Nicole is taking our campaign on the road

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I’m so excited to be getting out on the road and bringing our Who Cares? Scotland Empowerment Sessions to you during National Care Leavers Week Scotland.

We’ll be out across Scotland so that you can get a deeper insight into what life in care is like and so that you can challenge the stigma that care experienced people face.

What I find amazing about these sessions is that this time last year I was short on confidence in myself.

Throughout my life, I have been what people would call “rebellious”. I have misused drugs, run away from home, struggled to stick at one thing for any period of time. I’ve never really felt like I had any control over my life. I was brought up in care because at various points, my mum’s mental health issues meant that she wasn’t able to look after me.

My Dad always wanted the best for me, but as a young girl I couldn’t see this. I just wanted to take care of my mum and make sure she was always okay. That was the only thing I could see. School, work, friendships didn’t matter. I just wanted to make my mum better and her life easier.

In November 2015 I started an employability course called Reaching Higher. It was a four week course with the chance of a stable, supported job at the end.

The course itself helped me get to a stable place. Although it was just 4 weeks long, I quickly started to feel like I belonged. I met new friends and built positive relationships that I want to have for the rest of my life. Doing well over the course gave me a lot of confidence. But going through the interview process after it was another thing altogether. I set my sights on success and was determined to be the best I could at the interview.

My determination led to me successfully becoming the Membership and Events Admin Assistant at Who Cares? Scotland.

I know from the start that I wanted to work on the Membership programme. I want to help other care experienced young people feel like they are part of something and enable them to speak out.

Soon after I started my job, I attended a Who Cares? Scotland Empowerment Session at the University of Glasgow. This was the first time that I had ever been inside a university and I loved it. I had no idea that someone like me could sit in a lecture theatre and be part of something. For the first time, I’ve started thinking about whether university could really be in my future.

This session was also the first time I saw another care experienced person, Harry, speak publicly about experiencing stigma as a result of being in care. Harry’s words, and our session, changed the views of a room full of student teachers in just a couple of hours. They left knowing that they can make such a difference to a young person’s life.

The Empowerment Sessions that we deliver give people a better understanding of what life is like in care. We talk about the journey that care experienced people have been on individually and as a collective over the last few years. Our sessions are open to anyone who wants to listen to the voice of care experienced young people; volunteers, community organisations and members of the public.

I really enjoyed the session at the University of Glasgow and loved seeing someone who is care experienced speak passionately about their life. When I was asked if I could see myself doing that, it was a different matter altogether.

On one hand, I was absolutely buzzing. I had the chance to be the person who was standing in front of the room and making the change.

On the other hand, I thought about the stigma I have experienced first-hand. Being in care isn’t something I’ve been made to feel confident about or talk about as a part of who I am. It’s the opposite.

A few years ago, I had a work placement that I loved at my local swimming pool. When I started the work programme at the swimming pool, I was really low in confidence. Setting an alarm in the morning and making my own money might seem day to day for some people but it was a massive step forward for me. While I was doing that, however, things were not getting any better at home. My mum’s mental health issues and my determination to help her be okay in crisis prevented me from getting to work on time and giving my fullest when I was there.

I felt like my managers had absolutely no understanding of my life and they didn’t want to know either. I was late and it was strike one. That was that. Getting their support was a really big challenge and it left me feeling really frustrated. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and had no option but to leave.

I took time to reflect on my experience of stigma, of not being understood, and felt like that’s exactly what made me the right person to speak. This Empowerment Session was being delivered to volunteers at the Prince’s Trust, many of whom would be working with young people who might have been in care. This was my chance to help other care experienced young people facing the same difficulties that I have.

Once I decided that I wanted to speak to them, I worked with Sara, the Who Cares? Scotland Campaigns Officer, and did loads of preparation. It’s really important to explore the things that you want to talk about and what message you want people to take away. It’s also important that if you’re talking about your life, you do it in a way that you feel in charge of. I was ready to go out and empower these volunteers.

When the day came for me to talk about my life I was feeling really nervous. I was going to be telling strangers about my care journey openly and honestly. When the time came, my nerves faded. I knew this was an opportunity that I had worked hard for. As I gave my talk I could see that sharing parts of my life gave the participants insight into what life was like and why I had acted the way I had in the past.

When I finished my talk everyone in the room was told me how amazing I was and that I had succeeded in changing their perception of care experienced young people. It felt really good to get that positive feedback because I had never had that before. I had become a campaigner.

Empowerment Sessions are very important to me because I was that young person who longed for people to understand my situation. My aim is to give individuals who may not have an understanding of the care system an insight life in care. It’s only by listening to care experienced people that we will ever achieve equality.

I also want to see more care experienced people become campaigners. You could join me and be someone who helps to change the views on care experienced young people and get rid of that stigma that hangs over us.

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities and funding partners, who make our work possible
Who Cares? Scotland Funding Partners