The discovered heritage of care experienced young people

The discovered heritage of care experienced young people

The Discovered Heritage of Care Experienced Young People

Louise is the coproduction coordinator for Boingboing. She has lived experienced of being in care, so is particularly passionate regarding the emotional wellbeing of CYP in and leaving care. Here, Louise talks about ‘Taking Hold of our Heritage’, the current statistics for the care system in the UK, and potential disruptions to changing the system.

It takes a village to raise a child – children and young people in care are ALL of our responsibility’.

This was the closing sentence at the launch of, ‘Taking Hold of our Heritage’, a short book written by care experienced individuals. The book aims to highlight the lack of heritage many care experienced individuals have, as a direct result of being in the care system.

When I highlighted this on my own social media, I had messages thanking me for raising this awareness. Many people told me they had never considered that for a person in care, they would not have heritage. 

Casey, a 20-year-old care experienced young person, and Taking Hold of our Heritage Apprentice, spoke about some of her experiences at the Taking Hold of our Heritage book launch. What stood out was her determination to recognise some of the positives she has taken away from the care system. Casey spoke passionately about how care experienced individuals ‘have’ to repeat their traumas to a multitude of professionals; this continues throughout life and is lacking positive experiences.  When in care, children and young people will talk about what brought them into the system, to a range of different people – their social worker, foster carers, residential social and support workers, external agencies, and peers. The experiences that have led them into the care system are often traumatic, and simply entering the system can be traumatic in itself. There are many reasons as to why a CYP may enter the care system, and it is often traumatic. However, what is missing from the experiences are the positives, including the heritage of those individuals.

Heritage can mean a number of different things, ranging from the history of a town, to family ancestry. In relation to care experienced individuals, heritage can be a difficult subject, and one that is rarely talked about. Why would someone want to constantly think about the pain of their past? Ironically, this is exactly what is asked of care experienced individuals, but only when in a setting deemed appropriate by another person (such as a professional). Outside of those setting, care experienced individuals are expected to ‘move on’, or only think about the ‘here and now’. This expectation furthers fulfils the belief that being in care was an entirely terrible experience, and conversation shuts further down.  

Family anecdotes, memories from past celebrations such as birthdays, or even photographs, are often missing from the lives of care experienced individuals. This can be because of a number of different factors: moving a child or young person (CYP) to a ‘place of safety’ in an emergency; CYP having frequent moves between foster and residential homes; the sudden death of a parent or caregiver, meaning a CYP has to suddenly go into care. In these sudden, quick moves, belongings, possessions, and memories are not on the agendas of the responsible adults. Their aim is to ensure a CYP has a bed for that night at the very least; often, that task is difficult, and it can be understandable why other things get forgotten.  Whilst it is understandable, however, should it be deemed as acceptable, that CYP have so very little that is ultimately a part of their developing identity and sense of self is left behind? Furthermore, CYP are increasingly being moved out of area, away from family, friends and loved ones. This perpetuates the cycle of loss and grief, yet that cycle is not addressed. 

As a care experienced individual, I know only too well of not having anything, but also that ‘not having’ not being important. I took my lead from the adults around me, and the focus of those adults was to have me ‘placed’. When I left my biological mothers house for the last time, I remember taking only my favourite polka dot dress, in a plastic bag; when I left a long-term foster placement, I left with nothing. As one care experienced person stated, ‘when you have nothing, you don’t know what you’re missing’. For many, it’s not until later that they understand what has been lost. 

‘when you have nothing, you don’t know what you’re missing’.

It can be incredibly painful for care experienced individuals to acknowledge the losses they have had. Not only have they lost their family, they have perhaps lost items of comfort. Whilst we say possessions and material items are not important, that notion stems from a society that do have ‘things’. Those ‘things’ may be as a simple as a polka dot dress that one will grow out of, or it may be a teddy bear that one has had from when they were a baby. When thinking about heritage and creating ones own heritage, we are not saying that losses should be forgotten, but that what has been gained can be acknowledged alongside those losses.

Taking Hold of our Heritage does exactly that – the book is filled with heritage created by care experienced individuals. This heritage includes colours, arts, music, and nature. Care experienced individuals have taken what is important to them – a part of their journey – and framed it so it is now a part of their heritage, their history, and their identity.  

The entire project was led and controlled by the very individuals creating the book. Whilst they had help and support from Leicestershire Cares, the project belonged entirely to the people it was about. The book itself is now a part of their heritage, which is something truly magical.

During the launch of the book, individuals spoke of their experiences, not only of their history, but also the inspiration and process of creating the book. It was widely agreed that there was a priority for care experienced voices to be heard; as mentioned earlier, it’s often only the negative experiences that are talked about. It was acknowledged that this constant negativity is ‘bad’ for you and can constantly re-traumatise an individual; there is an agreed difference between therapeutic reflection and unhelpful rumination. 

A theme that came through when the authors were speaking was how difficult it is financially for care experienced individuals. This can make things attending college and university difficult, as people need money to fund those things. Statistics show that care experienced individuals have poorer academic outcomes than their peers, and are less likely to attend HEI. When a care experienced individual does enter further or higher education, tutors often fail to acknowledge the difficulties that individual is facing. A 16-year-old care experienced college student may have the responsibilities of a fully grown adult – bills to pay, food to buy and a house or flat to keep. Simply managing to find the bus fare to attend college can be a huge accomplishment for that day, and not enough consideration is given to this.

‘we might have had the same experience, but our feelings about that experience will be different, because we are all different’.

In reading the book, what is apparent is how different each experience in care can be. A question was asked during the launch, and the answer was clear – we are all different. All too often, individuals in care, along with care leavers, are stereotyped. Whilst they share the fact that they did not live with their parents, the similarity stops there. As one individual stated: ‘we might have had the same experience, but our feelings about that experience will be different, because we are all different’.

When looking at the statistics for CYP in care, it makes for unhappy reading. CYP going into care in the UK has risen by 28% over the last 10 years, with 75,370 CYP in care in 2018. Looked after children are less likely to achieve GCSEs, and have higher rates of mental and emotional distress. Current practices and polices view these as distinct issues, but it is a cyclic problem. CYP with mental and emotional difficulties are going to struggle in school and education, and the perceived lack of academic achievement is going to compound mental and emotional distress. Not enough consideration is given to the topic of academic resilience, yet the National Curriculum does not cater for the needs of CYP living in difficult circumstances. Furthermore, care experienced individuals currently make up 25% of the prison population, but they are also more likely to experience unnecessary criminalisation. Whilst this is acknowledged by governing bodies, there has been little improvement regarding this life altering issue. Current systems do not work, they have not been effective for a long time, so a new approach is required.

Blackpool is currently embedding a resilience and preventative approach, with initiatives such as Blackpool Families Rock (BFR). BPR is a co-produced set of guiding principles, currently being embedded across the whole town that ensures individuals from the community are key partners in facilitating positive change. BPR is built on the social pedagogy of head, heart and hands, alongside utilising the resilience framework as a tool to build and sustain resilience across systems. Blackpool Families Rock work in collaboration with Boingboing, implementing the resilience framework, which looks at CYP, their families and carers as whole. By taking a preventative and resilient stance, alongside working with families as a whole, the likelihood of going into care is decreased, and the likelihood of a CYP returning home are increased. Whilst numbers across the UK are increasing, the number of children going into care in Blackpool is decreasing, and this needs to be recognised; perhaps the approach Blackpool is adopting is a contributing factor, and those approaches should be considered on a wider scale.

Taking Hold of our Heritage is inherently resilient in its very nature, given that care experienced individuals are choosing their own heritage.  This is a stark contrast to the usual ‘expected’ experiences of care experienced individuals, as talked about above. When an individal believes their life is negative, then their life is more likely to be negative. By reframing experiences, remembering ones self-worth and importance, along with the importance and magic of positive experiences, an individual can experience the good.  This needs to be a focus.

Reading Taking Hold of our Heritage and attending the launch was a moving and inspirational experience.  It was humbling to listen to the self-made stories of a group of individuals who have built upon existing resilience and who are in the process of beating the odds, whilst changing the odds. 

References

Retrieved from https://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/article/attainment-gap-widens-for-children-in-care

(11/2018). Retrieved from: 
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/765082/The_national_protocol_on_reducing_unnecessary_criminalisation_of_looked-after_children_and_care_.pdf

JSNA Blackpool. (20/01/2020). Looked after Children/Children in need. Retrieved from https://www.blackpooljsna.org.uk/Developing-Well/Children-and-young-peoples-wellbeing/Looked-After-Children-Children-in-Need.aspx

Local Government Association. (08/01/2020).  Number of Children in Care Reaches 10 Year High.  Retrieved from https://www.local.gov.uk/number-children-care-reaches-10-year-high

The Academic Resilience Approach.  Retrieved from https://www.boingboing.org.uk/academic-resilience-approach/

Blackpool Council.  Strengthening Families is at the Core of what we do.  Retrieved from https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2020/03/11/strengthening-families-core/

Boingboing.  Retrieved from https://www.boingboing.org.uk/

Boingboing.  How we work – co-production and CoPs.  Retrieved from https://www.boingboing.org.uk/about-us/work-co-production-cops/

Department for Education. (16/07/2014). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum#curriculum-by-key-stages

NSPCC Learning. (17/12/2020). Looked after children. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/children-and-families-at-risk/looked-after-children

Oakley, M., Miscampbell, G. & Gregorian, R. (08/2018). Looked after children; the silent crisis. Retrieved from https://www.smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Silent-Crisis-PDF.pdf

Office for Students. (27/01/2021). Care experienced students and looked after children. Retrieved from https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/promoting-equal-opportunities/effective-practice/care-experienced/

Ofsted. Edging away from care – how services successfully prevent young people entering care. (10/2011). Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/419169/Edging_away_from_care_-_how_services_successfully_prevent_young_people_entering_care.pdf

Parkinson, S. (02/02/2021). Number of children in blackpool going into care is going down. Retrieved from https://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/education/number-children-blackpool-going-care-slowing-down-3121568

Sanders, R. (12/10/2020). Care experienced children’s and young peoples mental health. Retrieved from https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/esss-outlines/care-experienced-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health

Taking hold of our heritage. Retrieved from https://www.leicestershirecares.co.uk/get-help/individuals/young-people/care-experience/taking-back-our-heritage/

UK Parliament. (19/02/2020). Looked after children: Out of area, unregulated, and unregistered accommodation (England). Retrieved from https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7560/

What is Resilient and the Resilient Framework?  Retrieved from https://www.boingboing.org.uk/resilience/resilient-therapy-resilience-framework/

Resilience Revolution’s Final Research Report 2016-2022

Resilience Revolution’s Final Research Report 2016-2022

This report presents the research and evaluation of the Resilience Revolution programme (2016-2022).

The Resilience Revolution is an innovative whole town approach to building resilience, made possible by funding from The National Lottery Fund’s HeadStart programme. Funding was available between 2016 and 2022, across 6 areas nationally in the UK with the purpose of testing and learning new ways to support young people’s mental health (ages 10-16).

In Blackpool, the programme took the bold step of developing a vision for the whole town; giving everyone who lived, worked or volunteered in the town the opportunity to get involved. The Resilience Revolution embraced co-production as a way to design and test innovative projects. Coproduction meant a range of people, with different expertise, working together, as equals towards shared goals.

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For the past year and a half Boingboing has been working on a Research Ready Communities pilot project in Blackpool alongside the National Institute for Health Research as part of their Under-served Communities programme. Typically, much of the funding for health research in the UK goes to universities in London, Oxford and Cambridge, but health research is needed the most in places like Blackpool, where the harmful impacts of health inequalities are worst felt.

The Boingboing Resilience Framework

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An introduction to the Research Ready Communities pilot

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For the past year and a half Boingboing has been working on a Research Ready Communities pilot project in Blackpool alongside the National Institute for Health Research as part of their Under-served Communities programme. Typically, much of the funding for health research in the UK goes to universities in London, Oxford and Cambridge, but health research is needed the most in places like Blackpool, where the harmful impacts of health inequalities are worst felt.

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On 22nd February Grace and Lauren, members of the Activist Alliance, attended the show Loops at the Blackpool Grand Theatre. It was a play made in collaboration with Liverpool Everyman + Playhouse, 20 Stories High theatre company and, “a brilliant group of activists and artists who all shared important stories of what their experiences were, with courage, honesty and jokes”.

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