We all have a voice and every experience counts

Gia Alexander

Gina Alexander is the Director of Patient Opinion Scotland.  Here is her blog on receiving £100,000 Life Changes Trust funding for an innovative new partnership project with Talking Mats.  Together they will develop a pioneering tool to help people affected by dementia use their own voice to share their experiences of health and social care, and make real differences to relationships, services and culture.

“We’re thrilled to finally be able to spill the beans on our exciting new project.

“We are going to be working in partnership with Talking Mats, linking our two innovative technologies to bring the experiences and feedback of people affected by dementia into view alongside the feedback of others.

“Like Patient Opinion, Talking Mats Limited is a not for profit social enterprise. Their vision is to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties, and those close to them, by increasing their capacity to communicate effectively about things that matter to them. The award-winning Talking Mats communication framework is based on extensive research and designed by Speech and Language Therapists. It uses unique, specially designed symbols that are attractive to all ages and communication abilities and is used by clinical practitioners, carers and support workers in a wide range of health, social work, residential and education settings.

Talking Mats

“The successful outcome of this work will see improved access to Patient Opinion and Care Opinion platform using the digital Talking Mats communication framework, where people affected by dementia can use their own voice to share their experiences and make real differences to relationships, services and culture, just as many others are already doing across health and care.

“We expect that this work will also result in greater inclusivity and empower others with communication or cognitive difficulties to share their experiences and be heard in an open and transparent way.

“This ground breaking work is being funded and supported by Life Changes Trust, People Affected by Dementia programme. The Big Lottery funded programme is committed to working with people living with dementia and those who care for them, investing resources so that individuals are more able to face the challenges before them, and can exercise more choice and control in their own lives.

“We expect the project to take 18 months to complete, and plan to include people affected by dementia, their families and experienced health and care professionals in the design, development and implementation stages. We’ll be looking for people and places to help us test and refine our process and we’d be delighted to hear from you if are interested in getting involved in that.

“We are so delighted to have this opportunity to be make further progress in making our platforms as accessible as they can be for people who want to share their experiences and feedback.

We’re also looking forward to working with the good folks from Talking Mats: we’ve had lots of fun on the journey so far!”

Scottish Care Leavers Covenant – A Parenting Promise

girl on step

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about people who inspired and encouraged me when I was young. I think most of us can think of people who made a big impression at an early stage in our lives. Parents and family members play a vital role, but their influence is only part of the picture. Inspiration and encouragement can be found both amongst people you know and strangers who achieve incredible things.

For young people leaving care, the core sources of support of parents and family are often missing, and encouragement can be thin on the ground. Their Corporate Parents – bodies such as local authorities, health boards, colleges and universities, the Police – have responsibilities enshrined in law to promote care leavers’ welfare. But the phrase Corporate Parent is a tricky one. It’s not exactly warm and cuddly, is it? At best, the idea of a Corporate Parent feels very impersonal. Where is the individual, the person who is watching your back and making the extra effort? And where is the inspiration, the encouragement to aim high and aspire to be the best possible version of yourself?

The Scottish Care Leavers Covenant was launched in October last year, and it encourages Corporate Parenting agencies to make a promise to young people leaving care. A promise to go beyond the minimum that the law requires, and to put relationships at the heart of their efforts to improve the lives of care leavers. This goes further than the provision of support, and gets into the territory of encouragement and inspiration – something we all need if we are to aspire and achieve.

Produced by an alliance of public and third sector agencies, with the voices of young people at its heart, the Covenant includes an agenda for change, focussing on themes which care leavers have told us are important to them:

  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Housing and Accommodation
  • Education and Training
  • Employment
  • Youth and Criminal Justice
  • Rights and Participation

But what does this mean in reality – will it make a difference? The Covenant makes many practical asks of Corporate Parents, but at its heart it is really a call to each and every individual working in an agency designated as a Corporate Parent to ask themselves “what can I do today to support and encourage a young person leaving care?”

It’s often the little things that make a difference – the teacher who notices the cartoons produced by a pupil and suggests she joins an art club; the coach who drives a couple of miles out of his way to pick up a young person to take him to training because he has no other way of getting there; the housing officer who offers a cup of tea and a biscuit and takes the time to listen to the worries of the young person whose tenancy is not working out. We need big changes too, like better health care, improved housing options, more support in schools – but if those bigger changes don’t come with changes in everyday practice, care leavers will miss out on the encouragement they need to fulfil their promise.

Now I’m a bit older, I find inspiration comes in different forms. I still admire great writers (Donna Tartt made me miss my stop on the train not so long ago). But increasingly I find that inspiration can also be found in more everyday settings, amongst more ordinary people. Take the addictions worker, who had the generosity of spirit to tell a young man she would love him until he was ready to love himself. Or the volunteer who spent Christmas Day cooking to make sure care leavers had somewhere special to go to enjoy a Christmas meal. And the teacher who encourages his pupil to get her maths book out when she’s getting stressed – because he knows it distracts her, and he sees she has talent.

When we tap into our humanity, and take the time to say encouraging words, or give some of our time, we can all have the capacity to inspire others. This is the spirit of the Care Leavers Covenant. The Covenant asks all Corporate Parents to make a promise to hold their care leavers in their thoughts, and to take the time to listen to them.

Please sign up today.

Carole Patrick, Programme Manager, Care Experienced Young People Programme