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.