Aim high, dream big!

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Aspirational Awards

We’re getting very close to a pretty exciting date for us at the Trust. On the 1st of November we’re launching our new ‘Aspirational Awards’ funding initiative, and I wanted to talk a bit about the development journey we’ve been on over the last six months to get to this exciting stage.

I should probably say with a bit of context first of all that, at the Trust, each of our funding initiatives are underpinned by what we call ‘theories of change’. In basic terms, this means that there is an idea which we believe when supported and acted on correctly, will support transformational change for the people we support: care experienced young people and people affected by dementia.

One of our theories of change is that when people are given genuine space, time and opportunity to shape and influence the issues that affect them, then something really special happens. This isn’t a revolutionary idea by any means, but it’s often only given lip-service by those in power, and less often seen in practice. And that’s something which clashes with a personal view of mine which is, if you believe in something then there’s no point in doing it half-heartedly – you might as well go for it.

It was with this in mind that we started to develop an approach for Aspirational Awards led by young people themselves.

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Aspirational Awards are about providing care experienced young people with the opportunity to think big about their future and apply for grant funding from the Trust to support their ambitions in life. Again, a fairly simple theory of change here is that, when empowered to decide what they want to achieve and then provided with some financial support to help them along the way, care experienced young people can achieve anything they want to in life.

As this initiative is based on care experienced young people applying to us directly for funding, it felt essential that it be care experienced young people who would ultimately make the decisions on these applications. Not only that, we felt that young people should lead the design of the funding initiative from beginning to end; ranging from what should be the overarching aims and objectives of the initiative, right through to the nuts and bolts of designing an evaluation process and being there to support applicants when funding opens.

With this commitment in mind, we recruited a group of 12-15 young people from a range of care experiences and backgrounds who would become volunteer advisors to the Trust to work specifically on this initiative. We held our first ‘big’ meeting in April this year in the Prince’s Trust Wolfson Centre, and since then we’ve met over 20 times to develop something which I think has the potential to really transform the lives of care experienced young people.

Not only that, but those young people who have been part of the group have themselves really developed at the same time. I’ve seen first-hand a noticeable development in their public speaking, leadership skills and ability to resolve conflict. And that’s only in the first six months; this is a three year project, where some of them will go on to be trained as paid grant assessors as well as gain skills in areas such as evaluation, budgeting and application writing.

Since that first big meeting, the group have come on leaps and bounds and the workshops almost run themselves. That’s in part because we’ve developed strong relationships – another cornerstone of the work we do at the Trust – but really more of a testament to the sense of responsibility, maturity and pride that each young person has brought to the group.

One of my initial concerns was that it might take a while to get a productive discussion going around subjects that could be seen as dry (due diligence process anyone?) or abstract.  More fool me! It will come to no surprise to anyone who has worked with young people that, when given a platform to speak about something that’s important to them, they generally tend to take it. They’re also a huge amount of fun!

It has by no means been a completely seamless process, nor will it be, and we’ve had a few challenges along the way, but as we (rather frantically) prepare for the launch of Aspirational Awards, I feel a huge degree of trust that the group have developed something spectacular for young people. That’s not trust in them simply as ‘young people’ or ‘care experienced’, but rather, trust in them as competent, conscientious individuals who have been able to bring a level of insight and experience which I simply could not have.

It’s inexcusable thlisten-understand-actyat services for care experienced young people have followed a top-down approach for so long. However, I see a lot of hope that this tide seems to be turning and we’re beginning to see young people being empowered in many aspects of their lives – not least through the excellent efforts of some of the organisations we work with such as Who Cares? Scotland, our peer mentoring programmes, and, of course, our Champions Boards.

As a funder, it’s important that we set an example in this respect – by having the voice of young people at the centre of what we actually fund.  It’s being in the mind-set of ‘let’s ask young people about that’ and not assuming that the path we’re currently following is the right one.

This can be challenging, as it’s certainly not about shying away from the hard questions; but it means we are really asking young people, and taking the time to listen to and understand what they have to say.

This has co-production at its core. In developing our Aspirational Awards in this way, we have a stronger project because of it and I’m thankful for the commitment of each of the young people who have been on that journey with me over the last six months.

I started this blog to highlight the benefits of empowering young people to take responsibility and trusting in them to thrive in that environment, but have ended up with a tribute to the individuals who have actually embodied it – that feels very fitting somehow.

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Paul Sullivan, Funding Manager

 

Love is a doing word

Nicola Sturgeon announces root and branch review of the care system, driven by those with experience of  care.

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Since the First Minister’s announcement on Saturday of a full scale independent review of the care system, we’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster ride here at the Trust.

The announcement of the review in itself is obviously massively important, but it’s the language used by the First Minister to set the context for the review that has really struck a chord. She promised that the review will be driven by those with experience of care – young people themselves. Crucially, the First Minister was also unequivocal about love – to be truly engaged in a review of the care system, we have to acknowledge that every child, regardless of circumstances, deserves to be loved.

Here at the Trust, it’s difficult to find the words to capture the range of emotions we’ve been feeling – excitement, elation, expectation, pride – but regardless of the words, we have the sense that this is a seminal moment. Care experienced young people, and those who support them, have a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-imagine care based on this all important premise.

We’re inspired because from the earliest days of our Programme, we have believed that if young people are offered a safe place and are surrounded by people who are not afraid to show them love, they will find their voice and use it to transform not only their own lives but the lives of care experienced young people across the country. This belief has been at the root of all of our efforts to effect transformational change.

We saw this in action during the passage of the Children and Young People Act. Buoyed up by the success they had in influencing this legislation, care experienced young people dared to think big. They decided to go beyond campaigning for incremental changes to the care system. In the ‘Who Cares’ documentary aired by STV in September, five care experienced people showed enormous courage in openly and honestly addressing the challenges they faced growing up in care, and highlighted the importance of loving relationships in giving them hope for a different future. They took this message of love and hope directly to the First Minister and she clearly heard it.

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Love isn’t a word that crops up often in political debate. In Scotland, we’re not always particularly comfortable talking about it in relation to the care system either. Every day, foster carers, residential workers, advocates, teachers, coaches and so many others show their love for young people in the care system in a thousand different ways. They wipe tears, make meals, listen, hug, encourage, motivate and do all those everyday things that can make such a big difference.

But very few of them will talk about love; in fact, going the extra mile for a child or young person is often something which happens under the radar, because professional boundaries can discourage a human response. In other words, sometimes the system forbids love.

We know some of the reasons behind this, but the key message is that life without love is damaging for children and young people. In the fast moving context of 21st century life, where individuals can increasingly feel the troubling weight of global events, love is something we all have the power to call on.

Loving others helps us to love ourselves, and engage with the world on our own terms. Let’s get behind care experienced young people and support their efforts to bring love and hope into the open, and join with them to re-imagine the kind of care that will consistently celebrate, sustain and nourish them wherever they live at whatever stage they’re at in their lives.

 A very happy CEYP programme team

 Carole 2015Catrionapaul

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