A care leaver reflects on the first Care Experienced Conference

When I was growing up in care it really felt to me that my life was going to be determined. Determined by difficulties in my family and by being a young person in care. It was a tough time for me and I felt so alone – even though I was living with a foster carer and two other young people in a placement.

When I was growing up I didn’t know about any older care leavers, but I’d heard all the negative stuff we hear in the media about kids in care being trouble makers, dangerous, or damaged. I didn’t understand then that this was only one part of the story, and as I’ve grown up and met other people who spent time in care I know that there are lots of other stories out there. Stories of hope, optimism and determination. And we, those of us with care experience, can choose other labels.

But none of this compared to my involvement with the Care Experienced Conference. Having over 150 people in the same place unified by the experience of spending time in care amplified the range of stories and challenged these negative perceptions and expectations in the media.

The Care Experienced Conference made me feel less alone, more connected and understood, and ultimately made me hopeful about what care experienced people can achieve as individuals and as a group.

Roots

The roots of the Care Experienced Conference came from a person with care experience, a very articulate and passionate advocate of young people in care and the wider care community, Ian Dickson. Ian long held a dream to see an event that would bring together people of all ages who have experience of care at some point during their childhood and professionals (who are involved in developing policy and working with young people in care and care leavers), to bring people together to collaborate and improve the experience of care. This dream became a reailty when the conference was held in April 2019 at Liverpool Hope University.

Ian’s vision and the overwhelming support from the wider care-experienced community and supportive professionals made the day happen. This meant the conference was able to make sure that money was not a barrier to any person with care experience wishing to attend. Without the help of all of these individuals and groups the conference wouldn’t have happened (so if that was you, ‘thank you!’).

We all came together as we really want to improve people’s experiences of being in care (whether that’s residential, fostering, adoptees) and with a firm belief that with the current generation of amazing young people in care and older care leavers of all ages we can work with people who have power to make changes for the better.

Shoots

The day of the Care Experience Conference for us volunteers was the coming together of all the work the team had completed over the two years leading up to it. The event was over-subscribed and care leavers of all ages came along; the youngest person was 14 and the oldest 82 years old!

Personally, I really felt that the atmosphere of the day was extremely special – so many people who had experience of care coming together in one space felt really nurturing and celebratory. It surprised me how meeting with so many other people with care experience led to the barriers and walls I can put up in social situations coming down. It felt safe for me to be myself and not have to hide away from my past as a person with care experience.

Throughout the day delegates were able to join in discussions on a whole range of topics including “love and relationships” and “mental health” (these were suggested by care experienced people). There was so much going on:

  • Artwork exhibited by young people in care and care-leaver of all ages
  • Chill-out spaces to give people space and emotional support
  • Researchers who came along to learn from the care experienced community
  • An author facilitating a writing workshop
  • Films written and performed by care-leavers

The conference trended higher than Taylor Swift on Twitter!

Fruits

The Conference group have written two reports about what people told us about their experiences and hopes for how care experience could be improved. You can read them here. The team are working hard to make as much noise about what we heard because we are all committed to getting the messages out and influencing the public, policymakers, practitioners and academics.

I think one of the things that I took away from the conference was that although though the care system has changed over the past 70 years there are still examples of practice that can be improved. For instance, I learnt that the use of bin bags when children and young people move around in care was campaigned about in the 1970s, it was still going on when I was in care in the early 2000s, and it is still something that people in care face today – despite the existence of policy to prevent this. The other part of the conference that has stuck with me is the relationships I’ve started to build with other people with care experience, researchers and social care professionals. One person who came along to the conference said that it felt like they had “found their tribe” through having the opportunity to meet such a diverse bunch of people with care experience, and her words sum up my feelings too.

The conference delegates confirmed our view, that to ensure that the best care is given to young people (both while in care and afterwards) the voices, experiences, and insights of people with care experience need to be listened to and cannot be overlooked or ignored.

If you want to read more about the care-experienced conference visit the website here.