the recording of Professor Sarah Crafter’s inaugural lecture:

Rose: Good evening and thank you for joining us at the second in this year's Inaugural Lecture series. I'm Rose Capdevila, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I'm proud and privileged to be hosting one of the Inaugural Lectures which showcases our research, teaching and knowledge exchange portfolios. I'm also delighted that we can deliver this on campus and network in a COVID-compliant way after working from home for so long. Each year the Vice-Chancellor invites a selection of newly appointed and promoted Professors to give an Inaugural Lecture. Over the course of the year our Inaugural Lecture series provides an opportunity to celebrate academic excellence with each lecture representing a significant milestone in an academic’s career. So this evening we're hearing from Sarah Crafter, Professor in Cultural Developmental Psychology who will address what it means for children and young people to be brokers of care in the context of migration. Sarah will look at the challenges of the transition to adulthood for children of migration, particularly in an anti-immigration context which frame children's experiences. She'll draw on her own research with child language brokers who translate and interpret for family and friends and lone child migrants who are migrating without kin. But before we begin some housekeeping. The lecture will be followed by a Q&A session and then we invite you to celebrate with us downstairs. We ask that you follow the exit signs and leave the theatre that way. Okay, there we go. So for anyone in the audience using Twitter please feel free to tweet using the hashtag displayed. There you go and tagging @OpenUniversity and let the world join us this evening. For members of our audience joining us via LiveStream please use the email address provided and keep your comments and questions brief so we can address them during the Q&A.

Now some background about Sarah Crafter. Sarah Crafter is a Professor in Cultural Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counselling in the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Her work is broadly interested in young people's migration experiences and how they impact on their everyday lives, particularly transitions to adulthood. She is currently undertaking the following projects relating to this topic. Children Caring on the Move which investigates separated child migrants’ experiences of care and caring for others as they navigate the complexities of the immigration welfare nexus in England. NEW ABC: Networking the educational world - Across boundaries for community building. A €3M Horizon 2020 European Union-funded project aimed at enhancing the education and inclusion of refugee and migrant children across nine EU countries. Empowering young language brokers for inclusion and diversity which is part of an Erasmus Plus European Union programme and aims to get a better understanding of, and to provide more effective guidance for, child language brokers. She's part of a team that was recently awarded a National Institute for Health Research grant called E-PLAYS (Enhancing Pragmatic Language Skills for Young children with Social communication impairments, which will help to inform and shape the vital learning support provided by schools for children with social communication impairments and language needs. It now gives me great pleasure to introduce Professor Sarah Crafter.

Sarah: Well Rose, thank you for that kind introduction and thank you everyone for coming this evening and to those who are watching online. This Inaugural was first planned in 2020. It was postponed twice thanks to COVID so I can't tell you how lovely it is to be with you today. Now, of course, this Inaugural is to celebrate my becoming a Professor, but in reality, of course, no one becomes a Professor alone. In fact it is an accumulation of years’ worth of support, mentorship, collective wisdom, allyship, and I can't mention everyone who has touched my academic life, there are too many, but I can say that the work I draw on here are parts of projects of the last 15 years that involve my lovely colleagues to name a few Guida de Abreu, Tony Cline, Lindsay O'Dell, Evangelia Prokopiou, Humera Iqbal, Rachel Rosen and so many more I can't name them all. But this is their collective work today as well as my own.

I'm going to start with the story of Dimitar. Dimitar was 14 years old when I interviewed him as part of a study and he was telling me about the time that his family moved to England from Bulgaria. He was translating and interpreting for his family. I asked him whether he had ever encountered any difficult or tricky situations. So he told me that when his family first moved here they rented an apartment and they handed over £1000 deposit to a landlord who turned out to be fake. Somehow they found out the identity of this man but they couldn't track him down so they called the police. Three or four days later a policeman came to their home. Now Dimitar as the person who had learned English the fastest in his family was the translator and interpreter for his parents. So Dimitar tells me ‘I was trying to tell them my side of the story and my parents said, ‘No, that's not how it happened’, but I was with them when this happened.’ Now Dimitar starts to realise that the policeman is getting a bit frustrated. So he says, ‘I was trying to explain to the police officer and it got really tense and the police officer started to get annoyed’. His parents realising that there's a little bit of a discrepancy between their son's description of events and their own description of the event said, ‘Look let's call friends. They'll do the interpreting.’ and he's says ‘No, I can do this.’ But I asked Dimitar ‘Why do you think in that situation the police officer was getting tense?’ He says, ‘I mean, he could see that my parents weren't from this country and the apartment was really bad and he knew like, how should I put this? I don't really know how to explain this but he didn't want to speak to us because we weren't English or something. Pure white British. He didn't want to understand what I was saying. He was awkward with my family.’ Now, he did explain that he didn't feel a police officer was annoyed with him per se, but he was annoyed a bit with his parents and with the situation, there's four or five people in the room, they're all talking over each other and Dimitar said, ‘I got really confused.’ I said to him, ‘It all sounds like a really busy conversation.’ He says, ‘Oh God, I don't want to relive that again. I just left the room. I went to my friend's house. I just gave up. I said, ‘Do it yourself.’’ Now I use this example because it shows the complex ways that children of migration play in the important settlement of their family and their friends when they move to a new country. Now firstly Dimitar is having to navigate communicating in a new language, and as I say children often learn it faster and therefore they become translators and interpreters for family, friends, the local community, and throughout my presentation I'll describe these as child language brokers.

Part of the complexity he faces as well is that he sees an increasingly hostile adult as part of this situation. Another part of the complexity relates to the difficult circumstances that many families face when they migrate but in his case it was being swindled out of a lot of money. In addition Dimitar you'll notice positioned himself through the eyes of the police officer. He's saying, ‘Oh he saw we weren't from this country, the apartment looks really bad.’ He perceived some of it was racism. ‘We were not pure white British.’ There's also tension with his parents. But this is also to do with his child status and his immigration status. On the one hand his immigration status, and I think his child language brokering is part of that, makes as he says the policeman feel awkward with his family. But it is his status as an adolescent which allows him to just leave the room because he doesn't want to deal with it anymore. Equally though, it could have been his status as an adolescent that would have meant he felt he couldn't leave and he had to stay put. So what I'm going to talk about in my talk is how child language brokering is an interesting activity through which we can study this complex relationship between migration, care and childhood. When we put care into the mix it enables us to focus on the rich dimensionality of children's lives, the contributions they make to family life, the resources they draw on, and yes, of course, the challenges they face. Now I draw on theoretical ideas of sociocultural psychology and critical developmental psychology to explore how these young people, and I'm also going to talk about separated child migrants as well as brokers of care.

So what do I mean by sociocultural theory? Sociocultural theory enables me to examine child language brokering as a practice mediated by social and cultural contexts. So the language brokering is seen as a situated practice. It involves the development of new skills, ongoing negotiation of cultural knowledge, the development of new identities where young people see themselves in new ways. Critical developmental psychology helps us to explain how this activity disrupts our ideas of children and childhood, what childhood should look like. So when you first heard that story of Dimitar you might have felt actually a bit discomforted by what he'd been through. Looking at childhood through the lens of critical developmental psychology sheds light on the ways that some childhoods are seen as transgressing what an ideal or normal childhood should look like, we often think of childhood as a time of dependence, innocence, vulnerability, staying close to the familial home and so on. Now in relation to this an important debate within the child language brokering literature is that children are engaging in adult-like activities which can lead to concerns that there's a kind of role reversal in the parental relationship. I'm going to delve a bit more deeply into that further on in my talk. In addition to these important debates I will argue that these issues need to be considered in context specific terms, so how language brokering can take place in hostile socio-political landscapes where young people and their families are subjected to racialised microaggressions or be living like Dimitar in difficult circumstances. In these situations language brokers are mediating between their family member, that private world of the family on the one hand, and the public world of institutions and authority figures sometimes on the other.

So for the most part of my talk I'm going to focus on language brokering, which I've explained. However towards the end of my talk I'll also draw on examples from research that explores the lives of separated child migrants or unaccompanied minors as you might be more familiar. These are children and young people who travel without kin, are under the age of 18 years of age and in our research project Children Caring on the Move, my colleagues and I are interested in this intersection between migration, care and childhood for separated child migrants and how they care for each other as they navigate asylum and welfare systems.

Now then, the ideas in this presentation as I mentioned at the beginning are borne out of 15 years of work, but most of the data that I'm drawing on in today's presentation is actually from a project funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council. In that project we were interested in children’s identities across different spaces of belonging. In this project, which I undertook with Humera Iqbal, we were interested in exploring how young people, they were all aged between 13 and 16 years of age, use their language brokering to navigate the cultural knowledge of the private world of their family and this public sphere out in public contexts like healthcare and so on. Now, one of the things I want to highlight is that during this study we gave the young people short vignettes, short stories, based on real scenarios and asked them to comment on that. All of the data that comes out of this presentation is responding to the vignette of Gabriella. So in this short story, Gabriella and her father need their heating fixed. They've gone to the local authority because they're in social housing, they can't get it fixed themselves. They've booked to have it fixed and nothing is happening. So they're in with the Housing Officer. The Housing Officer is getting increasingly annoyed because the thing is booked in, and Gabriella is getting also angry because he wants it fixed that day. He tells Gabriella to call the Housing Officer ‘a useless idiot’ and this sparked plenty of discussion from our young language brokers.

So what is child language brokering and why might it be a little bit contentious? Well, language brokering is a useful activity as I said to explore this relationship between migration, care and childhood and 15 years ago now two academics in the UK, Nigel Hall and Sylvia Sham, wrote that ‘child language brokering was an unseen aspect of children's contribution to family life’, even though it often takes place in really quite visible public settings, even though it's actually really quite common among migrant families, it remains and remained under-discussed both in academia and public arenas, and I really don't think very much has changed in that time. Notably child language brokering takes place across a variety of different situations and contexts. Everything that's really every day, going to the shops or translating and interpreting TV shows at home, through to more serious situations or contexts that might be healthcare, Accident and Emergency, social work situations, immigration offices, , solicitors offices, police situations and so on. So you can see that it does raise some important issues. Now as commentators like my colleague, Rachele Antonini in Italy have suggested and pointed out, these young people are not just translators and interpreters of words, they are linguistic and cultural brokers. They mediate between the family and the outside world, the cultural norms, knowledge, systems, they help their family understand the institutional systems of the context in which they are placed. They're often doing that in a situation where there's this other person of authority like the police officer in Dimitar’s case so it raises some obvious concerns that people might have for children doing this topic.

One of the other contentious concerns around child language brokering is that unlike professional interpreters where you anticipate that they'll do a fairly word for word translation for someone, children do and are known to influence what is being said and how it's being said and this makes adults nervous. We’re not very sure about it. But there are a variety of reasons why they might do that. So yes, one of the reasons might be to protect their own interests but really quite often they are actually advocating on behalf of family in order to ease their settlement into a new country. So Marjorie Orellana, who is an American academic big in this field, talked about how these children and young people act as the right hands to their family, the cultural bridge, or the broker between the cultures of home and the outside world. I mentioned of course before that it's seen as a somewhat adult-like activity, and we'll come back to that. Thirdly, and of course, not insignificantly, there are concerns about what impact this might have on their emotional feelings about it, the relationship between parents and children and whether it negatively impacts them in that way, and the dynamics about that are very mixed in terms of the research. However, the way myself and my colleagues have looked at this phenomenon is rather to think of it as a socioculturally mediated activity, and by this I mean that it is a complex and nuanced activity that is influenced by a range of social and cultural factors. It matters where it takes place. So we can't assume it's the same doing this activity in Accident and Emergency as it is doing it in a shop. It matters who is involved. Now a lot of attention in the literature has focused on the parent-child relationship and, of course, this is important. But this activity, as I said, often takes place with an authority figure operating in what Reynolds and Orellana describe as predominantly monolingual and often white public institutions and spaces. So if you're doing this activity in the doctor's surgery or the bank, it's the authority figure that these young people are also dealing with. It matters what the goals of the task are of course. Now I remember one of our participants in this study, her name was Jola and she was describing a situation where she had gone to the bank with her father. The father had got out his bank card and momentarily forgot his PIN number. So one of the bank personnel comes over and asks what's going on and she translates ‘Oh, it's okay, my dad's just forgotten his PIN number.’ Then she describes bank personnel coming from all directions and she described to me feeling like her and her father were being treated suspiciously. Everyone was talking over her and she remembers feeling that it was a stressful situation. He just momentarily forgot his PIN number. We can ask ourselves if you're white, British and monolingual and you’ve forgotten your PIN number would so much fuss be made of that inside the bank.

So why might we be discomforted by the notion of young people engaging in these kinds of activities? Well the answer to that depends largely on the theoretical ideas that are brought to bear when we study this phenomenon. Now from across a range of disciplines, critical psychology, sociology of childhood, childhood studies and more, there has been a lot of scrutiny about how we understand childhood, that our understanding of childhood and what children should be doing varies a lot across historical, social, cultural and political contexts. Building on ideas from a range of scholars, Erica Burman, James and Prout, Lindsay O’Dell and many others, they have suggested that normative or dominant understandings of childhood are really representative of quite modern and Western framings of what children and childhood should look like, which as I said is this time of innocence, vulnerability, in need of adult care and protection. Psychology has been a particularly powerful influencer in developing this notion. This might be a really quite familiar sort of metaphor or a symbolic picture for you. This notion that children grow through a series of stages when they reach the kind of pinnacle of adulthood usually at 18 years of age, which is a rather arbitrary milestone that we've just plucked for not very good reasons. But this image is very powerful and pervasive in our society in all sorts of areas and Durley wrote that ‘ideas of development are so powerful they're deeply embedded in our consciousness as a society, particularly in the West.’ What's the problem with that? Well you might ask and it would be a good question. In my book, which I wrote with Rachel Maunder and Laura Soulsby, we talked about what it means if you place children in these particular normative stages or patterns. After all sometimes our understanding of what a normal or normative stage should look like helps us to provide support for children who need it. That's no bad thing of course. The problem is if we assume that there is this normative fit then it presents a problem for children who sit outside these stages, who transgress the fit to the pattern. Now immigrant children arguably sit outside of this normative framework and Orellana also mentions that immigrant childhoods are treated different from the childhoods of children who have settled for generations. Almost immigrant childhoods shine a spotlight on how heterogeneous or diverse children’s childhood experiences of growing up might be and somewhat ironically we most notice what's happening in children's lives when they step outside the bounds of what we consider to be appropriate ways of being and behaving.

So coming back to language brokering this is an activity that arguably transgresses some of these normal or normative ideas of children being dependent on parents, and then having this gradual move to independence because they're taking up quite adult roles and responsibilities.

Let's look how that might play out with the experiences of young people during the language brokering activities. So I'm going to tell you the story of Ellora, one of our interviewees. Now Ellora was telling us that her Auntie had actually preceded her and her mother ahead of their migration to the UK. Her Auntie had already had this difficult situation that I explained in the vignette about Gabriella where the landlord wouldn't fix anything and the housing local authority wouldn't fix anything, so she'd got an idea about how systems worked. Incidentally, she also told me that the first flat she stayed in was rat infested and it just sounded really horrible. But in thinking through this dilemma of Gabriella, the vignette I told you about of going to the housing office with the father, Humera who was interviewing her asks, ‘What do you think the Housing Officer thinks of Gabriella?’ Ellora replies, ’He just thinks like she's just under 16, she's just a kid, she shouldn't even be there and he doesn't really get the importance. He knows that he just needs to say the things to her, and she needs to translate to her father.’ She goes on to say, ‘Maybe he thinks that Gabriella is just a little child, he is annoyed for this as well.’ Humera goes on to ask her, ‘Have you ever had those feelings?’ ‘Yeah, like once, we couldn't turn on the heater so my mum called the landlord. Sometimes with my mum there were things she didn't understand and the landlord would tell me but with an annoyed way, like he didn't want me to get involved, because I was little as people said, so yes.’ Both in our study and in previous work with colleagues, young people have a very strong sense of how adults view their age status. They know when they step outside the boundaries of normal or normative activities that are considered okay for children to do.

So we've now addressed dominant ideas of childhood and how they might influence or frame a practice like child language brokering. So now let's bring care back into the frame. When we think about care, either in the social sciences or just lay public perceptions about children's lives, care is usually associated or framed in a narrow form. In other words, care is what parents provide children. It is not what children provide for parents. Or if a child doesn't have kin, like separated child migrants, it's the state or representatives of the state like social workers who provide the care. Now as another academic in the US, Garcia Sanchez says, ‘There are three key outcomes to these dominant ideas and discourses about the care provided by children. One, that children are beings in need of care, developmentally unable to provide it. Two, there is a tendency to treat the care that children provide as developmentally wrong, sometimes even pathological and unambiguously burdensome. Three, any kind of care work, in fact whether it's by adults or children tends to be undervalued anyway.’ So when we shine a spotlight on children's care and the care that they give, we even develop whole new phrases for it. ‘Young carers’, ‘children as caregivers’, where in reality, in fact there's so many examples of children providing care as a resource within the context of family life, for example, contributing to the household. So why and where do these ideas come from and why are we discomforted by the idea of children as caregivers, rather than children and caregivers? Arguably it's because it is associated with the kind of activity that an adult undertakes. Therefore it seemed to go against the norm. One of the ways in which this has played out in the child language brokering literature is through this idea of the parentified child and Humera Iqbal and I wrote about this in a recent article for the journal Children In Society.

So, these normative developmentals of childhood invariably position family relationships where the adults are the carers and the children are the cared for. In turn, activities that are considered to be premature or lead to this accelerated transition to adulthood are seen to transgress or indeed even rob children of their expected childhood and therefore children with caring responsibilities fit into this as well. Hence the concern that children are burdened with these adult-like activities. Now, as I say, in the child language brokering literature this has sometimes been called the parentified child, but in this paper Humera and I really wanted to unsettle or unpick that notion. So the parentified child concept suggests that the family system is destabilised by this role reversal in the hierarchical order of family life. Children are taking on the adult roles and the adults are subsumed, thereby giving children too much power and responsibility. There's also been other terminology for it, adultification, parentification, role-reversal and so on. We argued though that instead of thinking of the parent-child relationship as a role-reversal, or the parentified child, we can see child language brokering as part of the general role distribution of family practices and responsibilities, of care practices essentially, that are part of the everyday support that a child might provide for their family, particularly in the case of migration, thinking of it rather as a caregiving continuum. That's not to say that it's an activity that's always easy. But we are saying that it's integrally linked to being part of the family, and part of this tripart interaction with this adult other.

So let's turn to the story of Isabella. Isabella describes a situation at the doctor's where she encounters a difficult receptionist. She says, ’One time it was a woman, and I didn't know how to say that my mum was sick, she’d got a cold and I didn't know what to say what she needed and the woman was saying, ‘I don't know what she needs so I can't tell you.’ She just told me to go away.’ I asked if this was the doctor or the receptionist? ‘A receptionist. I was like, ‘No, I need to tell you because my mum is sick, she needs something.’ I don't like how some people don't have patience for ones who don't speak fluently.’ I asked her ‘What did you do in this situation? What did you say?’ ‘I just asked the woman for other people so that they had time for me to express myself because I can't. It's also my fault that I couldn't speak English. I just asked for other people, someone who had time and not like her. She just talked to me in a way that was disturbing. When I'm trying to sort something out for my mum or my family, I just want to do the right thing and find a solution for what they need. When people act rude with me because of the way I talk and they don't understand me, I just want to, if there's other people that could help me, I just want to find someone.’ So here is an example of a language broker seeking something on behalf of a family member, yes, in quite an adult-like situation. But equally what she's undergoing can be framed as a family care practice where Isabella draws on her own resources to ensure that even within a hostile context she gets what she needs for her mother. It also, you can see appears, that there are some audible racialised potential microaggressions that young people are facing in public spaces and I've argued that young people's lives are made more complicated by these outside forces.

So far we've looked at the intersection between childhood and care. Now I want to turn to the issue of migration and the sociocultural context. So in my introduction I mentioned context really matters. Well, yes, of course, context really matters. It's rather a silly thing to say on the face of it. But traditional psychological approaches have tended to look at the impact on child language brokers emotionally, for example, so whether it creates anxiety or distress or increases empathy, or they focused on behavioural associations. Does it lead to risk-taking behaviour, pro-social behaviour, and, of course, they've looked at the parent-child bonding and relationships and those approaches are useful. But they don't tell us much about the social, cultural and political aspects of the context. So firstly, thinking about that. Child language brokering takes place in a very public sphere of experience where child language brokers are audibly visible and often hyper-aware of being on display. You got the sense of that I think with Dimitar and Jola, their stories, potentially leaving the broker to feel uncomfortable. Secondly, and I think it's important to recognise that the long-term austerity cuts have had a real impact on children and their families. Mobilities leading to new language challenges are difficult for children and their families but since these austerity cuts public services have been cut a great deal and so have language lessons, and they've never fully recovered so children come into that space or gap. I think it's also important to recognise the rise in anti-immigration sentiment following the referendum of post-Brexit Britain, which arguably for language brokers because it's a mediational activity that marks out one's immigrant status potentially also heightens what they're really going through and as Yeo and many others have argued, this hostile immigration status is a package of measures that are designed to make life difficult for migrants both to enter and to stay in England.

So let's go to Rabiatou as an example of how parents and children might be treated negatively in difficult hostile situations. So Rabiatou like all the others has been given the vignette of Gabriella about the difficult Housing Officer and getting the heating fixed. It's important I think to say that not all of our young language brokers go through really difficult circumstances, many just go through life having nothing that really affects them very deeply. But when they do have big issues obviously they tend to stand out. Now in this example Rabiatou describes going to the police station to report a stolen laptop. She says, ‘Because I went once with my mum because my laptop got stolen and I went there and I think it had something to do with race. They were like, ‘Oh’, because it was the brand new laptop that just came out. It was one of them and it got stolen. I even went there with the receipt and they were like, ‘Oh no’ and they didn't care. They said that they don't care and that it's probably not even my laptop. I probably stole it, the box and the thing. I said ‘Did you tell your mum what they said?’ ‘Yes.’ What did she say?’ She said, ‘She actually called them out and called them’ racist bastards’ and stuff like that and then she left.’ ‘How did you feel during that whole thing?’ ‘Annoyed because I was like, Where is my laptop? Like, I actually got it for my birthday. So I didn't even get why they were being disrespectful.’ Now like many young people from minority backgrounds our young language brokers experience racialised microaggressions from which they're afforded little protection and in part because they are the channel through which racism is communicated.

Now as I come to the conclusion of my talk I want to draw briefly on another project which is still ongoing and I mentioned it at the beginning, the Children Caring on the Move Project. This project focuses on the care that separated child migrants, sometimes known as unaccompanied minors, the care they give to each other as they're navigating asylum and welfare systems in England. Now care in this situation is complex because young people travelling without kin often travel with each other on precarious migration journeys and unlike child language brokers are not travelling usually with their own kin and family and in that way I suppose they also transgress normative childhoods. On the one hand their child status means that the state has a legal duty to protect them when they arrive. But on the other hand their immigration status means they're subjected to ever tightening immigration control, which I've just explained can be encapsulated in the hostile immigration environment. So my colleagues and I wanted to explore what that meant from their perspective and also the perspective of adult stakeholders who as part of their job might have some kind of care connection. Thinking through the complexities of care within a hostile immigration environment, I want to leave you with this quote from Bushra. So Bushra worked for an NGO in the south of England, a charity, and she was asked to recount a situation where separated child migrants cared for each other. She had no problem to do this and many of our adult interviewees didn't either. Yes, she said, all the time, she talked about how they would bring each other support, help with food, help each other with travel, help each other with accommodation, support each other when they had mental health difficulties, trying to get support and so on. Shiami who's the researcher on the project asks Bushra ‘So what are your views on children's care of each other?’ She replied, ‘I think that it shouldn't really happen because it just puts too much pressure on young adults you know, it's a lot of responsibility and you know we shouldn't even exist because there should be a better system. It's heart-warming to see that but it's also quite sad to see that because the system has failed and there is nothing in place in the system, not for a charitable organisation, or statutory organisations to support these mainly young men.’ ‘So who steps in?’ ‘Other young people rather than even the community, you know, because a lot of communities they have settled here, you know, they've been here for such a long time, they don't have a concept or knowledge of what's happening to children now in their country or in here.’

So just summing up. Much of my research life and that of my colleagues we have spent trying to understand young people's own perspectives on their lives, wanting to give them the opportunity to tell their own stories. We’ve spent a lot of time attempting to celebrate their multilingualism, attempting to really understand the resources that they bring to their family, trying to get recognition for the diversity of childhood and childhood experiences, and avoiding the pathologisation of childhood as well. But also, and to some extent child language brokering, but even more so when we focus on separated child migrants, it highlights that children should not be used to fill a gap left by the state or by institutions. There shouldn't be an expectation that the adult world doesn't have to play its part because children will pick up where they have failed. So we have to achieve a balance, recognising children's contributions, recognising the skills and resources and their language endeavours, their care for each other and their families, while also not allowing the state and institutions to leave children to fill the gap that their provision has failed to supply. Thank you very much for listening.

Rose: Thank you Sarah that was really, really interesting as your work always is. So now it's time to hear from you in the Lecture Theatre and online with any questions or comments that this talk has raised for you. So Sarah will you join me in the comfy seating area? So just before we take questions I just want to say if you have questions please introduce yourself and where you're from. We can't pass microphones because of COVID, the answer to so many questions. Also, can you speak loudly, I'll try to repeat it but we've had issues with people because we're streaming this obviously so people might not be able to hear it. So try to keep them short so we can answer as many as we can, also comments from people who are online. There's an email, I think it's up there on the screen. It should be. So we have a few minutes for that. I think there's one online.

Question: There's one that's come in by Livestream – Were the children asked how they feel about translating in this context? I'm interested as I was a child language broker and can think of some positives. I felt like I was doing someone good by helping my mum, and negative aspects of this experience. In my current field of work with refugees and asylum seekers we see the negative aspects. However it may be important to explore how children feel about their role.

Sarah: Yes, thank you very much for that. So this was a question about how do children feel in this situation that there's some positive aspects, but some negative aspects? I think it is a really important question because I think very often these young people do this task and the adult world doesn't ask them how they feel about it. They don't necessarily get thanked, they don't necessarily get acknowledged and in a way this was what I was saying about this whole idea of it being highly visible publicly, but almost invisible in the sense that it's very under-talked about and I think one of the consequences of that is that adults in many situations and contexts, not all but some, don't stop to say, ‘Are you happy to do this? Would you like us to get someone else? How are you feeling? Thank you very much for doing that.’ Of course there are also situations where children and young people should absolutely not be doing this activity. However that needs more research because I think it's quite complex. When you think about emergency situations where there's no one else who's available. I think we really haven't found out enough about what practitioners and professionals do in that situation and what children and young people do in that situation as well.

Question: There is another one that come that has come in on YouTube – Hi Sarah, congratulations on your Inaugural. I wondered if in your research on child language brokering the young people experienced the process of ‘becoming’ a language broker as a transition.

Sarah: Whether they experience becoming a language broker as a transition? It's a really good question and I'm not really sure that my research can deliver the answer. It's clear that children and young people engage in the activity from all sorts of ages and stages of their life, some that are really quite young, and then others it depends when your family arrives in the country. In our samples young people have talked about feeling good when they gain knowledge and skills and they're particularly pleased if one thing that language brokering does for them is improve both of their languages, the new host language and the language of their home. So they really value the improvement to that skill when it's valued and recognised and they enjoy the activity but we've never really explored per se that as a process of transition, the acquisition of competence, for example. So I think it's an interesting question that would need more research.

Question: We have quite a lot of incidents where we've had older people who have come from migrant families themselves and their kind of progression as an adult. Have you done much research into how being a child broker affects their later adult lives?

Sarah: So in case people can't hear I'll repeat what you've said. So you've asked about how language brokering affects adulthood and adult lives. Again, this is quite a niche research area which means there's so much that's under explored and I think the impact on adults is one of those that needs more exploration because, of course, for many young people they don't stop when they reach adulthood, they carry on needing to do this activity right throughout their lives. Scholars like Ann Phoenix and Marjorie Orellana have looked at language brokering in adulthood and some of their findings are that actually people reflect on their language brokering in quite different ways depending on when they're talking about it across the stage of their life. So there's no kind of simplistic this is the relationship between me and my language brokering. It depends what's going on in their lives, it depends how long they've had to do the activity and under what circumstances. So I think that's also quite a complex issue and I'd love to explore it more because I think that there’s a lot of adults who, for example, actually language broker for their parents’ elder care and yet we know nothing about that, as far as I know. I think actually there's one study in Belgium where children were negotiating dementia care for their parents and the challenges of that, but it's really under-explored as well.

Question: A brilliant talk Sarah, thank you. Your presentation rightly emphasised the challenges of being a young language broker, e.g. of being trapped in between family life and social institutions. What concrete institutional practices need to change in order to offset these challenges and associated negative consequences, i.e. what needs to be done in education, medical and similar settings?

Sarah: I think what really needs to be done in institutional settings is for there to be actual research and exploration into what it's like for a range of practitioners and professionals in these settings. In England and Wales at any rate last time I looked there was no policy guidance on what professionals are meant to do and how they're meant to handle that situation. Again, it goes back to that kind of invisible aspect of child language brokering. But I think that there is actually some research in Italy looking more on the professional’s side of things. So I think we need to do a lot more on that and I think there needs to be more policy and practice guidelines developed for different professionals undertaking different roles, because of course, it will be different depending on what needs to be done, what goals there are to achieve for children and young people and their families. A tricky thing, part of that is often families want their own children to be doing this activity, they trust them more, they know that what they say will remain confidential, they know that their child will advocate usually on their behalf, so there's a lot in the mix that needs to be explored further.

Johanna: I’m a colleague of Sarah’s. It was really fascinating and congratulations. I'm really fascinated to get a comment from you about the implications of children language brokering and caring on the move about issues around agency and voice and the way these practices seem to dissolve the usual binary issues we have in society of these practices around who can speak and who can say what’s going on and you have a kind of proxy agency and proxy voice emerging alongside a really interesting just from these few examples you gave us where children have been really stoical about their predicament and very insightful about what's going on. Okay, there’s racism, but what I do I just go, ‘okay, is there another person, I’m not getting angry, which is really humbling to see but it also says about all the children caring for each other saying, ‘okay, so where's the institution?’ What does that say about concepts of agency and voice if there’s a problem?

Sarah: Yeah, I think the notion of children's agency is always a tricky one isn't it? Because you're right, quite a lot of the sample from this study demonstrated a capacity to exert their agency, not all of course, but some did. Like what you picked up on there. There were lots of examples of young people strategising with parents before going to the doctors, for example, so that they weren't talking over each other, and they could sort out what needed to be said when. That's such a resourceful thing to do, and language brokers taking quite active roles in the language brokering. There were also examples of them using equally interesting strategies like taking a more neutral position in the language brokering, so much more akin to a professional interpreter so saying, ‘Well it's not me saying this, it's my dad. So don't have a go at me, it's my dad.’ So that's a really interesting strategy as well. Then like the Dimitar example, complete self-withdrawal, or becoming very silent and quiet, which I think you could position as a kind of act of agency in its own way because they're making a decision actually not to be part of the situation. So there's the capacity there. But there is, of course, a counter problem with that in some of these institutional situations because if a young person doesn't feel they have much choice but to be there doing it, if they're not given an option to say No, if an adult doesn't say ’How are you feeling about this?’ not everyone behaves like Dimitar which is to say, ‘I'm off. I'm going.’ Some young people described having to stick with a situation and not liking it very much. So it's a balance, but they are resourceful and I think it is important to bring that to bear on the field of study.

Rose: In case somebody didn’t hear the question, Johanna was asking about agency and voice and the way the children are using this and the institutional response.

Question: This short question is - how did you quantify your research?

Sarah: So I didn't quantify my research. There has been some past research which has looked at what they describe as the Who, the What, the Where and the When. Who's involved? How often does it happen? Who is it done for? and that's a more quantified approach. Most of that research has taken place in the US. There hasn't been any of that kind of research as far as I'm aware that's taken place in the UK context and it would be fascinating because at the moment, so for example census data can tell us how many people speak a second language. I'm not really familiar with census data but I think it also tells us parental language as well but there's no question about do you translate or interpret? This isn't part of any mass data collecting. So we really don't have a quantifiable notion of how many young people do this activity and under what varying contexts, certainly not in the UK.

Rose: Thank you Sarah for an excellent lecture. Thanks a lot again that was really great. I have a few more things to say, the official things. So we strive for continuous improvement and your feedback in helping to shape the series would be very, very welcome. So please do complete the feedback form that will be sent to you after the event. So the last thing to say really is thank you very much for joining us both here and obviously online where lots of people are actively engaged which is great. So thank you everyone for also supporting the OU and for those of you who are here in person, it's time to celebrate. So please join us downstairs. I hope you'll join us again for 2022 for more Inaugural Lectures. We are planning to run some from March to July next year and the details will appear on the OU Research website by the end of the year. Have a good evening and thank you again Sarah. Thank you very much.

About Professor Sarah Crafter

Sarah Crafter is a Professor in Cultural-Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counselling in the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Her work is broadly interested in young people’s migration experiences and how they impact on their everyday lives, particularly transitions to adulthood. She is currently undertaking the following projects relating to this topic:Children Caring on the Move; NEW ABC: Networking the educational world: Across boundaries for community-building and Empowering Young Language Brokers for Inclusion in Diversity (EYLBID).

Read more about Professor Crafter

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