Photovoice Project Aims to Empower Child-Welfare Involved Youth to Effect Change
Life in the foster care system can be disempowering for young people whose lives have already been marked by upheaval. A project team led by NYU Silver Professor Michelle Munson is partnering with current and former foster youth to empower them through photography and the written word. Titled Photovoice for Change (P4C), the endeavor is being funded by a $25,000 grant from the Marion E. Kenworthy-Sarah H. Swift Foundation.
Dr. Munson’s collaborators on the project are Dr. Colleen Katz of Hunter College, CUNY; Children’s Village, a leading provider of services for youth in foster care; Dr. LaShawnda Kilgore, of the Children’s Defense Fund; members of the Youth Advisory Board at Court Appointed Special Advocates, New York City (CASA NYC), and the youth who will participate. The Project Director is NYU Silver PhD Student Moiyattu Banya.
Foster Youth as Full Partners
Photovoice is a community-based method in which participants express themselves through photographs and text capturing aspects of their lives and environments, a process that has been found to empower youth while reducing their mental distress and improving their overall well-being. “The idea of Photovoice is to center the voices of the communities that you're working with,” said Ms. Banya. “It allows youth to document their own lived experiences; they have the agency to tell their stories from their own perspective. In this case, we’re literally putting cameras in the hands of young people who have been through the foster care system to tell us the places and spaces that are most important to them and that have shaped their lives in some way.”
The P4C project will enroll 20 youth who have been in foster care. They will engage in Photovoice, documenting up to five places and spaces that have impacted their lives while in care. The theme of the project, “The Places and Spaces that Have Impacted Your Journey,” emerged from a focus group with CASA-NYC Youth Advisory Board members, who themselves have all aged out of foster care in New York City.
“There are few studies that include the voices and perspectives of youth and fewer still that involve youth as full partners,” said Dr. Munson. “In this project, we’re using a Youth Participatory Action Research technique to redirect the field toward advancing practice approaches that reflect youth priorities and feature the images, voices and perspectives of these youth, amplifying their lived experiences.”
Leveraging Photo Themes to Inform Policy Change
After they have taken their photographs, P4C participants will attend small group sessions to present and discuss them with the project team and other youth, in the process evolving preliminary themes of important aspects of places which have impacted their lives. In addition, the project team will conduct semi-structured interviews with some of the participants, asking them to discuss their photographs, share how they experienced the P4C process, and describe the extent to which the project itself had an impact on their empowerment, social support, identity, mental health and overall well-being.
The youth participants will also be invited to collaborate with the project team on the analyses, publications and presentations of the findings, and to provide feedback on the refinement of program materials. The project will culminate with a gallery showing of the P4C photovoice images co-curated by the project team and the adolescent photographers, and a meeting to discuss how results can lead to improvements in the child welfare system.
“We are at an inflection point in child welfare services in the United States where many are calling for systems change,” said Dr. Munson. “This project is uniquely situated to improve mental health and empowerment, while informing systems change – with adolescents involved with child welfare leading the way.”