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We have staff working on diverse topics, and wanted to give you a chance to find out more about Kelly Devenney, who teaches on topics such as migration and immigration.

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I've always worked with young people

I worked with youth offending as a social worker. I’ve always been interested in young people whose lives are not standard, who have really different experiences, or who are a bit marginalised. 

My current research is with refugee children and young people, and asylum-seeking children and young people.

I’ve done lots of research with children in the UK who come alone, without their families, to seek asylum. I’ve looked at what happens to them in the care system, when they leave the care system, how they get into their adult lives, and how they develop over time.

What my degree means to me

I’ve had the best and the worst of the university experience. I went back to university as a mature student, having dropped out of university the first time around as an 18-year-old. I wasn’t sure how it would go. I was a single mum at the time, and there were lots of things that felt like they were stacked against me.

It was hard getting through those three years, parenting alone and trying to do a degree at the same time. But I qualified, loved studying, and so continued on to do a Masters and PhD.

Getting through my degree felt like an achievement, and I’m proud that I took the first step in a long journey to where I am now. It was probably the most important and difficult one.

Changing how you think

When I teach, I like to have a lot of interaction and collaboration. I like to learn from the students and their experiences. I get a real buzz out of walking into a classroom, communicating, and seeing how it all plays out. 

When it really works, when you’ve got a good relationship in the classroom, with a good dynamic, you can feel an energy that builds up as everyone is learning from each other. You can feel that movement in people’s minds. You can feel how they are challenging themselves, and challenging each other, and you all walk away feeling like something has changed in the way that you perceive something.

Be willing to question and challenge everything and everybody

To research the areas that I focus on, you need a lot of curiosity, inquisitiveness and reflection. I like jumping into things that aren’t necessarily my area of expertise, and coming at it fresh. You bring a different perspective if it’s not something that you’ve been embedded in for years.

I like to have my assumptions challenged, and to ask 'what can the person who is experiencing it tell me?', rather than approaching it saying 'I’m an expert on this, and I want to find out more'.

You’ve got to be aware of what you don’t know, and take a critical approach to what other people think they know. You should question what knowledge is, what other people are saying about what you are hearing in the media, and even what you’re taught about something. Then try to go out and experience it for yourself, and make connections with people for yourself.

International work

In the past, I’ve always done interview-based research, based on meeting people. Working with children and young people, you’ve got to find alternative routes into getting them to talk to you, rather than just sitting face to face and asking lots of questions. I use quite creative methods of research, where they do drawings and timelines.

I’ve also spent time working with a refugee camp in Kenya, widening my research focus to see how support works internationally. In the camp, we did a lot of observation, getting a feel for what people’s lives are like, as well as one-to-one and community interviews. I’m interested in what people’s day-to-day experiences are.

Social Policy and Social Work at York

We're really close-knit, which makes our community incredibly supportive. The way we teach is different. It’s really interactive, and we try to use expertise from across Social Policy and Social Work.

You’ll be taught by interesting people whose expertise ranges across different topics, like crime and criminal justice, and you'll meet practitioners and service users. A lot of our course is taught by people who are practising social work, so they’ll come in and deliver guest teaching with us. Service-users also deliver sessions about their experience.

Social Work is a really collaborative programme. It isn’t just lecturers lecturing. There are lots of different experiences that we try to provide, as well as real-world interactions with people.

Contact us

For any support or guidance on completing your journey to York, we're always close at hand.
+44 (0)1904 324000