Last week I was lucky enough to be part of a special day in Edinburgh, marking the journey so far of eight different Champions Boards from different parts of Scotland.
Care experienced young people, and staff who are passionate about giving these young people a platform, got together to celebrate the award of funding from the Life Changes Trust. The young people led the day, sharing their experiences of Champions Boards so far and their ideas for the future. The energy, drive and determination in the room was palpable. So was the air of competition, as various folk took part in our giant jenga challenges……
…and vied with each other over the most outrageous get-up for the photo booth!
So what’s all the fuss about? Why do Champions Boards matter so much? On the face of it, Champions Boards themselves might not seem like an especially radical idea. They bring together senior representatives of services and agencies in local areas who have responsibilities for young people who are in care and care leavers, and get them round the table with care experienced young people. The aim is to improve services and supports on the ground, so they have a much better opportunity to achieve their potential. So far, so what?
The thing is, we know that when people who make decisions about budgets and services hear directly from the people on the receiving end of those decisions, magic tends to happen. Issues that might seem abstract suddenly become very real and powerful, when a young person explains the debilitating impact of twenty placement moves or the horror of being separated from a much-loved brother or sister. The sense of apathy and/or fatalism which can pervade the discussion falls away and is replaced with a desire to act.
The stark reality is that young people growing up in care are still very much caught in a system, and systems are not famous for their ability to listen and respond to the needs of individuals. That’s why at the Life Changes Trust we’re excited about the possibilities presented by Champions Boards. We think that done well, they can create a much-needed space for care experienced young people to have a voice, and, just as important, to be properly heard by the people who are responsible for their care and well-being.
Please note the phrase “properly heard”. Listening is a fine art, and we’ve all experienced people in positions of power who haven’t listened to us. The GP who does not take our health concerns seriously; the head teacher who will not agree to a few small adjustments to the school day for a child who is struggling; the boss who moves us to an evening shift even although there’s no transport available in our town to get us to work at that time.
Listening to people, acknowledging their concerns and creating the space for them to be involved in developing a solution takes time and effort. It also takes a particular value system – you have to believe in people.
Anyone who took part in the event last week, and watched the young people doing their thing, could be in no doubt about the potential of Scotland’s care experienced population. However, those who run services and make decisions about budgets are often under huge pressure – they’re supposed to have all of the answers, and to act quickly. We should not underestimate the challenge of changing this culture – working collaboratively, taking the time to genuinely get to know young people and to create opportunities for them to lead is a radically different approach.
By investing in Champions Boards, we are recognising that not only do care experienced young people need to have many more opportunities to develop their confidence and speak out about issues that matter to them, people in decision-making positions also need to sharpen up their listening skills and remember their accountability to the young people sitting in front of them.
It’s no longer good enough to say that the problem of challenging poor outcomes is too great. There is a huge wealth of talent, experience and passion for change amongst care experienced young people in Scotland. There are also so many people involved in running and delivering services who want things to change. Champions Boards are spaces to harness the collective abilities of young people, staff and senior decision-makers. They have grown out of the belief that things can and must improve, and care experienced young people must be at the heart of creating a new reality.
Carole Patrick, Programme Manager, Care Experienced Young People Programme