OurhouseOur House: a short film in which young people talk about living in residential children’s homes

‘Our House’ is the third in a trilogy of films made by a group of researchers, film and sound artists, social care professionals and young people in care in Cambridgeshire. The young people put forward the issue of residential care as an important area they wanted to address through film. So in August 2014 we (see below for member of the team) gathered for our third animation summer school to bring their ideas to life through animation and sound. The result is ‘Our House’ which was screened to an invited audience on October 28th 2014.

You can see the film ‘Our House’ here.

The last 40 or so years has seen a shift away from residential children’s homes to foster care as the placement of choice for children and young people in care. The decline of residential care is the result of changes in policy and widespread negative perceptions as well as cost and quality. Over recent years revelations about physical and sexual abuse have contributed to the overall decline of residential homes. Increasingly, foster care is considered the most effective and cost-effective way to meet a child’s needs through the nurturing experience of family living. Foster care currently accounts for around 75% of all placements in the UK; residential care for around 9%, including secure units and hostels, although around 15% of young people in care will have lived in a residential placement at some point. Residential homes are increasingly used to place older children and those with the most serious problems, often manifest through severely challenging behaviour. Many such young people will have experienced previous failures in foster placements. Nowadays the majority of residential care is provided by the private or voluntary sector.

Much of the research shows negative or at least mixed outcomes for young people in residential care. However, many of the young people themselves have described positive experiences of residential living. Some studies have shown behavioural, social, emotional or educational improvements although some research suggests these may not always endure.

Our Approach

Over the last three years we have adopted a creative approach to working with young people in care, through workshops and summer schools in which we support and encourage young people to explore difficult and sensitive areas through sound, music and animation. Young people in care work with a team of professionals (animator, sound artist, film-maker, drama workshop facilitator, students of film) to explore the issues and experiences through drama, animation and music. Although film are the end product, the process is equally, if not more, important. The aims are to ALL learn from each other in a stimulating, trusting and safe environment, working towards a common goal and, crucially – to have a lot of fun. The young people learn new skills in terms of film-making, animation and sound recording but their learning extends to team-building skills, self-expression, learning a work routine, timing, working to deadlines and negotiation skills.

Our previous films

  • In 2012 we ran our first project to make a film about coming into the care system. The idea was to make a training film for a training programme we were devising for foster carers. The result was ‘My Name is Joe’. Ten young people were involved in this project. An accompanying ‘Behind the Scenes’ short shows the process.
  • In 2013 our second project, at the suggestion of the young people themselves, was on leaving care. The result was ‘Finding My Way’. This film also has a companion ‘Behind the Scenes’. These two films benefit from being viewed together.


Between them the two existing films have over 6,000 views on YouTube and are being used to train foster carers, social workers and young people all over the UK by local authorities, fostering agencies and colleges. They have been used in events from Bedford to Belfast. My Name is Joe has been incorporated into the new edition of The Skills to Foster (The Fostering Network), the most widely used training scheme in the UK for prospective foster carers. The young people won a British Film Institute (BFI) Future Film documentary award for Finding My Way in February 2014.

The Team

  • Valerie Dunn Research Associate, University of Cambridge/CLAHRC EoE
  • Trish Sheil Cambridgeshire Film Consortium
  • Lizzy Hobbs Animator
  • James Rogers Sound Artist
  • Tom Mellor Drama workshop facilitator/Restorative Justice Coordinator, Cambs youth Offending Service, Cambs County Council
  • Michelle Dean Children’s Social Care Participation Manager, Children’s Social Care – Participation Service, Cambs County Council
  • Ryd Cook Film-maker
  • Andy Dunn Film-maker
For more information contact: Valerie Dunn, vjd20@cam.ac.uk or 01223 746053
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