Children, young people and flooding: recovery and resilience

Flooding is the UK’s most serious civil contingency/hazard with more than 5 million properties at risk, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we can expect more severe flooding over the coming years. The acute storms and floods in the UK during the winter of 2013/14, and most recently in Cumbria, have revealed a problem which is now understood to be chronic. We have been working with two groups of children who were affected by these severe winter floods: in rural South Ferriby (Humberside) and urban Staines-Upon-Thames (Thames Valley).

In emergencies while children and young people have particular needs, they can also display resilience and contribute to informing and preparing themselves, their families and their communities. It is vital that we understand the effects of emergencies on children and young people so that policy can develop in ways that take account of both their needs and their contributions to resilience building, thus reducing the impact of future emergencies. However, children and young people are missing, virtually invisible to the emergency planning process in the UK and more widely, for disasters including extreme weather events, such as severe flooding. In this project we have set out:

  • To understand children’s experiences of the flooding, the impact on their lives, their resilience and the longer-term recovery process.
  • To discover how children can best be supported in a flood and how to enhance their resilience to future emergencies.
  • To influence emergency policy and practice to better meet the needs and build the resilience of children and young people.

Our creative workshops began with ‘walking and talking’, then 3D modelling, culminating in drama and theatre. During the walks children took photographs of things or places that reminded them of the flood, including some of the remaining flood-damaged furniture and carpets in skips. There were also scenes of recovery like houses being rebuilt and renovated and on-going essential drainage works. It’s not easy for people who have never been flooded to understand what it is like. It’s even difficult for people who have been flooded to convey what they have gone through. We started sharing about what happened by using 3D art to create models of the flood experiences. The use of theatre and drama also opened up a creative and imaginative space for the children and young people, allowing them not only to reflect on what had happened but envisage different possibilities and have a voice in future flood management. The final stakeholder events used theatre as a powerful way for the children and young people to communicate their ideas for change to decision makers. 

Children, young people and flooding: recovery and resilience

Materials have already been produced which aim to be a vehicle for children and young people’s engagement with policymakers and practitioners working in the area of emergency planning and management. These include the creation of Children and Young People’s Flood Manifestos which present their ideas for change around flood risk management and which were distributed at stakeholder events in the summer of 2015. We have also compiled the ‘Pledges’ that were made by the stakeholders who attended those events and were asked to commit to actions that they would take in response to the Flood Manifestos.

The flood project: a children’s manifesto for change is a film which highlights the children’s flood experiences and their involvement in this project as well as their ideas for action in the future. The Manifestos and the film are now being circulated among all the major agencies and authorities concerned with flood management. 

For example, genetic data is no longer limited to clinical settings. Forms of DIY genetic testing offered by companies such as 23andMe provide opportunities for people to not only collect their own DNA sample and send it in for analysis, but also to analyse the results through online portals. Yet these alternative ways of engaging with genetic data have sparked concerns contributing to the withdrawal of parts of 23andMe’s DIY kits, as well as the creation of DIY genetic testing guidelines.

Our work contributes to these discussions by exploring the ‘social life’ of health data. In the case of consumer genomics, we explore how movement shapes and forms part of different genetic data practices, for example how saliva ‘translates’ or becomes genetic data. Within the field of ovulation biosensing the social life of data also involves movement. We focus on what happens when data moves from online forums where people discuss fertility and pregnancy into General Practice and then back again to the forum; how does data itself change and how does it gain or lose authority as it moves through different contexts?  While this movement of data can seem banal, it has an important role in shaping ideas about fertility and the reproductive body. For example, through measuring, monitoring and testing for ovulation every month, women experience trying for a baby as complex and scientific yet paradoxically fertility becomes more elusive and mysterious.  The social life and movements of data in these ways have important social consequences.

Our research has developed through engagement with both non-academic and academic groups. We worked with social scientists and engineers at Intel Labs in Oregon for a 6-week period, learning about their research projects and obtaining insights into the workings of a research lab in a large corporate organisation. During this time, we contributed to discussions on technology and social science from each of our areas of expertise, while also exploring how these areas criss-cross within the field of health-related biosensing.

Another important part of our work has involved organising and undertaking two citizens’ panels on health biosensors.  One of the citizens’ panels was a participatory inquiry into the topics of personal genomics and home reproductive technologies entitled ‘Our Bodies Our Selves’. We invited 15 participants and 4 expert witnesses to learn about the technologies we are researching, and provided an opportunity for the participants, who often did not know about the technologies in detail, to ask critical questions and respond to the social, ethical and technical questions they provoke.

The citizens’ panel offered a legitimate space within which to identify issues for debate and to offer recommendations to key actors involved in the development, marketing and regulation and consequences of those technologies. A key recommendation was that key actors in the development of technologies should be more upfront about data ambiguities, acknowledging and providing guidance on them.  Alongside our ethnographic work, which includes online observations and interviews with manufacturers and users of these technologies, the Citizens’ Panels have helped us to better understand the complex questions surrounding health data. In addition to this, by participating in such rich public debates and reporting our findings back to the groups involved, we hope to direct attention to the complex social challenges related to health biosensing.

- By Mette Kragh-Furbo and Joann Wilkinson