My name is Luke Rodgers and I am a lived experience leader who is passionate about changing the narrative for care experienced young people.
For the last 10 years I have been working in system transformation for children’s services with the primary focus to engage leaders, staff and young people with co-designed services based on the lived experience of those who experience them.
Like another 80,000 young people in the UK I was brought up in the care system.
My story is not unfamiliar. Lots of placement moves, unsettled schooling, several care workers coming in and out of my life and then leaving the care system much earlier than I was ready for at the age of just 15.
Fast forward and I am now 30 years old, and proud to have achieved a number of things. First, the set up of an organisation that became internationally recognised for supporting fostering services, placement on the 2018 Queen’s honours list for my commitment to children and families, winner of multiple awards in the social enterprise sector and in 2020 I was asked to be a fellow at the University of Oxford Said Business School supporting MBA students at the Skoll Centre for Social Enterprise.
Sadly the latter part of my story isn’t as familiar as the former, and my passion is to work with organisations to change this narrative and ensure young people leave services in a much better place than when they entered them.
But how do we go about achieving this?
I believe to change a narrative we must first understand how it develops and what our role is within it. The media representation of children in care is predominantly negative, influencing wider society which our young people then move into after care.
We are forever sharing statistics about how children in care are compared to their peers, ignoring the crucial fact they have had a much different starting point in life.
The impact this has for young people is significant. Services can then be reluctant to support them due to their label, individuals working with them constantly feel like they’re failing, and young people feel unheard and helpless, identified by something that they are not and yet powerless to change it.
When I think about this I am reminded of a phrase that someone I’m close to once told me, ‘kids don’t come into care because of what they have done, they come into care because of what’s been done to them’.
We know if we see them as ‘bad kids’ we will act in a way that expects that, and it becomes a self-fulling prophecy.
Three ways we can make positive change
We have to start changing the way we see young people so that they are seen for who they are and not the conditions and outcome of their trauma, and it is my belief that there are 3 ways to successfully achieve this.
First, we need to share positive stories about the care experience. This will remind individuals that they are making a difference, boost morale in our work force and share the reality of success that is generally unheard of for our young people.
This motivates and inspires people as they can see that good things can happen, rather than the negativity that dominates them in the media.
Secondly, we need to engage staff and young people in service transformation. If we understand lived experience and develop services that are more in tune with the reality of what people experience, This will enable services to meet the true needs of young people. They can be more equipped to help lead achievement and deliver positive outcomes.
Finally, we need to lead from the bottom up and hand down appropriate power. This is more than an annual staff survey, sub-groups or forums, which are all temporary systems. What we need is a cultural change where organisations see improved system thinking, knowledge equity and engagement as business as usual.
Challenging our mindset
The simplest way to start making these changes is by tweaking our mindsets and to challenge the narrative that children in the UK care system are ‘bad kids’, and both understand and acknowledge that ‘bad things have happened’ to them.
Once we recognise that children have been through trauma which wasn’t their fault, this enables us to be empathetic to their experiences, more compassionate in our approach and more open to listening.
The more we see children as ‘bad kids’ the more likely we are to approach with authority, preconceived expectations and miss the crucial opportunity to understand.
It is my true belief that young people deserve to leave services in a better place than when they entered and into a society that supports and celebrates their achievements. We all have a part to play in this and it starts with understanding the lived experiences of children in children’s services.
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