I decided after my two initial blogs to pause and reflect before releasing any more blogs, this was for two reasons.
Firstly, I experienced uncomfortable behaviour online directed towards me. I was shut down and blocked by one of the campaigners, and accused of being discriminatory by another.
In my view, these are two serious behaviours and make very clear statements. The campaigners say they want to listen to everyone’s views, especially those who are care experienced (which I am), but block those who ask questions. I also know that this experience has happened to others who have also spoken out. Also to point the finger of discrimination so easily, given the context of their campaign, I find this concerning.
I could understand being shut down if I was opposing, or being disrespectful, but I was asking genuinely constructive questions. Those questions being:
- Whether discrimination is the cause of the issues that care experienced people face, or if there are other factors involved.
- What are the pros and cons of making care experience a protected characteristic as part of the solution to these issues.
- What actions need to be taken to lead to improvement for care experienced people, and whether making care experience a protected characteristic is one of them.
I was accused of being age discriminatory because I asked:
Please can you share with me any feedback/consultation that has happened with young people locally?
The response I got was:
“Your question was not inclusive, triggering and is discriminatory in the age characteristic because it implies older CEP have no voice. This is for care experienced people of all ages not just young people. Older care experienced people have a voice too. And often it is not heard as many of us languish in the criminal justice system, prison, and homeless population.”
I believe the answer to my question should have been:
‘Absolutely, let me share that with you, to make you aware we have also spoken to a whole host of care experienced people too’.
This worries me about the campaign – surely they should openly share views of others, instead they freely point the finger of discrimination – to distract from the fact they are not speaking widely enough to the groups this protected characteristic will impact. I only know of a handful of councils who have done any consultation at all, why is the campaign not championing consultation with the rigour it rightfully deserves?
The second reason I took a step back, is because I was asked by Terry Galloway directly to read his Briefing Report.
The has recommendations for government:
We are making the following recommendations to Government.
- Government should introduce legislation without delay, so that “Care Experience” becomes a Protected Characteristic in UK Equality law.
- Government should commission an information campaign to inform care experienced people about Protected Characteristics, Equitable Equality, and the powers available in relation to section 149 and Equality Impact Assessments that could relate to Care Experienced people if it were a protected characteristic.
- Government should consult with care experienced people and those who are associated with us about the difficulties we face in relation to stigma, direct and indirect discrimination and to explore the ramifications of introducing care experience as a Protected Characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
- Government should consult with and listen to the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales about whether protected characteristics for care experienced people should be introduced across the United Kingdom.
- Government should commission a destinations study identifying where care experienced people are, which services they use and their long-term outcomes and experiences.
I want to understand this further because it seems to me the order of these points are backwards and one point is quite frankly dangerous, if not properly considered.
Nowhere in this recommendation does it ask for the obvious; widespread consultation with care experienced people about protected characteristics – before making it a protected characteristic.
Point 1 suggests making care experience a protected characteristic first, ‘without delay’ and therefore without consultation. The only consultation is suggesting is to consult after the protected characteristic has happened (point 3), to speak about the ‘ramifications’ of it.
I am wary of Point 2, I think this could be dangerous. I know many care experienced people who choose to not disclose their care experience, they choose to keep it private. Dose this campaign really recommend that we ‘commission an information campaign to inform care experienced people about Protected Characteristics’?. This campaign is asking the government to seek those people out and expose them. What if you haven’t told your spouse, loved ones or your family – because you have chosen to keep it private. Could this be breaking the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) / Human Rights Act 1998? Specifically, Article 8 which protects your right to respect your private life.
This campaign doesn’t accept problems beyond discrimination, it has no operational solutions (which it admits) and isn’t working with everybody. Furthermore, is this campaign now suggestion we seek out care experienced people and identify them, overlooking those who want exercise their right to privacy?
We need to act with thought and not fury, make decisions based on principle and not pressure, and dutifully consider, scrutinise and asses the wider risks this could cause. I absolutely agree that care experienced people experience discrimination, I don’t agree that there is currently enough evidence to warrant making this a protected characteristic nor have we considered the cost/benefit analysis of doing so.
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‘They’ve just passed the motion to make care experienced a protected characteristic, and now it’s my job to put it into practice’.
I’ve had several calls that start with a different version of this phrase. Good, caring and passionate professionals who have been given the task to put into action what is currently being campaigned for.
The irony is, that those phone calls I have received have been from people who have limited to no power to author change, nor has the system around them made any alterations to allow them to do so. What are these good people to do?
In no way will this be the experience of every local authority, my exposure is those who are seeking support to put the protected characteristic into action, come in search of guidance.
As part of my work as a consultant, I assess a request from a local authority to ensure I can help, this is done before any work begins as I want to make sure a platform for change exists. Firstly, I seek to understand: is the request backed with authentic power? That being, if you need a trusted partner to collaborate to improve services, determining whether the power and governance exists to create change. Another thing I look at is the ‘why’. I want to know why the change is happening. Is this because people want to make change to benefit young people or is it something else? Something else could be pressure, it could be an organisational change, new leadership, or simply because regulators have deemed them inadequate, and now another reason is that they have to because ‘care experience’ is now a protected characteristic. The ‘why’ is important because that’s where the drive exists, you need to want to change things for the right reasons to maintain motivation when the inevitable challenges of change commence. A third key aspect I search for is the partnerships that may currently exist. Children’s social care can never solve the issues for care experienced people alone, we talk about how it takes a village to raise a child and we look at this village. What freedoms does social care as a system have to act? How collaborative are they with their partners? Who is around the table as allies?
Good, caring and passionate professionals are being asked to sail the seas of social care but are often stranded on a small island, with a boat, but no sail, compass or crew. They need the full kit: the sail to move forward, the compass for direction, a crew to guide them, and the resilience to weather the storms. The compass represents a protected characteristic: it will direct attention toward some of the issues care experience people face, but deeper navigation and further exploration is needed into how we solve these issues, then change can be made from the treasure of discovery.
I am seeing an additional pressure has been created for these people and I fear that we will lose them. I fear that the more we move into this campaign, pointing the finger of discrimination and blame at hard working people will ultimately lead all those who are great, to close the gate. I don’t know if this motion will improve the lives of care experienced people, but I do know it’s increasing pressure at the top of the system, which is getting passed down to the bottom – to those good, caring and passionate professionals who experience similar afflictions of the system that children do.
Frontline workers are the only reason social care can operate, they are already under pressure, they are burnt out, they want to do good in a system that struggles to enable it. This is austerity, this is lack of support, this is high case-loads, system failure – is this campaign now saying professionals are discrimination care experience people?
We deserve to make decisions because it’s right for people, not because of pressure, politics, or the fear of persecution. We need to make decisions because they are the right thing to do. This campaign needs to turn their noise into knowledge and explore how this is going to impact the workforce, what the operational objective will be and understand if it will actually have a positive impact to overcome the issues care experienced people face.
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Like many people I have sat on my hands, watched the ‘protected characteristics’ campaign and remained silent with my concern. I worry about the angst it could create for those whose personal testimonies drive this campaign if I challenge it. I fear persecution if I oppose a movement driven to end discrimination. I worry about reputational damage. I’m sure many feel the same. However, as a care leaver this will impact me – I owe it to myself to communicate my view.
I don’t think anyone deserves discrimination and I do believe that discrimination exists for care leavers. However, I do not know if I agree that we have enough evidence to warrant making care leavers a protected characteristic. More so, I don’t know if protected characteristic is the right solution.
When I was 16 years old, I had a job at Curry’s (when it was called Dixons), I was living in B&B accommodation receiving £56 a week whilst finishing my GCSE’s. I was balancing a job, school and looking after myself. It was tough and I was isolated. I didn’t tell work about my situation, not because I was scared they would discriminate, but because I was ashamed. I hated my life, I was angry, sad, and I didn’t want to expose this vulnerability to people. In the juggling of life, I let work slip, missed some shifts and ultimately, I was let go.
I needed that money, I had no confidence to hand out CV’s and had no work experience beyond my recent dismissal, no one was going to hire me. I played with the idea about going back to Currys and speaking to my old boss (Sharon), my approach was going to be honesty – to share with her my situation and ask for forgiveness. But I didn’t have the bravery to do it, shame consumed me, and I chose not to.
Life continued, the pressure of the lack of support from services, the limited amount of money I was receiving, and the isolation and loneliness started to take its toll. I was depressed, I had nobody, and I was hurting. A hole opened inside of me and was swallowing me from within.
I had to go back to speak to my old boss, not because I wanted to, because I had no choice. Nothing could make me feel worse, I had nothing to lose but everything to gain. Work provided me with a community, money, and something to get out of bed for.
I walked into Curry’s to my old colleagues’ heavy stares of disapproval, feeling persecuted. I just wanted to see Sharon, nobody else, I wanted to go straight to her and offload my anxious burden. At the desk was another colleague, I don’t exactly remember how the exchange went, but I remember the shame-laden ridicule when I asked to see Sharon, because I wanted to ask for my job back. The only reason I think he went to get her is because he wanted to laugh at my expense if she refused my request to return. I think if he honestly believed that Sharon would give me my job back, he wouldn’t have gone to get her.
Sharon came down from the back of the store, stern faced and stood at the desk in front of me. Accompanied by the same colleague that went to get her. He was arms-crossed, over her shoulder, her hands flat on the desk. This was not how I wanted it to happen, I know there is no way I can say this without floods of tears, broken and stammering words.
‘Well?’, I remember her saying so direct to me. The tone punched me in the gut and the tears opened up. I stood and cried. All I was thinking at that time was to speak, find the words and speak. Control this, move through the shame, breathe, just do something to enable the words to come out.
I don’t remember how I managed to tell her, but I remember her body language change. Arms down for her and her colleague, her face lost all its tension and her colleague looked genuinely sad. She moved around the desk and gave me a cuddle. I fell into her, and her tone turned to compassion as she escorted me off the shop floor to the familiar staff room.
I talked, I cried, and she listened, refusing every apology. I wish I could remember what was said, but I can only remember how I felt – which makes it a challenging thing to write. In front of me was someone who was discriminating, but positive. Someone who I went on to learn was a mercilessly maternal mum and a grandma.
She gave me my job back, she requested I speak to her, keep in the loop with my life. The whole team knew of my story and the support they gave isn’t measurable, or qualifiable, they just cared.
I continued my job there until all the Dixons stores where closed across the UK. They were removing loads of high street stores to make the mega Currys / PC World’s we know now.
Why I am sharing this story is because I wanted to stand side by side with my care experience community in solidarity first. As you are bravely sharing your personal testimonies of discrimination in the workplace, you deserve to hear mine. However, my story is not one of negative discrimination, but one of positive.
I see a vulnerability in this campaign; it has failed to communicate what having a protected characteristic will achieve from an operational perspective. For example, what actions will services and people actually take in response to a change in the law? In education we have a designated teacher; in health we have a designated nurse; local authorities are ring-fencing apprenticeships for care leavers; the Care Leaver Covenant exists and charities like The House Project have been established to support care leavers access housing. All this is already being done to support care leavers, are we not already moving in the right direction and would making care experience a protected characteristic add value?
We all want care experienced people to have the same opportunities as everyone else and there is evidence that they don’t, but are the challenges care experienced people face due to discrimination, or are they the result of something else?
This campaign is trying to combat discrimination, we all agree that this shouldn’t happen, I am not confident we all agree, or have seen evidence that making care experience a protected characteristic is the solution.
I will be writing a series of blogs. The purpose of these is to take a holistic view of the impact of ‘protected characteristic’ as a solution to combating discrimination. Considering the potential benefits and drawbacks, and discuss how it could impact care experienced people in different areas of life.
My call to action is that more people speak out. I know colleagues, friends and other care experienced people are sat in the shadows watching this campaign with doubt. If you doubt and don’t debate, then becoming a protected characteristic will be ‘done to’ care experienced people, with the potential of repeating a harmful cycle. Please do not be passive, participate in the debate.
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Childhood – a time of innocence, curiosity, and exploration. Yet, for many of us, it’s also a chapter marked by challenges that shape our journey into adulthood. In this blog, we delve into the world of childhood experiences through a lived experience lens, exploring the impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), parenting styles, domestic violence, resilience-building, and the vital role of safe adults in a child’s life.
Exploring ACEs: Exploring the Impact
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are events that children encounter, which can lead to lasting psychological and physiological effects. From neglect to abuse, these experiences can leave an undeniable mark on a young person’s life. Typically, we speak about how ACE’s impact a child’s behaviour, which we often communicate as things we struggle to ‘manage’. If we recognise that ACE’s play a crucial role in how a child behaves, take the time to understand ACE’s and learn tools to help young people overcome them – we can pave the way for healing and provide the building blocks for meaningful relationships with young people flourish.
Parenting Styles: The Enduring Influence
Parents, caregivers, and role models play an integral role in shaping a child’s life. The impact of parenting styles reverberates through the years, influencing self-esteem, relationships, and emotional well-being. Whether authoritative, permissive, or authoritarian, each style leaves a distinct imprint. Nurturing a supportive and communicative environment can help counteract the negative effects of unfavourable parenting styles and pave the way for healthier emotional development.
Domestic Violence as an ACE: Breaking the Silence
Among the most distressing ACEs is exposure to domestic violence. Growing up in an environment marred by conflict and fear can lead to a plethora of emotional scars. Breaking the silence around this issue is crucial for providing support to affected children and offering pathways to healing. By fostering awareness, encouraging open conversations, and providing access to safe spaces and counselling, we can work toward breaking the cycle of abuse.
Building Bridges to Resilience: Navigating Challenging Environments
Resilience is the cornerstone of navigating adversity. Children possess an innate capacity to bounce back, given the right tools. Building resilience involves cultivating coping mechanisms, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills. This journey is supported by fostering positive relationships with care givers and professionals in a young person’s life; providing access to mental health resources, and creating environments where children feel valued and empowered.
Being a Safe Adult: Nurturing Trust and Connection
Safe adults are beacons of trust and comfort for young people navigating a complex world. Recognising what a young person is saying involves more than just nodding your head; it’s about actively listening and understanding what’s being said. Reassuring with empathy and immersing yourself in their perspective initiates connections and assures them that their experiences are acknowledged, demonstrating safety.
Additionally, safe adults can instil a sense of control by offering choices and reminding young people that they can change their narrative. This approach helps rebuild self-esteem and trust in their decision-making capabilities. By embodying these qualities, professionals and caregivers can create an environment where young people feel empowered and supported.
Conclusion: Cultivating Compassionate Change
In the tapestry of childhood experiences, each thread weaves a unique story. By embracing a lived experience lens, we can embark on a journey of understanding, empathy, and change. Addressing ACEs, promoting positive parenting, raising awareness about domestic violence, abuse, and neglect, nurturing resilience, actively listening with empathy, and empowering young individuals to redefine their narratives are pivotal steps toward building a brighter future for the generations to come.
As we strive to cultivate compassionate change, let us remember that every child’s story deserves to be one of hope, healing, and opportunity.
To learn more about Adverse Childhood Experience, join The Care Leaders Online – our 12-month CPD Accredited training facilitated by Lived Experience Leaders.
In the world of caring for young people, practitioners are often faced with behaviours that might be labeled as ‘complex,’ ‘challenging,’ or ‘risk-taking.’ However, these labels often fail to capture the true essence of what these behaviors are trying to communicate. In this blog, we’re going to delve deep into understanding behaviours from a lived experience lens, shedding light on the messages they convey and how practitioners can go beyond mere behaviour management.
Breaking Down Communication Barriers:
When we encounter behaviours that puzzle us, it’s essential to recognise that they are not isolated incidents but rather a form of communication. The language barrier between adults and children can hinder effective understanding, leading to misconceptions about intentions. By fostering a culture of empathy and active listening, practitioners can bridge this gap and decode the messages within these behaviours. The words ‘complex’ and ‘challenging’ take on new meaning when we begin to see them as invitations for understanding.
Non-Verbal Communication and Development:
Communication isn’t solely about spoken words. Young people often develop unique non-verbal methods to express their feelings, needs, and experiences. As practitioners, we must attune ourselves to these non-verbal cues – the silent pleas for help, the withdrawn postures, and the intense gazes or outbursts. Beneath the surface of behaviour lies conscious and unconscious messages waiting to be deciphered.
Shifting from Managing to Understanding Behaviour:
The shift from managing to understanding behaviours marks a transformative moment in a practitioner’s journey. While behaviour management seeks to control actions, understanding behaviour delves into the ‘why’ behind these actions. When we strive to understand, we acknowledge the context, triggers, and emotions that drive behaviours. This shift enables us to create more supportive and nurturing environments where young people feel heard and validated.
Building Empathy and Trust:
By embarking on the path of understanding behaviours, practitioners pave the way for a deeper connection with the young people they serve. This newfound empathy cultivates trust, which is essential for meaningful relationships. As practitioners gain insight into the messages behind behaviours, they can respond in ways that nurture confidence, reduce anxiety, and promote a sense of calm among young people.
Developing Survival Behaviours:
Children are remarkably resilient, adapting to challenging circumstances by developing what can be termed as “survival” behaviours. These behaviours are not born out of a desire to disrupt, but rather as coping mechanisms to navigate adversity. Recognising this underlying drive helps practitioners approach behaviours with compassion, aiming to provide the support and guidance necessary for healthier coping strategies.
De-escalation and Effective Response:
In moments of heightened tension, de-escalation techniques become invaluable tools for practitioners. By staying attuned to the messages within behaviours, professionals can respond effectively and with sensitivity. De-escalation involves creating a safe space, validating emotions, and offering appropriate alternatives. This approach not only diffuses immediate challenges but contributes to long-term growth and development.
In a world that often seeks quick fixes and surface-level solutions, understanding the messages behind challenging behaviours is a profound and transformative approach. By breaking down communication barriers, decoding non-verbal cues, shifting from management to understanding, and fostering empathy, practitioners empower themselves to create impactful change in the lives of young people. This journey isn’t without its challenges, but the rewards are immeasurable – confident, resilient, and empowered individuals who have been heard, understood, and supported every step of the way. So let’s embark on this journey of understanding, one behaviour at a time.
Join The Care Leaders Online Membership to learn more about the messages in children’s behaviour and gain tailored tools to help you respond more effectively – click here.
The Care Leaders: Founder’s story
Children and young people in care are some of the most vulnerable members of society – yet the struggles and challenges they face are so often overlooked. Many have suffered traumatic events which have led them to being placed in care, and lack the family support networks that others might take for granted. Luke Rodgers, founder of The Care Leaders, having experienced the turbulent journey of foster care himself, used these experiences to fuel his passion for empowering others.
A turbulent childhood
Luke’s story began at the age of 10 when he entered the foster care system. Unfortunately, his experience was far from stable. He endured being moved from one place to another, a total of 13 times, which left him feeling neglected and unheard. “People really struggled to take care of me,” Luke recalls. “I had lots of temporary places to live which isn’t uncommon. I was told I was ‘unfosterable” because I was displaying such challenging behaviour. But the reason I was being challenging was because I was in pain and being unfairly judged.”
Becoming a Care Leader
Despite the hardships he faced, Luke refused to let his past define him. Now, at the age of 32, he is not only an award-winning social entrepreneur but also a recipient of the prestigious British Empire Medal (BEM) for his work as director of The Care Leaders. Luke’s journey from care leaver to care leader embodies the essence of The Care Leaders vision.
The inspiration behind The Care Leaders
Luke’s realisation that young people often struggle to move beyond their personal stories sparked the birth of The Care Leaders. He understood that sharing stories about lived experience wasn’t enough, without actionable outcomes and clear calls to action it can leave both the audience and the young person feeling unsure about what comes next. Luke wanted to create an environment where care experienced people can be more than their stories, he wanted an environment that nurtures and develops them as leaders. Too often are care experienced people only given the opportunity to share the testimony of their life, The Care Leaders is about using their experiences and leadership skills to drive positive change.
“We want to see a world in which young people leave services in a better place than when they entered them,” says Luke. “And we want care experienced people to be recognised and respected as leaders, not just a seen as a story.”
What sets The Care Leaders apart
“Being a care leader isn’t about sharing your story – it’s about allowing your story to drive what it is that you do,” says Luke. “One of the things I do is provide consultancy and support organisations that engage with young people. I also work in transformation so I help organisations do new things. My personal experiences give me empathy – I understand what it’s like for a young person in care – and my professional experiences provide authority because I’ve created projects that have been successful and been recognised for them. What makes The Care Leaders special is that we believe the personal and the professional insights are equally important – you need empathy and authority to work in children’s social care and a care leader is a balance between those two states.’
Driving transformation through innovation
The Care Leaders believe the intersection in between lived experience and leadership is where authentic change can happen. “This enables us to hear experiences and translate that to training, service design and transformation, I like to say that we turn stories into strategies’ says Luke.
The Care Leaders is at the forefront of innovation, developing projects that have a tangible impact on the lives of young people.
The Care Leaders Online
The Care Leaders Online is an online platform delivering CPD-accredited training facilitated by Lived Experience Leaders.
“For staff working with young people, we believe it’s important to have impactful training, and to engage them in processes that transform services,” says Luke. “We know that working in children’s services takes passion, commitment and empathy. We also know that this is a sector that’s at the forefront of negative media and stigmatisation which can be de-motivating and lower morale.
“I believe in developing systems that engage staff and young people in the co-design of services, providing feedback and solutions about how to develop services to reinvigorate culture, inspire action and connect them with positive stories from lived experience.”
The Care Leaders Fellowship
Another significant initiative of The Care Leaders is the Care Leaders Fellowship. This 12-month program offers Lived Experience and Professional Leaders the opportunity to develop their ideas, projects, or businesses whilst working side by side as allies.
Through a comprehensive learning program, including modules on self-leadership, storytelling, and co-designing projects, the fellowship empowers individuals to create change. The program provides vital support, social, financial and digital capital, enabling fellows to connect with a network, secure funding to share and grow their work.
A temporary system by default
“The people in the care system are great but unfortunately, the system isn’t,” says Luke. “And the statistics speak for themselves. Around 50 percent of teenagers have a placement breakdown.
‘‘If you look at the language social care use, they often say that they are ‘searching for permeant options’, that ‘stability’ is the most important thing and will often tell children they want to find them a ‘forever family’. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the principle of this, however the system can’t provide it. We have temporary foster care, children change social worker and when they 18 they leave care and their support ends. We quite simply can’t just expect children to understand these mixed messages.’’
Positive changes in the system
Luke acknowledges that while significant challenges persist within the system, some positive changes have been made. Delegated authority now allows foster carers to make everyday decisions for children in their care, giving them a sense of normalcy and empowerment.
Additionally, the leaving foster care age has been extended to 21, providing young people with the opportunity to stay with foster carers for a longer duration. That being said, there is still much work to be done to ensure ongoing support and stability for young people leaving care.
We are also seeing a number of initiatives such as the ‘digital poverty campaign’, a campaign instigated by a group of care leavers called the Care Leavers National Movement. Their aim is to lobby government to provide care leavers with internet access and technology to combat digital poverty for care leavers.
There is the guarantor scheme spear-headed by Mary-Anne Hodd, a care leaver, facilitator and powerful individual on a mission to ensure local authorities enact their corporate parenting responsibilities by acting as a guarantor for care leavers in rented accommodation – just like many parents are for their children.
Most recently we have seen a motion to make care leavers a protected characteristic sweeping the UK, a big step towards reducing inequality for care leavers in the labor market.
The Care Leaders want to challenge and shape society’s perspective of young people, especially those who are considered vulnerable.
“We know that young people use services not because of what they have done, but because of what’s been done to them, yet they are still stigmatised as bad kids” says Luke. “We see our role to pbe role models and leaders who are committed to change, so young people have a contrasting narrative and something to look upto.”
Find out more on The Care Leaders website.
Fostering communities is a critical aspect of supporting foster carers and care-experienced children and young people. Communities can come in various forms, such as support groups, mentorship, and programmes like The Mockingbird family model, and offer an essential space of support, conversation, and a sense of belonging. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of fostering communities and how they can help individuals feel more connected, valued, and empowered.
What is fostering communities?
“Fostering communities will mean different things and different people,” says Luke Rodgers, Lived Experience Leader and founder of The Care Leaders. “For me, I suppose the idea of community is having people around you – and foster carers need that community as much as children now.
“Children in care need foster carers that are adequately supported, appropriately trained, and provide loving homes. If they feel unsupported or overwhelmed, they will struggle to effectively support the children in their homes.
“The conditions in which they are under can make their role incredibly difficult. That being said, it’s important to recognise that foster carers are some of the most dedicated, passionate and strong individuals that I’ve ever met. People that, despite the lack of support they may receive, still roll up their sleeves.”
Often, foster carers will experience difficulties when supporting their child or young person. In these circumstances, support groups are a good example of communities that can be built within the care system.
“Let’s say you’ve got a foster carer that’s really struggling to support a young person that has been diagnosed with ADHD. A support group is a really good way for them to offload.
“However, it doesn’t solve the problem. The support groups need to be able to result in actions.”
If a foster carer feels ill-equipped to support the young person with ADHD, for example, the need to be able to purchase training. But a lot of support groups don’t allow that function.
“All those support groups are great to be able to communicate with like-minded peers but unless they’ve got governance, unless they can authentically create actions and influence actions from it, they will feel they are not listened to.”
Mentorship is important for foster carers and usually comes from a supervising social worker.
“That relationship is crucial. Foster carers deserve social workers that are dedicated to supporting them. Unfortunately, though, the role of a social worker is so underfunded and usually has an incredibly high caseload. They’re under a lot of pressure so they require additional support to be able to effectively support their foster carers.
“So the support group needs to be able to offer change for actions, the supervisor social worker needs to feel that they’re appropriately supported with the right resources and finances, and foster carers need to be paid to be able to support children so they can run their homes.”
The Mockingbird programme
Mockingbird, a pioneering programme led by The Fostering Network, is a solution to these issues that delivers sustainable foster care.
It’s an evidence-based model structured around the support and relationships an extended family provides. The model nurtures the relationships between children, young people and foster families supporting them to build a resilient and caring community.
“At the centre of that network is a very experienced foster carer who is like the grandparent of the family. It creates a sustainable support network with one supervising social worker for the whole group who understands the family dynamic.
“It creates a physical community. They have to come together every month and do fun activities and it can keep siblings together. If a child can’t live with their brother or sister in the same foster placement, for example, they can live within the same community.
‘I’m a massive advocate for that. The Mockingbird family model is a ready-made solution that works.”
A child or young person might move in with a foster carer, but if things get too difficult and that foster carer doesn’t have support, the placement can come to an end. The Mockingbird family model solves that by allowing the child to go and stay with the grandparent of the family for a long weekend.
“That gives the child a break and it gives the foster carer a break. The experienced foster carer will act as a mediator, but if that doesn’t exist, the foster carer can become stressed and overwhelmed. If they don’t have a release for these feelings, they can build up until they finally say ‘I can’t take it anymore’ and the young person moves on.
“Communities act as a space where all of those kinds of soft, regular relationships of chitchat and conversation and moral support can exist unformalised, which is really important for humans.”
The benefits of community
For those people who have their own family networks, think about your own family, and now put yourself in a position where that no longer exists. If you think about all the things that you’ve lost, those are all the benefits of having a community.
“To me, it’s quite common sense. It’s just that a community is somewhat organic. It’s not governed by policy and procedure – it’s the opposite of it. The reason we’re talking about this as if it’s something that we need to learn is because we’re operating in a system that is governed by procedure, policies, rules, and regulations, and it’s quite rigid. A community isn’t rigid.”
How does a community ultimately support a young person?
If a young person in care has lost their family, the dynamic of that family, and the community that exists within it, this can cause various challenges for their mental health. They may have gone through bereavement or grief, and they are likely to come out with very heavy feelings.
“They are projected into a rigid system of rules and regulation, which they then leave at 18 years old – it doesn’t feel like a community.
“Young people deserve communities to have a sense of belonging, to have people around them that can communicate high expectations, to say ‘I believe in you’, to try something and fail and know that they’ve got that community to support them.
“All of the benefits that people that have got strong families have, young people deserve that.”
The Mockingbird model has created a system that allows a community to operate. The challenges of building communities in care is that our mindset is so much about policy, procedure and rigid rule-following that a community and the concept of a free, organic, self-sustaining community that supports itself feels too scary.
“It’s too loose, it’s too free, and it will come with lots of challenges when you look at it from the lens of a rigid system.
“Communities operate within an organisation. What we’re trying to do is to create a community that is a social construct based on the values of communities, families supporting one another, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially – that’s all the things that a community does.
“Trying to implement that into an organisation is challenging because we’re also saying, it’s important to keep your professional and personal boundaries. But how do you maintain a professional boundary of that community when that community is trying to create a replication of a family?
“There are obviously things that we’ll have to keep in place, but it’s about looking at that system and thinking, okay, if we really want community, what barriers is our organisational structure creating? If we put our minds into understanding what a community needs, how do we remove some of those barriers safely and give people agency and ownership to solve their own problems and build their own community?”
For foster carers or anyone working with care-experienced children and young people, the Mockingbird family model is one of many innovative programmes that The Fostering Network runs to improve foster care and outcomes for fostered young people.
They are currently working with a growing number of local authorities, fostering services, children’s services trusts and independent fostering providers across the UK. You can find out more about the Mockingbird programme here.
Want to learn and develop the skills needed to create supportive communities? Sign up to The Care Leaders Online training membership.
Teenagers in care often present a particular challenge, and many adults struggle to connect with them. But why? In this blog post, founder of The Care Leaders and Lived Experience Leader, Luke Rodgers, together with Lived Experience Leader, Karylle Phillips, and the founder of Madlug, Dave Linton, discuss the reasons behind this and explore the ways in which adults can engage with young people – particularly those who are care-experienced – to improve communication and build stronger relationships.
Why do we view teenagers differently?
For Karylle, the reason this topic is so important – especially for care-experienced young people – is that firstly, teenagers are harder to foster, and secondly, that when we think about child development, we recognise things such as attachment and trauma and previous history before coming into care.
“We think about those things and we tend to picture children under 10,” says Karylle. “We feel sorry for them and we want to do all these things. Yet, we take this same child with all this history and early childhood trauma, and now they’re 14, 15, and all of a sudden, they’re not so cute. They talk back, and for whatever reason, we forget they have been through all of this. If anything, now at 14, 15, the risks are heightened.
“They’re now engaging in risk-taking behaviour and they’re doing things that for us as adults, triggers something within us. We want to protect them, but equally, we just want them to do what we’re telling them to do. It’s something I see across all sectors – be it in education, social work, etc.
“I suppose what I really wanted us to focus on was what is it about teenagers that triggers adults? But more importantly, how can we get care-experienced young people to talk? That’s ultimately what we want, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s healthy that young people challenge everything we’re saying. Instead of seeing it as an educational point, we see it as disobedience and disrespect. So my question is to you guys, how to we get teenagers to talk back to us?”
Teenagers and their emotions
Luke says the first question to ask is ‘what are we getting them to talk about?’ If we’re asking hormonal teenagers to talk about their emotions, it’s important to remember how big their emotions are anyway. This is the case even more so with care-experienced young people who have had a history where their emotions have not been regulated or co-regulated with someone else.
Endearing children vs terrible teens
“In terms of the separation between what we call the ‘endearing children’ and the ‘terrible teens’, I think we go through this process which is when children in care are below the age of 13, we say ‘oh maybe the reason you’re behaving like this is because of x, y, or z’,” says Luke. “We try to get them to understand. We say ‘oh maybe because of difficult experiences, there are big feelings and you’re behaving this way’. But then what happens is the teenager turns that round in our face and they say ‘well the reason I behave like that miss is because I was knocked about as a kid, and you’re kind of like ‘oh’. What do you do with that when a teenager throws that in your face?
“As an endearing child in care, we’ve been trying to get them to create a connection between their behaviour and experience. As a teenager, they go ‘well the reason why I hit little Timmy on the head is because I’ve been hit on the head’. It’s difficult to respond to that, so often we just don’t.”
Techniques to better communicate with teenagers
“A really simple technique you can use is to reply “oh, I wasn’t aware of that. Because you’ve mentioned it, I want to make sure you’re supported’. You either give them support [yourself] or [you find] them support.
“If a teenager has used that to trigger you, if you then respond and say ‘oh that sounds like a difficult experience, I wasn’t aware of that, I’m going to find you support’ now you’re basically saying because of what you said to me, I’m going to get you support where you can talk about that emotional thing.”
Separating behaviour and emotion
“The next thing you do is to explain to them that behaving in that way is completely unacceptable. You say ‘we’re going to deal with those issues separately. I’m going to get you support for that but behaving like that is not okay. Also, the fact that you know you do it because of that means that you can do something about it. If you didn’t know I could have given you a break but the fact that you do know means you’re controlling your behaviour.’ You can really flip it.
“I think you have to separate behaviour and emotion with teenagers, and you’ve got to find a technique to do it. You’ve got to deal with the meaning or the emotion and with the behaviour and then you’ve got to separate them.”
The bottom line: what’s your agenda?
“I’m one of the strange people that actually prefer teenagers over children,” says Dave. “It’s maybe a little bit different when you become a parent of teenagers, but [when I was a youth worker], I loved working with teenagers. I think it comes down to ‘what’s your agenda?’
“Young people are smart. There was a study done several years ago called ‘Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers’ and they talked about how culture sends teenagers to an underground, and it’s an extended adolescence. So the underground world is peer-influenced and it’s [all about how you] ‘don’t trust adults’. The peer message was that your parents want to be seen as being a great carer, your teacher wants to be seeing as doing a great job, etc.
“At Madlug, do I really care about all that stuff? No. I care about the young person I’m sitting beside. When I go to National House Project or The Care Leavers National Movement and sit with their young people around a table, what’s my agenda? Is it to be the business guy, the big brand guy, or do I want to just be sitting down listening, showing empathy and compassion and just being real? I think that’s the part that I would say to every adult – ‘how [do] we connect? And I think that’s even more important with care-experienced young people. However, what’s needed more is a place where they have that support and that love and compassion and genuineness.”
Karylle agrees that being mindful of our agenda is crucial. She recalls speaking to a social worker as a 15-year-old in care and struggling to regulate her emotions. “I’m still the seven-year-old who had witnessed domestic abuse and I’m still the seven-year-old who had over 15 different foster placements,” she says. “I’m still the seven-year-old who has been abandoned and rejected. I am still that person but now I’m 15. So now I’ve got more experience pinpointing who’s communication can I trust? Pinpointing who makes the decisions here? I’m in a constant state of survival and so what I haven’t learnt yet is to express my emotions.”
Looking beyond the behaviour
Chatting with that social worker, Karylle recalls being told by her social worker that she wouldn’t be getting her payslip on time. Karylle became filled with emotion and felt she had no control over the situation so swore at the social worker.
“Do you know what they turned around and said? If you’re going to talk to me like that, I’m going to hang up the phone. At that point is when I feel so many more adults and practitioners should really take a step back and recognise that one, this isn’t personal, and two, what was your agenda here in the first place?
“Was it just to deliver bad news? Because if you were aware of that, then you would be prepared for my reaction. Hanging up the phone doesn’t solve anything, and now I’ve just found another person to add to the long list of people who don’t know how to communicate. Now, every time we talk, it’s just [swearing a lot] because I need to gain back that control. You’ve told me what you don’t like me doing so now I’m gonna do it every single time. You hurt me, so I’ll hurt you. I don’t have any control over your life but I have some control now that you’ve shown me how it makes you feel so I’ll do that in every reaction.”
“What you’re communicating is going beyond the behaviour and communicating what’s going on for the young person,” says Luke. “Dave, you’re saying, just be real. And I think they kind of go side by side.
Nurturists vs behaviourists
Luke says that when children with a social worker are triggered, they can’t regular their emotions. They need some help doing that. “Teachers, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish,” he says. “This kind of stuff doesn’t come up in general teacher training. The teacher will usually say ‘alright cool, let’s not see a young person as being challenging – let’s see them as being emotionally overwhelmed’. But how do I do that when this is happening? Teachers don’t feel they have the training to do it. I think schools need to look at things slightly differently.
“There are two schools of thought – there are the nurturists and the behaviourists. I always explain the nurturists as Peter Pan (everything’s lovely) and the behaviourists like Ms Trunchable who will lock you in a coffin with spikes on it at any moment. The behaviourists believe order and routine and being strict will enable a young person to grow into being a meaningful adult, and the nurturists say ‘let’s talk about your feelings’. I think people are taught one or the other, and I think actually, we need both.
“So in your scenario, Karylle, the teacher might say ‘well they swore at me, that’s against our behavioural management policy. We need to get rid of them’. But from my perspective, we need to do something else. We need to ask ourselves ‘how is this young person emotionally overwhelmed?’ Again, using this example, Karylle, ‘I can see how something difficult is going on for you right now but I want to get you support for that but speaking to me in this way is completely unacceptable and we’ll deal with that separately’. This all comes back to consistency.”
Validation is key
Karylle says one of the most important things she has learned working in further education is not to forget when you’re speaking to a teenager. “Yes, we have to be professional in these settings, but if a young person openly says to me ‘this is fucking shit’, rather than saying ‘no swearing in my office please’, I just go ‘yeah it is a bit shit isn’t it. What do you want to do about it?’ Validation is key.
“Had that social worker said to me ‘you know what Karylle, I get it. I’m going to go back to my manager and speak to her, [things would have been different]. But it was a lack of validation for me, and it was the idea that how I respond to it almost had an impact on the outcome. [I would then also] sit and worry thinking ‘oh god, am I supposed to grovel and apologise? She might not help me now’. It’s such an abusive situation to be in, especially when you’re a young person who isn’t necessarily equipped with the knowledge of how to respond.
“Instead, everything you do and every which way you respond is considered negative and inappropriate. They could also say ‘if I could do something else I would. Do you think there’s something else I could do that I haven’t done? I’m sorry this is happening, I’ll get back to you.’ It might not change the swearing but it would have left the conversation on a very different tone.
“Thinking about a particular group of young people where practitioners are struggling or adults are struggling, how do we engage with that group? How do we get them to talk to us?”
Dave believes a key thing is being curious.“I think one of the problems is we’re not teaching people how to ask good questions,” he says. “If you’re really about the young person, then you’re interested, so it’s natural.”
Karylle agrees. “If you’re genuinely curious and your agenda is to build a relationship, regardless of how much time you have, what your role is, then naturally you start forming good questions,” she says.
“Good questions then bring great responses,” says Dave. “So you end up starting to go deeper. But it doesn’t happen straight away. Some of my best youth work was five years in when I really got to know young people on a different level.
“I didn’t give up. My agenda was ‘what did that young person need?’ Just playing PlayStation talking rubbish may have been what they needed [in one moment] but [another time, it] may have been [a conversation about struggling at school].
“Whenever we’re working with young people, there’s often a risk that we try to stop them or protect them from doing what we have done. We operate out of our own traumas, and everyone carries trauma to some degree.”
Luke raises the point that as adults, we expect children in care and care-experienced young people to come to us and do what we want them to do, but when it’s the other way around, we are unwilling to enter a more fluid space. “I find using humour is a really [good approach to take] with young people. If you’re asking young people questions and they’re not answering, you can fall into a space of humour.
“When I worked in London setting up an edge of care programme, I had to do outreach and go to people’s houses, and it was the middle of summer. The [people working there said kids didn’t answer their doors] and I asked ‘when you turn up you knock on the door and they don’t answer, what are you doing?’ They said ‘oh I’d just go back to the office’.
“So I went to this kid’s house knocking on the door and saying through the letterbox saying ‘dude it’s so hot outside. Can you please just bring me a glass of water? I can see you in there. I’m so warm out here’. Just letting go a little bit.
“The kid opened the door and we played on PlayStation together. I end up helping his mum put up something in her kitchen that stops flies getting in from outside. You’ve just got to loosen up a bit and have some humour.”
How to talk to teenagers so they talk back to you
- Ask yourself ‘what is my agenda?’ In that space when a young person disagrees with you or challenges you, how do you respond to that? Ask yourself ‘what is my agenda in this conversation?’
- Be curious. Have an authentic relationship and take away that awkwardness. Just go with it.
- Be mindful of the language you use. If you’re telling your colleagues that young people ‘aren’t engaging’, think about what it is that you’re doing. You knocked on the door but did you try anything else? Or did you just cut them loose at that point and say ‘they’re not engaging’? They’re not engaging with your approach, so try something else.
- Don’t try to be cool. You’re probably not and that’s okay.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enhance your communication skills with young people in care. Join The Care Leaders Online training today and learn directly from our Lived Experience Leaders. Gain practical skills you can apply to your daily practices and CPD accreditation to further your career.
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In this blog post, founder of The Care Leaders, Luke Rodgers, chats with fellow lived experience leader, Karylle Phillips, and Madlug founder, Dave Linton, about the real-life experiences transitions of what is like to move foster placement, the challenges that come with this process, and what it truly means to find permanency.
When Luke thinks about his experience of foster care, he says his brain goes into two spaces.
“As a kid, I thought [none of my] foster carers really cared apart from one,” he says. “As an adult looking back, I think that most of them cared. I just wasn’t ready to be cared for.”
On the subject of moving placement, Luke’s first thought is around the ‘illusion of permanence’. “The whole idea of a foster placement [being] child-focused is around permanence and stability. So we say we need to provide permanence for the child and we need to give them stability. But I don’t think we can offer that to a young person at all – I think it’s an illusion.
“How do we actually give young people permanence if the system comes to an end?”
Luke also mentions young people moving as a consequence of going into things like temporary foster care. “I think that we’re maybe educating people wrong because we’re saying to services that the most important thing to give to a child is a forever family – stability. But when you’re 18, it’s gone. I think we might be setting people up to fail.”
As an adult, Karylle reflects on her experiences as a young person in care as a way to help her navigate the world today.
“I like to think what can foster carers do and what can foster placements do in the time that they have with the child that will give them messages like that to reflect upon?” says Luke. “It’s not about the length of time that is that you spend with them, it’s about the quality of time.
“What can foster carers do if they flex their mind into that space knowing that this child might not be there forever? What does the world look like if we accept that young people are going to move to different placements and let go of the idea of permanence?”
Dave previously fostered a young person for a short period who is now in their twenties and still a part of his family. “If you’re young person-focused, [I agree], it’s about making an impact and being relational and having a positive influence when you are there,” he says.
“When it’s youth-focused, it’s about ‘what does the young person need for now?’. So often, we’re trying to create this sense of permanency. But we don’t talk about moving – and it’s because we’re trying to hold on. We think it’s our responsibility to keep it as [a] long [placement].
“If it breaks down and it becomes the young person’s fault for breaking it down, that’s not a youth-focused culture. A youth-focused culture is this child has arrived, how can I build a relationship and have a positive time at the level where that child or young person is?”
“Imagine taking two adults from social care, from completely different departments, sticking them together and saying, ‘you’re going to live together now forever. And if and if it doesn’t work out, I know one of you has got a problem’,” says Luke.
Luke often hears from care-experienced people that they remember people in their past, like a social worker or a foster carer and add that person – maybe a social worker – on Facebook to thank them for their support. But a lot of social workers are told it’s inappropriate for them to accept that Facebook request, and it’s the same for foster carers.
“How do we encourage and inspire more foster carers to do that?” says Luke. “I think that’s a very common mindset but another mindset is, ‘well, we don’t get support to look after these young people anymore so I can’t keep a relationship with them’.
“How do we influence them to have a relationship with a young person beyond care even though they might not be being supported for it?”
Dave says it’s okay for a young person to not connect with a foster carer, to move on and to have no other connection. “What’s important for me is in that short time that they leave having some form of experience of what love is, what focus is, what care really is.
“So, if somebody has been in for a couple of nights and [it probably] isn’t going to work and the child needs to move again, [it can still be a positive experience]. You know, they didn’t force me to sit in the living room and feel awkward. The kids in that home played PlayStation with me]. I had a blast.
Karylle agrees. “Even in that short time of providing respite, you can do so much,” she says.
“A lot of the times, especially in children’s social care, whether you’re a social worker, teacher, educator, foster carer, residential care person, there is a space where people assume a relationship has to be built within the first three days, and if it’s not, it’s not going to be great. [They also assume] we’ve got all the time in the world to do this and I think that’s where we mess up a lot of time in social work.”
In regards to permanency, Karylle says we need to have this realistic view that it might not be permanent. We can build relationships, and we know young people can do it because we see them in school. “How many of us still speak to our year one school teacher? Probably not a lot of us. And yet we had that relationship for one year and we moved on successfully and transitioned without ever needing that relationship.
“What that relationship provided in that short time was significant for us to move on successfully to continuing education. And so I think [we need] to replace this idea that relationships require a long length of time with the [realisation] that they actually don’t.
“In this short space, you can do so much – even if it is just moving them on so they don’t look back, so they don’t even have to remember that they stayed with me, but they move on successfully. I think that’s really, really key.”
Dave agrees that we all remember the teachers who actually cared and who left an impact. “I think the other part is we’ve got to break the stereotype that it’s the child that’s the problem.
“If you’re helping a child who has problems and you’re trying to fix them, that’s going to be a breakdown from day one.
“It’s actually a privilege to be able to care for a child or young person in this time of challenge.”
Luke says part of the issue is that we have too much expectation. “We [say] I expect you to be a particular way which isn’t giving – that’s a transaction. So therefore if you don’t [behave this way] and if I don’t see an outcome of my exchange with you – you being fixed – then what use is that to me? There’s something deep to look inside [yourself there] and actually [ask] why am I doing this?
“A foster carer once said to me ‘I care but I don’t care’. She said ‘I really care about you, I really care that you do well, but I don’t care about the outcome because I can’t. I can only wake up in the morning and care about what I do today, but I can’t really care about what you do with that.’
“I think it’s a really useful mindset. Young people are going to come to us and they’re going to be challenging because they’ve had challenging relationships in the past. We should expect young people to find our relationships with them difficult because in the past, their relationships have been difficult. They’re not broken – they’ve come from places that are broken, and they’ve had things done to them but they’re not bad kids.
“We might not be able to look after them forever but we’re a part of their life journey and it’s a privilege to be a part of that for whatever period of time.
“I suppose it’s a question of endings. Nothing is permanent and everything is going to come to an end at some point. So how do we then start having meaningful conversations about endings? And when is it when is a good moment to move a young person and to really focus on the conversation of an ending?”
“Why aren’t we just saying this is not permanent? What’s the fear about that as well?” says Karylle. “These are young people who have already experienced abrupt endings.
“Young people, and children in particular, aren’t aware that this is happening. They’re not aware that these things are going on, and so for them, it’s happened abruptly. So why aren’t we leading with that? I think being honest and open with young people and children is so important.”
Dave says that often, even foster carers don’t know that it’s ending. “I’ve heard stories where the whole family and the foster child has been at a zoo and then they get a phone call from the social worker saying, I’m picking the child up in an hour.
“If we really think through the lens of what is the right thing for a child, we make better decisions.
“You could be a simple mentor to a young person, you could be a short break, you could be a wraparound care support.
“At [aged] five when my dad died, [I had] trauma from that but I didn’t end up in the care system. I had social workers, but I didn’t end up in a care system because I had significant adults who were all doing different parts of the job, building relationships with me that made it work. And so in the care system, [I believe] we need more of that rather than just one person or one family. The challenge of it is they move too many too far away from their support networks so it’s hard to build relationships and bring people around. But that for me is the key.
“If you think young person you think, then what does a young person need?”
It is well-reported that poor educational outcomes for children in care and children with a social worker can have a negative impact on their lives. Whether it’s access to work-based opportunities, or a successful transition into adulthood, educational achievement has a huge role to play in a young person’s life. In this blog, lived experience leader, Karylle Phillips, outlines some of the key educational obstacles these young people face, as well as how we can support them to overcome these challenges.
Chaotic Childhood and Early Years
Karylle started her journey through care at the age of four, having been living with her mum who had escaped a domestic abuse relationship.
“My early childhood experience was chaotic,” she said. “By the time I started school, I was already starting with a set of learned behaviours and experiences.
“When I say learned behaviours, I’m talking about how I’ve already interpreted how I respond in situations around me, and how adults respond in situations around me.”
At the age of five, Karylle started primary school, and within a year, she had had 15 different foster placements.
“My experiences at this point were that I was in care, so I didn’t know any different. Every time I spent short periods out of care, I was eventually returned home.”
It wasn’t until she turned seven that Karylle was placed on a care order, meaning the court had decided that it wasn’t appropriate for her to return home. Karylle’s local authority were now going to share parental responsibility with her mum and would make the day-to-day decisions on her behalf – including where she would live and where she would go to school.
“Life as it was completely changed for me.”
Karylle describes feeling “constantly overstimulated”, being called out of lessons to take part in looked-after children’s reviews and for meetings with foster carers, health specialists, and other adults. “My friends would ask me where I was going, and I would start to build a story. That story to adults became a lie, and so, to them, I became a liar.”
She recalls being collected after school by different adults most days of the week. “By Friday, I had run out of answers about who was picking me up. It started off as just trying to figure things out and then became a storytelling exercise just to protect myself.”
Karylle was in a children’s home from Monday to Sunday with lots of other children, who bonded over their dislike for their environment. Together, they formed their own little ‘gang mentality’ and would do anything they could to disrupt the status quo.
“As you can imagine, doing that day in and day out in a home setting and then trying to enter a classroom the next morning didn’t go well.”
Teachers and other adults at school failed to realise that the trauma Karylle was experiencing was the cause and reason for her behaviour and responses. “Rather than saying ‘well hold on, is there something we can do here to help?’ the first thing somebody says is ‘why are you late?’
“I had also learned the sheer reality of what happens outside of school, and I was conscious that I wanted to see my mum.”
Karylle recalls the adults in her life “walking on eggshells” and not wanting to “say the ‘m’ word.” That is, until one day a lady working at the reception desk at her primary school asked how her mum was doing. “She just spoke to me as if it was the most normal thing ever and it made me feel so good. To this day I will never forget that I had that experience with her.”
The Struggle with Placements and Attachments
The local authority was trying to place Karylle and her sister, who was also in care, with the same foster family. But this proved to be a struggle. “I didn’t want to engage, and I didn’t want to connect or attach to a carer, especially if they were female. Thinking about it from an attachment or child development perspective, I just wanted to be with my mum.
“There was this really unusual dynamic between my sister and I. Being placed together was brilliant because we obviously had a very strong attachment to each other, but if one of us attached and tried to build a relationship, the other would usually step in and say “well hold on we’ve got a mum”. We were almost ruining things for each other.”
The Impact of Language and Misunderstandings
Karylle recalls a social worker telling she and her sister that their current placement was breaking down again.
“One of the key points that I want to highlight is around language.
“The social worker sat us both down and said that if we didn’t find a placement to settle into soon, there would be nowhere else for us to go. While she probably thought she was communicating that this was our last chance and something needed to change for our own sakes, what I heard was ‘then the only place we can go is home’.
“She didn’t double-check that we heard what she thought she was trying to say. Instead, I internalised this and decided I was going to break down every placement to make this happen. That’s all I wanted.
“As you can imagine, that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time I started secondary school at age 11, we were ‘unfosterable’.”
The Conflict of Two Timetables
Karylle discusses the problem of having two conflicting timetables at secondary school: education and social work.
“Whilst on Wednesday, other children were concentrating on school, I was thinking ‘I’ve got a looked-after children review today’ and they’re all going to come into the school and embarrass me. If my review is at 2pm, I was there from 9am in an anxious state dreading them coming in. My brain was somewhere else.”
Karylle was eventually excluded from school and later separated from her sister.
“I hope the decision was made because somebody somewhere said that this wasn’t good for either of us. We were two different children who had experienced two different things in two different ways. They came and asked us what kind of foster family we wanted and ironically, we both said very different things.”
Before Karylle moved into her foster placement, a social worker spoke to her and expressed that she wanted to support her to try to get her back into education to give her more opportunities after leaving care. “This was the first time anybody had told me I get to leave. That’s all I had been trying to do.”
“I decided to leave care at the first opportunity – when I turned 16. But if I knew then what I know now, I never would have left. Not because I wanted to stay – but purely because I was not prepared for what would happen next.”
Karylle went back into education and planned to become a social worker.
“I thought I could do it better.”
“A lot of our young people want to be social workers or teachers because that’s all they know. So when we’re thinking about attainment and progression and all these things, why aren’t our looked-after children going on to become scientists or geologists or environmentalists?
“We find a lot of young care-experienced people in college are either on a health and social care course planning to be either a nurse, a social worker, or a probation officer or in a care-type role.
“What was the first thing I thought I could do when I left care? Go and be a social worker. Because I didn’t know anything else. I was just so caught up in needing to go in and fix the system to do better.”
Supporting Children in Care and with Social Workers
When it comes to supporting young people in education right now, Karylle stresses the importance of lived experience leadership.
“It has to be youth-led. You shouldn’t be getting looked-after children to come together and teach all these people in a Zoom call – that’s not authentic. What we look at is real authentic participation.
“Firstly, accept that you might only get two young people who are interested in working with you. Not everybody who is in care wants to talk about being in care.
“To reach those young people who do want to join you, make sure you get to know them. It can be a pointless exercise asking young people questions like ‘so where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘what are your career goals?’ because their only focus is on right now – not the future. Their ability to think ahead is really limited because of all the things they have going on for them.
“When it’s youth-led, you can be curious and ask questions. It develops discussion. It’s also celebrating and pulling out successes.
“I would start from a social action perspective. Rather than ‘come and share all your rubbish times in care’, ask instead whether there is something important to them that they want to change. It doesn’t have to be in social work – it could be something at school, or careers advice, for example.”
“They’re also more likely to engage when they know other young people are on board. It gives those young people who are on board a full sense of autonomy and ownership of whatever the project might be.
One of the reasons youth participation works is because it’s one of the rare occasions that these young people find themselves in positions of power and decision-making.
“These are a group of young people who have been in looked-after children’s reviews with 299 members – everybody talking about every detail of their lives – and having no say. The only time they have got to have a say is when they want to leave.
“Children and young people need to be put in situations where they can have a say, where they can really focus on their skills and be celebrated for being independent. That’s when they start to engage more in education – or any setting.”
Karylle is a care-experienced activist and social work expert who overcame huge challenges as a child in care to become a university-educated advisor to schools and colleges. You can connect with her via LinkedIn
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Ric Flo is a lived experience leader, rapper, and founder of Mantra Music, the world’s first record label exclusively for care-experienced artists. For the latest episode of our ‘In Conversation With’ series, Luke Rodgers BEM, founder of The Care Leaders, chatted to Ric to learn more about his background, his passion for music, and how he’s supporting talented care-experienced young people through his work.
From rapper to teacher, over the past five years, Ric Flo has been facilitating rap workshops for care-experienced young people, helping them to grow in confidence and “tell their story to the point where they’re on stage and they’re just owning it.”
What initially started as help with songwriting has grown into getting care-experienced young people into a studio and creating a label where care leavers can meet. They can also talk to booking agents, who act as mentors, about the music industry and all that goes with it.
“On my journey of rapping about my experience, I found it to be really powerful in connecting with the community and I feel like I need to help the next generation and support them with their music careers,” says Ric.
Ric and Luke previously worked together on an ‘Introduction to Songwriting’ workshop at Birmingham Library.
“The workshops you created were powerful,” said Luke. “I remember your incredible ability to be able to get a young person, who had no experience in the music at all, to [rap] and perform this music. It’s a rare talent and it requires incredible skill.”
What Ric is trying to do now is more than just a workshop of words – it’s creating an experience for young people.
After facilitating various workshops, Ric found that a lot of the time, the young people he was working with didn’t have laptops or somewhere they could record their music. Seeing this, he decided to create a dedicated space for them.
“The young people that are signed could be leading their own workshops. I’ve found a particular way of teaching and writing but when I started out, I had imposter syndrome. I was like ‘I know how to do my thing but I don’t necessarily know how to teach it’. But going to poetry workshops and seeing how other artists do their thing, it gave me more confidence about my process.
“Overall, I feel like as long as you’re creating a safe space where young people are able to share what they want, that’s really all that matters.
“Music was my therapy. It gave me that license to be honest, even if I [didn’t] put it out to the world. I want [young people] to have that experience to know that this is a way of expressing your feelings in an honest way and just letting go of the emotion you’ve [been holding]. This was therapeutic for me, and if you love music, it’s going to be beneficial to you, [too].”
“That’s so powerful,” says Luke. “In the space that I work in, I’m all about youth voice and asking ‘how do you get young people involved in sharing their views of how things should be done differently?’
“There’s always a lot of pressure in this space and what I see when we work with young people is constantly [asking them to] share their view. But you look at that sometimes and think ‘no, just have fun’.
“What you’re saying here is that your voice isn’t just valuable to be shared – your voice is valuable for you to be able to understand and to process the experiences that you’ve been through. There’s obviously something in music and in writing, where you are not necessarily just directing your thoughts into sharing your past – you’re thinking of a creative way to express [them].”
Ric agrees, adding that he’s been learning along the way. His first album, ‘A boy called Ric’ was “inspired by A Child Called it.”
“At the time – 2012 or 2013 – I didn’t really know any representation of someone who is care-experience within media, let alone music. [But I thought] ‘oh, you know, it’s quite inspiring’. Regardless of traumatic experiences, this is turning trauma into triumph. Let me get that message across in my music.
“Regardless of your past, you can make a positive future. Although I was quite vulnerable in the album, I felt like hip hop gave me that license in the sense of ‘this is my truth’. I had no other way to say it so I was just literal and raw.
“Phoenix Rising, which was created by the Big House, is a theatrical show that’s by care leavers, for care leavers. It was done in a real professional way and that gave me more inspiration.
“The next EP I did was called The Rise of the Phoenix and it’s almost been like a feedback loop, seeing inspiring stories from other care leavers that I’ve fed into the music to have more of a metaphor and to make sure my story resonates on a bigger level.
“I just want to make that feedback loop bigger. I just want to share more stories from care leavers that are inspiring.”
Luke talks about the societal narrative that says the best way to involve a care-experienced person in service delivery is by asking them to come to a conference or event and to share their story. “You’re saying, well, actually, no. There is so much more impact that can be created for our young people here if we just think of a different way to do it – and your method is through music.”
When he first started out, Ric didn’t know if he had talent but he knew he was passionate about music. “I was like, by any means necessary, I need to do this, I need to tell my story. And it wasn’t for any success externally – it was for a goal for myself. I said before I was 25, I would write an album about my life, I would see my dad for the first time, and I would go skydiving. My most successful song Before I’m 25 goes into that story and that’s why that was so powerful for me.
“I realised that this is bigger than me – this is for the community. I want to give that same feeling and that same support to the next generation. They might not be sure if they’ve got talent but they know they love music.
“I want to hear what their voices be like ‘regardless of what everyone else is saying, regardless of not getting support from elsewhere, I’ve got talent’. I want to give [them] a platform.”
As the world’s first record label exclusively for care-experienced artists, Ric is dedicated to supporting care leaders and is proud to “champion people like us”. In terms of where he sees the record label going, Ric says “the sky’s the limit”. He would love to collaborate with Goldie, a care leaver and legendary drum and bass producer.
“I’d love him to be involved in collaborating and just being a spokesperson for the label. Talent-wise, if we found the next Adele, that would be incredible. We could do our own festivals. It’s so open that anything’s possible.”
Ric emphasises that the label is for positive representation of care leavers within the music industry, and that he doesn’t want them to feel like they’re pigeonholed in terms of how they tell their story.
“They can share whatever they want. I’m just looking forward to the journey of meeting the talent and really helping them with their career however they see it. Half of the journey is going to be informed by these artists.”
Luke says we are often challenged to think about real long-term success, especially when it comes to young people in care, because that’s the way that the sector works. “How do you measure outcomes? How do you do this? How do you do that? [But] how do you just improve a young person’s life today? How do you get them to engage in something that is fun?
“Everybody’s experiences inform what they do today – and it’s exactly the same for these care-experienced young people. Their experiences inform what they do today and if what they’re doing today is making music, they don’t need to talk about their story. What you’re creating here is that safety net [and a] community that’s got a clear vision to set up this record label and create this product which you give them ownership of.”
Ric says that the purpose of the label is to act as “a pillar of inspiration”.
“I just want to fill in that space of curiosity that I had. I want to know other people in the community that are talented that I could potentially collaborate with. That’s that’s the main point – they have a space where there’s literally no representation within the music industry.”
Ric currently has funding to facilitate a Mantra Music programme with five young people aged 18 to 25, with the aim to secure additional funding to grow the programme and offer it to more care-experienced young people.
The Mantra Music programme will run for nine months, starting with some writing development in February. The young people will work on developing their own songs, with Ric providing mentorship when it comes to instrumentals and general confidence.
In March, the label will record music at The Premises Studios, a prestigious studio in Hackney, London where the likes of Skepta and Arctic Monkeys have recorded. Then in April, they will start to think about branding and “how they’re seeing the world as an artist”. They will be looking at everything from branded logos to music videos.
From July to late August, there will be a marketing rollout of the five artists, with the plan to release a compilation album released by the end of September. There will also be funding for two events, including for an album launch party.
Along the way, four industry mentors, including a producer and distribution manager, will share their experience to give each young person a better idea of how the industry works.
“To actually have a record label that has the ability to get young people into a space that is the only care-experienced record label in the world just shows you [are] an incredible leader,” says Luke.
“It came from a space of ‘be the change that you want to see in the world’,” says Ric. “I saw zero representation of care leavers within music or media, so it just felt right.”
If Ric had just one message to share with people reading this blog, it would be for care leaders to use their experience to help the next generation. “I hope that the next generation – the talent I have on the label – inspires the next generation.
“I want to see care-experience leaders really change the world through their experience.”
Part of Bournemouth-grown hip-hop collective, Jungle Brown, Ric Flo has shared the stage with the likes of De La Soul, Ghostface Killah, Lowkey, Akala and The Pharcyde, and played major festivals including Glastonbury, Boomtown, and Lovebox. To find out more about Ric and Mantra Music, visit the website. You can also email them directly at [email protected]
When young people enter care, it can seem like the system takes a young person’s identity and gives them a new one, projecting them into a confusing world with new terminologies and often leaving them with little understanding of what’s happening. In this article, The Care Leaders, together with Madlug founder, Dave Linton, discuss what really happens when a child or young person enters the care system.
“It involves so many different things,” says Karylle, a lived experienced leader who has worked with The Care Leaders. “Had you asked me what it was like entering care [back then], I’d say it was the worst day of my life. It was traumatic. But now, looking back, I don’t think I had a real concept of what that first day felt like. I had had so many placements leading up to that – 15 by the time I was five – so before I was even made the responsibility of my local authority, I had already experienced care. My understanding of that first day is not as memorable as it would have been for other people. The change for me was going home after short periods spent in care and then [suddenly] not going home. You soon realise ‘I’ve been here a lot longer than I usually am.’ It just feels like your freedom has been taken away. Although you haven’t committed an offence, you [start to wonder] ‘what did I do wrong here?’ ‘Why am I being punished?’”
For the benefit of listeners who are not care-experienced, Dave asks how much is explained to you as a child or young person entering care. “I can’t talk about what it’s like for everyone now – I would hope that it’s changed,” says Karylle. “However, I do work with looked after children and care leavers today who still tell me that they don’t know why they are in care.”
Karylle says there seemed to be a time when nobody wanted to talk about it. “That’s one of the hardest things to comprehend as a child because then you make up your own version of events and your own story – one for survival and protection but also just to make sense of the not making sense part of entering care.”
In her case, Karylle says that her mum didn’t want to tell her and her sister what was going on because she was dealing with feelings of guilt and in her own way, believed that her children were coming home too. Foster carers also felt like it wasn’t their job to tell Karylle and her sister what was going on or they could have assumed this was something the social worker would have mentioned.
“From a social work perspective, they probably never broached it because plans change all the time and they [didn’t] know what was happening. Even when we were on full care orders and the plan was not for us to return home, because there were so many people coming in and out of our life at that point, it’s just assumed somebody else has done that. I think they also probably assume children just know – and that assumption is made because of behaviour in those initial months of entering care.”
Luke Rodgers BEM, founder of The Care Leaders, says he has no specific memory of the day he entered care. Instead, he remembers several different points where it was due to happen. “I remember meeting a guardian,” he says. “And at that point, I only ever knew a guardian to be a guardian angel. It all seemed a bit surreal. I knew there were serious issues at home. I was living between mum and dad’s and I had run away to a friend’s house because of something that was happening at home with my mum.”
Luke remembers being at a solicitor’s office and sitting at this computer. His office was across the road from court and he had to go without Luke so told him ‘you’ll be fine here’. “I could see that he was really anxious about me being in his office and I made a joke that I was going to delete files from his desktop. But I couldn’t see the seriousness of what was happening. That’s why I said I entered a few times because it then became real when I had my first foster placement.
“[I remember] playing a board game with people who spoke differently, who looked different, and I could really see that their son was a little bit scared of me. It was sad I suppose, because it felt like there was no going back. I’m in this new world now.” When he entered care, what was communicated to Luke was that his family was struggling to cope with him. But while he remembers being a ‘bad kid’, Luke was simply responding to the circumstances of his environment.
He remembers being told he was wrong when explaining to a foster carer that he entered care because of difficult family experiences. After telling a wider family member what had happened, he was again questioned. “[I started to think] to myself ‘I’ve got it all wrong here’. Was stuff that hidden in my family that it was recorded that I was brought into care because of me and my behaviour?’
“It’s really hard to communicate a coherent narrative to a child because there isn’t one. If a child comes into care for abuse, no one is saying ‘yes I’m the one who did that’ – it’s not as easy as that.” Luke says the only thing you can communicate is that the child or young person is going to be safe now.
Karylle says that her perception of social care was that these people were out to get her mum. “My mum was innocent and these people were so nasty and horrible. I kept feeling like these people were against me – and I suppose that stemmed from not being spoken to and not having anything explained.”
“If we really say we’re child focused and the child is not the problem, that they’ve been let down by adults predominantly, then putting a file together and reporting, for me, is not child-first,” adds Dave. “The child-first approach is doing whatever it takes to make sure the child understands and processes rather than the social worker simply getting the job done.”
Luke says there is definitely another conversation to be had about what we record and what impact that has. “I completely agree that social workers should put children first but I don’t think the system allows it. Social workers are not the enemy here. Don’t get me wrong – there is some terrible practice, just as there is with every job, but they actually want to keep children first. They actually want to sit down, spend time and build a relationship. But realistically, social work is [there] to safeguard a child.
“The system is broken. You have to write things in particular ways to make the child seem like they need more support than maybe they do so that they can access services because they’re overwhelmed. Social workers are having to play this really mindful game where they’re like I know what this child needs but they don’t meet that threshold.
“Recording and all of that stuff is never about the child. Filing and reporting is how we hold ourselves accountable. Is that the space where a child’s story should be written? Probably not. I think there’s an element of removing the child’s narrative from statutory recording and putting it in a different space which is why things like life story work and creating scrapbooks with foster carers about your life are really important. That’s the nostalgic stuff that you want to look back on as a care leaver and an adult.
“But what happens when a care leaver gets their file and they read this stuff? It unearths so much more trauma. That’s such a big system to try and change. To close my thought on this, I think social workers do want to share authentic narratives. They do really care and they would love to do all of that stuff but the system doesn’t allow any of it. Unfortunately, because we’re a people-based organisation, people get blamed in that space – not the system.”
Dave founded Madlug, a buy one, give one bag brand, in 2015 after discovering that most children in care transport their worldly belongings in bin bags and plastic shopping bags. He asks Luke and Karylle about the impact this has on children and young people moving through care.
“Now I see it as a problem but at the time I didn’t because I didn’t value myself highly enough to think that I deserved more,” says Luke. He says that black bin bags were definitely present during his experience entering care. “Looking back now, it was sombre. ‘Okay, you pull that out of the boot, take it into the house, these people will show you where your room is’. I think there’s a piece of work around enabling young people to see their value and see that having a bin bag is not okay.
“Some young people will go ‘well I’m fine with moving all of the time’ and we’ll say ‘oh they’re okay with it – it’s fine’. But it’s not okay that they’re okay with it. Where is their initial point of value upon themselves? Is it that low that they think this is okay? I think the important work that Madlug is doing is challenging the perception around the black bin bag.”
“I lived my whole care life in black bin bags,” says Karylle. “And just like Luke, I didn’t see it as an issue. The reason was because from the moment that I knew I was here for the longevity – nothing was mine anyway.
“And that’s what we fail to realise – that we’re continuing to [reiterate] to young people that nothing here is yours. You turn up there with a black bag that doesn’t belong to you with bits of things that nobody really packed properly from your house. Nobody really considered the things that would matter. They may have picked up the teddy off your bed or a blanket and a couple of pyjamas but everything is like you have to restart. ‘We’ll get brand new pyjamas, we’ll get bedding’ but I just want the things I already had.
“Then you’re in this new house and whilst they’re telling you – and they’re meaning well – ‘welcome to your new room’, this isn’t my room. I can’t take anything from here when I leave. You’re not gonna let me take this bed with me. At the next placement, they’ll get another new bed and I’ll have new bedding again. So the attachment to things becomes less and less as you get older and your journey through care.”
Karylle says the issue she has in terms of how we view young people is that when they reach a particular age, we almost do a 360 on them. “While we’ve been promoting this lack of attachment to items, when they reach teenage age, we then see that as a problem. ‘Oh they don’t have pride in any of their belongings, they don’t value anything’ and actually nobody had any respect for any of my items as a child when you threw them into that black bag.”
Dave recalls going to speak at a conference in Oxford and the organisation said they would put him with a host family. “Normally you’d stay in hotels or BnB and I remember getting on the train from Birmingham to Oxford and the whole way on the journey was this butterfly feeling in my stomach that went ‘I wonder are the people going to be friendly, are they going to talk to me, is the house going to be clean, is it going to be awkward getting breakfast in the morning?’ I remember thinking if I feel like that as a secure adult going into a new environment, how must that feel for a child or young person who is sitting waiting to be placed in an emergency foster care home coming straight out of trauma?”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” says Karylle. “Amongst the black bin bags and losing family, when you’re not being told why you’re here, there’s that sinking feeling that you cannot control. Keeping those things bottled up every time, that first experience of ‘who are they, will they like me, will I like them?’ goes deeper and deeper every time you do it. It becomes ‘why am I here, how long will I stay for? Or ‘this is somebody else I need to feel embarrassed around because they now know what my mum’s done?’ All of that shame and guilt and trauma you have to experience every time someone opens that door.
“I don’t think you ever get over that feeling, and you get it now in adult life sometimes, [Starting] a new job, or [going] on stage like Luke and I sometimes do, there’s this trigger. It’s not because it’s something new or your brain hasn’t figured out what’s going on – it’s just about safety. How do I protect myself in this space, while having zero control over what that looks like and being completely dependent on these new people to do that for me?”
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