It’s Time For Our Voices To Be Heard

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Nicola Sturgeon has said that every young person deserves to be loved. To make this happen, she has announced an independent review of the care system. Jimmy Paul, an alumni member of Who Cares? Scotland, believes that to make change happen, we need to help care experienced people own their identity:

This is an exceptional time for care experienced people in Scotland. We all watched the unbelievably inspirational Who Cares documentary with Laura, Shadelle, Harry, Ashley and Brandon. They were brave enough to share their care experiences with the nation and debunked the myths about people who grow up in the care system. The programme was so popular it was trending on Twitter. Another amazing moment was when generous souls across the country donated over £2.5 million the STV Children’s Appeal, supporting young people across the nation to have a fair chance in life.

After that, Nicola Sturgeon visited the Who Cares? Scotland office in Glasgow and pledged to listen to a thousand voices of care experienced people and has since committed the Scottish Government to a review of the care system, in the hope that we end the outcomes that care experienced people have faced for decades.

I know that the care system isn’t appropriately designed to support children growing up in it. The outcomes of care experienced people all too often end in tragedy. What I have seen this week, however, is the power of people owning their care identity and talking about their lives. It’s clear now, more than ever, that our stories are power.

I had an awful time growing up in care in London but despite all of the adversity, I turned out okay. It hasn’t come easy but I made it to university, I’ve got a good job and I have really positive relationships in my life.

It is frustrating that I think of these things happening in spite of my time in care, not because of it. It is concerning for me to constantly hear that other young people in care are STILL having a traumatic experience of an unsupportive system. Why haven’t things improved? By no fault of the young people themselves the system is still failing them drastically, despite significant amounts of funding that is pumped into it and despite the good will and efforts of the people who deliver care.

I’m convinced that the power and the potential for changes lies in us. It is the real impact of sharing stories that has brought the commitment of the Scottish Government and STV to our cause.  So you are desperately and urgently needed. We will only hear the voices of more care experienced people if we make it safe to speak out. For too long, we’ve told people growing up in care not to share that part of their life. We’ve told older care experienced people to leave it behind and move on. It’s time to change that.

I am twenty six years old and it has only been in the past seven months have I truly started to own my care identity.  By this, I mean telling people that I grew up in care without any sense of worry or shame.  When I realised that it didn’t put people off (and noticed that actually, it almost always inspires people) I began writing about my experiences for The Guardian. So many people sent me messages thanking me for the articles, and others messaged me with concerns similar to their own. It feels like being open and honest about who I am has led some people on the path to being able to do that themselves.

Young people tend to fear and hide their care identity as if it’s something to be ashamed of, as I did for many years. I often told people snippets of my story in secrecy. But why? Being in care wasn’t my fault?

Unfortunately, stereotypes of care experienced young people in society are all too often negative. The system is failing young people and it has been easier for society to blame the young people themselves. This perpetuates stereotypes about of people in care and a complete lack of knowledge about how we ended up there. Imagine if, as a society, we focused that energy on understanding and helping to fix the problem. We often see the harrowing statistics about the massive numbers of care experienced people in prisons, or the shockingly low number who study at university; but not often enough do we hear the voices of the young person explaining those statistics. Numbers and figures tell us that there is a problem, but not why the problem exists or how to solve it.

That’s why this new movement of care experienced people sharing their stories has been so amazing. They are challenging the statistics and are willing to make themselves vulnerable for the benefit of others. We are being liberated.

So, how can we keep this amazing momentum up?  When I said earlier that I started to own my care identity recently, it was when I joined the Who Cares? Scotland Alumni group. To feel a part of a wider collective, and to be unconditionally ‘claimed’ by a group of people who all have something in common is something that hasn’t happened in my life much at all.  As well as being part of a powerful movement, that will make up some of the one thousand voices Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to listen to, I have started to make friends for life.

I want to end this blog with a message for young people in care right now who might be reading this.

You have lived through some of the toughest situations that life can throw at a person, and you have come out the other side.  You can become the strongest and most resilient people in the world because of this, just like all of the people in the Who Cares documentary.

This last month, the culmination of years of work, has shown that despite the shortcomings of the system and some ancient views that parts of society still hold, people do care about us and do want to see change.  I survived the system and have thrived since.  I chased my dream relentlessly, which was to study at a top University. I surrounded myself with good people and had confidence in my goals.

We are doing this, together, to ensure that you have the opportunities that you need to do the same. We are doing this, together, so that you can be open about your care identity in a world that understand you. And we are doing this together so that you will be strong enough to challenge the decisions made about you and in turn, change the world.

Photo Credit – Michaela Waddell

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