Young people with experiences of care are making their mark on the social care scene after seeing their ideas turned into reality.
With the core belief that the child’s voice has to be at the centre of everything being embraced by all staff, the Chief Executive of Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, Paul Moffat, recruited a team of Young Advisors in 2015 to help shape services for children and young people in a way that has never happened before.
Building on from the strengths of more traditional models of participation, such as Children in Care Councils, these young care leavers are involved in everyday life at the Trust, influencing practice and services both locally and nationally. They’ve developed some rather impressive CVs along the way too.
Their (Young Advisors) involvement in Trust plans and development of services was praised as an area of ‘Excellence’ by Ofsted earlier this year.
Becci, 20, became a Young Advisor at just 16. She said: “When I was first asked by Paul to become a Young Advisor I felt like someone important, but I was also really nervous too. I had no idea if I would be any good at it.”
Having never been to London before, Becci’s first assignment was to go to Westminster for an APPG conference on sibling contact. Becci says: “I remember feeling too nervous to say anything, but I saw other young people sharing their very personal stories, seeing their bravery and how the professionals were moved by their words I realised just how powerful my voice could be.
“That shy and timid girl soon disappeared. Before I knew it, I was speaking at staff events, to directors of children’s services and at national conferences for the Department for Education in front of hundreds of people without even flinching.”
For fellow Young Advisor Fanso was just 15, now aged 19 he can see how the role has helped his confidence to soar. He commented “I didn’t know if I would have the right skills. I’m now sharing my experiences with Ministers and helping other kids from Doncaster and other local authorities how to make their voices heard.”
The Young Advisors have helped to strengthen the voice of children and young people in Doncaster working with senior leads on a variety of different projects; from working with senior leads to transforming children’s units into homes, recruiting over 85% of Trust staff, and working on a national project around mental health of children in care with SCIE. Along the way they’ve influenced other changes for those in care.
At the time 17-year-old Mica was struggling as most care leavers to live on a limited budget. Now 20 Mica recalls “I had a lot of debt issues. I had great support at the Trust and was able to share my experiences to make changes for others; I even was invited to meet with the Mayor to chat about the challenges and it was great when she introduced a council tax exemption for care leavers!”
Together the Young Advisors have taken to the stage at staff summits; using the platform to help the Children in Care Council voice their frustrations around the industry jargon that makes them feel they stand out from their peers. For example, they influenced the change in terminology from ‘contact visits’ to ‘family time.’
Taking this message further, the Young Advisors have developed a training programme to help adults understand just what it is like to be a child or teen living in care. After seeing the mark it left on many of the 350 staff and foster carers who attended, it inspired Becci to chat to Paul (Chief Executive) about expanding it further and deliver it across the country.
Becci added: “It felt amazing to have been supported to develop my idea. I’m now getting calls from private fostering agencies to deliver the training. I would never have dreamt of that happening when I was growing up.”
The income generated from the training forms Becci’s Bursary and is now helping other young people to achieve their aspirations.
With new skills and confidence, these Young Advisors have been able to make plans for their futures. For Fanso his passion for helping other young people to have their voice heard has seen him secure a role at the Trust in Participation.
Mica has gone on to support other young people prepare to leave care. She has been working in a home set up by the Trust to teach young people vital skills to live successful independent lives. And now she is working on the Housing Project in Doncaster, which will see a further ten homes set up to support care leavers. She added: “I wish there had been a similar scheme when I left care. It is exciting developing the new homes with the young people, it’s just at the beginning, but I can’t wait for us all to be decorating them together.”
Becci has recently started her social work degree, after completing her apprenticeship at the Trust and an access to higher education diploma, something she didn’t think was an option when she finished school. She added: “My confidence has grown massively; my whole outlook on life has changed. I had no ambitions. Now I am confident, I know what I want to achieve and that I’m more than capable of doing it.”
There is a real excitement amongst other children in care who want to become the next Young Advisors.
Fanso added: “They can see the changes we can make and the differences we can make for other young people growing up in care.”