Dr Justin Rogers is a Lecturer at the University of Bath’s Department of Social & Policy Sciences, specialising in child welfare. He coordinated the Fostering Hope project, which was shortlisted for the NCCPE Engage Award 2016 in the Working in Partnership category.
Justin Rogers never intended to go to university. Talking to him even now, in the middle of an impressive academic research career, he seems faintly surprised that he is a valued part of the fabric of Bath’s highest seat of learning.
Had it not been for a desire to travel and what had been intended as a laid-back couple of months volunteering at a US summer camp, he might not have been.
Growing up, Justin was hardly a stellar pupil and left at the age of sixteen with a handful of GCSEs. Most of his peers were, like Justin, already destined for an engineering apprenticeship in their local factory and, in keeping with that expectation, he left school and entered a formal employer-sponsored training scheme.
At that stage, the notion of going on to university, could not have been further from the teenaged Justin Rogers’ mind.
Two years later, having worked hard to learn his trade and having gained the qualifications that would allow him to join the factory as a full-time member of staff, he was let go. In a time of economic uncertainty and squeezed margins, the factory went into a four-day week.
There was no job for him and no prospect of one magically appearing in the foreseeable future.
Finding himself suddenly unemployed and fuelled by a need to travel, he signed up for three months working with children with disabilities on a summer camp in America. It changed everything.
“I suddenly realised that was what I wanted to do,” says Justin. “I wanted to work with people.”
Social work training
He returned to the UK and immediately embarked on a number of roles in the residential care and youth sectors, beginning the process of developing the skills, knowledge and experience that would eventually take him into formal social work training course.
He went to North West Kent College and did a BTEC access course in health and social care.
He says: “I didn’t do very well at school, but once I found myself in something I enjoyed, with really supportive tutors, I thrived.”
University followed swiftly on from that, as did practice in social work, first at a fostering agency in Kent and then a similar local authority fostering agency in West Berkshire. Justin had found his niche and alongside the practical experience work he was doing, he elected to return to university to take a part-time Master’s degree course.
It was a road that would lead him to the historic spa town of Bath and its university. With encouragement from his lecturers and colleagues and having gained funding to continue his academic career, he arrived in the West Country to begin a PhD course.
“The work I was doing and the opportunity to do a doctorate was a really good fit with my values and I feel very privileged that it has led to such a rewarding career,” he says now. “There’s a real fit between engaged research and social work research.”
Fostering Hope, the project aimed at shifting perceptions around fostering unaccompanied refugee children and which Justin led, is an excellent example of the power of research working in direct partnership with other people and organisations to bring about practical change.
Strong social conscience
A finalist in the 2016 Engage Awards, the Fostering Hope project was a natural one to take on for someone who had grown up politically aware and with a strong social conscience.
“I had a good childhood,” Justin says “But I was always aware of the social inequality around me. Travelling opened my eyes to that as well.”
That awareness of social inequality has also shaped his teaching. With the diversity of students on the courses he teaches he puts great store in the ability of students to help build on each other’s strengths.
For himself, he still suffers a bit from ‘imposter syndrome’ but says it’s something to be challenged.
Some good advice
The social conscience and passion for creating change and finding equality where previously there was none, is also evident when he’s asked what advice he would give to his 18-year-old self.
“Take the opportunities when they arise and don’t be afraid to say yes to something, even if it puts you outside your comfort zone – that approach has taken me to some interesting places,” Justin says, before adding: “But at the same time, be minded to support those people who haven’t had those opportunities.”