It’s a form of digital social work
By Gemma Raw
As an experienced former children’s social worker himself, Jeremy Jayasuriya is in a unique position with the launch of his new company, Walk A Mile. Specialising in the filming and creation of digital life stories for Looked-After Children, Jeremy has been able to combine his years of social work experience with a new innovative approach to social work.
“I see it as a form of digital social work” he says with a laugh as he sits down with Social Work News magazine to discuss his new venture over a coffee.“We’ve established a new model which not only creates bespoke life stories with the young person in mind, but it frees up valuable time and effort, allowing social workers to concentrate on other pressing matters. What’s not to like?”
Indeed, the Walk A Mile package certainly offers something new and innovative for social workers to trial.
Launched last year, having been under development for two and a half years, Walk A Mile is a novel way of creating a personal life story for children and young people living within the care system. As part of the package, Jeremy and his team (who have a mix of social care and videography experience) can work alongside social work professionals to capture life stories on film – offering a refreshing alternative to traditional paper-based scrap books.
“Life stories are such an important intervention tool for practitioners because they really allow the child to gain a sense of their own identity and understand where they came from. Unfortunately, from personal experience I know how labour intensive these books are. It’s also a fact that they can often get damaged when they are presented to a child who may be in some distress. I wanted to be able to create a newer version which would not only speak to the child effectively, but could be something which they could access at a later date.”
As a result, the Walk A Mile team have been able to create an exciting new cost-effective model which allows social workers to outsource the development of the personal life story. When working on a project, Jeremy and his team will initially work closely with the social worker to arrange any interviews and finalise logistical details, before taking over the full project management. Once the life story is completed, the social worker is provided with a full video on a USB stick which is also stored digitally in a secure location within the Cloud. This approach allows the social worker to step back from the minutiae of the project, freeing their time to concentrate on other tasks.
Thanks to the team’s social work background, Jeremy is confident that Walk A Mile differs significantly to videos which could be outsourced to other creative agencies.
“Because we’ve worked as social workers ourselves, we know exactly what this tool is used for and why it’s so important. It’s this understanding that gives us the sensitivity to deliver the end product. As part of our process, we take the time to speak directly with the child because it’s their story that we are telling” says Jeremy.
It’s an approach that he is clearly proud of; during our interview, Jeremy discusses how they understand the “different rhythm” of each child. During the production process he works closely with his team to choose the right style of editing and music to ensure that the final package is personally meaningful to the child.
Creative Director and videographer, Natasha Jayasuriya points out that they deliberately keep the final footage natural, eschewing a “stylised or overproduced” approach. She believes that one of the key benefits of their input is that they are “not part of the system.” As a result, she finds that people are much more willing to be open because they know that the filming crew are completely independent of the social work team. When questioned about how they ensure interviewees feel comfortable talking on camera, she says that they take the time to explain to people how the filming process will work whilst they are setting up their lone camera. “Because we tend to chat away whilst we’re setting up, it feels very natural once we’re ready to get started. Of course there are always going to be occasions where someone doesn’t want to be filmed and that’s never a problem. We’ve a variety of creative ways which allow us to still include that person, even if they are not directly on camera.”
Jeremy believes that digital life stories will become increasingly popular as an option for social workers as it’s a way of speaking the same language as the child. “Children today are very digitally minded. It’s what they are growing up with, so we need to adapt to these new ways of communication. Having film footage where they can watch their family members, hear their voices and see their body language can resonate with a child so much more effectively than a scrap book. For one of our videos, the person watched it 15 times in one day, and showed it to all of his friends – it really was a significant part of helping him to understand who he was.”
From a social work perspective, using a team such as Walk A Mile could be a very efficient way of ensuring that a valuable piece of work is completed to a high standard. As the team have years of social work experience behind them, they know exactly why the video is being produced and what value a life story can have to a child. They can also provide an extremely fast turnaround. Depending on the number of interviews required and the locations involved, the digital stories can be completed in as little as twelve weeks!
In Jeremy’s view, life stories are vital for those living within the care system because they provide a sense of identity. He says: “Every social worker will have a different perspective, but for me, life stories are a tool which allow a child to know where they came from. These are children who, no matter what their age, have lost everything familiar to them through no fault of their own. As social workers we try to ease the transition into a new structure but it’s not easy. We need to prepare the child, and life stories are a valuable part of that process.”