Ashley works for real change for young people

To mark #CareDay2020, Ashley, a participation officer for Care Experienced Young People at the City of Edinburgh Council, is sharing her story of being on both sides of the care system as a care experienced young person herself, now working with care experienced young people.  She wants to increase awareness, encourage discussions and highlight positive aspects within the care journey and celebrate achievements on both sides.

Ashley has been in her role for 17 months. Her role is designed to bridge the gap between service managers and care experienced young people. The aim of the role is to help create safe spaces for meaningful conversations between young people and their corporate parents (the partner services responsible for working together to meet the needs of looked after children, young people and care leavers). The hope  is that this will create and inform positive change.

Ashley shares her story…

“For many years for fear of being treated differently, I hid my care identity.

“Some would say I lead a double life. I told those who also had care experience and talk freely about my journey within the care system. My peer group of friends knew nothing and to them I was just a “normal” young person who lived at home with both parents without the involvement of social work services.

“When I saw the post for participation officer, I knew the job was something I believed in and was definitely for me. I always knew I couldn’t change some of the negative situations I faced in my care journey, but I could use that negative to be a positive for someone else.  However, what I didn’t know was that I was about to embark on the biggest learning journey I had ever faced.

“I came into post as someone who was angry and hurt at a system that in some ways I felt failed me, and I wanted to make sure everybody knew. I didn’t have the ability to give constructive feedback in a way that could be used as solution based. I just wanted them to know how ‘rubbish’ I thought they were.

“I was sitting as part of a team, I had only ever heard the negative stuff about and working alongside individuals who once made decisions for me as a child or who had looked after and being involved in my sibling’s care. Soon that ‘care identity’ started to consume me, flashbacks of my early childhood trauma became more frequent and felt ever more real. I felt even more hurt and when I would think about my childhood and some of the things that happened to me, that should never happen to any individual let alone a child of such a young age. This made me feel physically hurt and ache inside.

“However, whilst this was all happening in my head I told myself to get up put that ‘face’ on and keep going to strive for better for those children looked after by the local authority but also my two own small girls. Unknown to me, my work colleagues and managers could see past that ‘face’. I broke down, crumbled, felt defeated and a failure as a participation officer but also as a mum. I remember at that time telling myself I had made a mistake, that my role and all it meant and combined was to ‘close to the bone’. I went from hiding my care journey to fully disclosing and owning it within days- I wasn’t ready.

“That moment I had arms wrapped around me, scooped up from the bottom and a group of safety nets surrounded me, because those individuals I once heard only negative stuff about cared and they wanted and shared the same visions as me. They knew care experience young people wanted and needed more.

“I recognised that I was working for and part of a team, who were constantly looking at their services, looking for gaps in the ‘market’ and findings ways to improve the outcomes for children and young people – I wanted/needed to be part of that.

“It made me realise that there are positives and to start thinking differently. How do we learn from both the negatives and the positives? What is it about that positive that made it work and how do we learn from that, use it to grow and continue to improve outcomes for our children as corporate parents.

“How do we take a negative and not use it to blame specific individuals or do we keep it ‘just as a negative’? How can we use strength-based approaches? Young people tell us it is not working, they tell us why, but have they ever been involved in being apart of the solution to fix it and improve. Well now they could because they have a platform using the champions board but also me (the participation officer). I wanted to be part of their solution, to be their key to the real change. I wanted to do it alongside them, not for them. I wanted to give them opportunities and safe environments to have their voice heard and make sure that we hear those quieter voices. I have that ability and capacity to knock on doors that would allow for this happen.

“This became a real learning journey for everyone; me as a participation officer, our corporate parents and our young people.

“The past year has been a whirlwind of emotions, the biggest learning journey for all involved but one thing remains, the energy and the enthusiasm to keep going – run towards it, not shy away. Strive for more!

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

Join in the #CareDay2020 celebrations.