During lockdown it’s been so interesting to notice the growing awareness that it’s ok to acknowledge our vulnerable moments. At Life Changes Trust, we’re quite a small team and we’re lucky that it’s possible for us all to work from home. It has its benefits, especially in terms of cutting down the time spent commuting (none of us miss overcrowded trains and buses), but in our own different ways we are all missing the human connection that comes from gathering together in an office space.
Those brief conversations waiting for the kettle to boil – holiday news, exercise goals, wedding plans, family achievements, film and book recommendations – these are the things that help us to feel connected to others and to be acknowledged as a human being. Keeping that connection going virtually is harder, but the fact that we all know it’s ok to say that it’s been a tough week is important. Sometimes we all need to feel acknowledged, to know that others both see us and truly hear what we are saying.
For our beneficiaries, tough weeks can be the norm. Young people with care experience are all individuals with unique talents, skills and potential. As a group, they also face significant challenges. At the Trust, we believe that in tackling these challenges it’s important to invest directly in young people and get alongside them.
As a funder, making individual grants available to our beneficiaries has been an important aspect of this. We think young people themselves are best placed to decide what can make a difference to them and we believe that they should have choices.
So, when COVID-19 struck, we worked with our Advisory Group (who all have their own experience of care) to design an individual grants offer which could mitigate the effects of lockdown. The idea was to offer something distinct from emergency funding (although we made contributions to these funds too), with a focus on supporting physical and mental wellbeing during lockdown. We called it the Keep Well Fund.
It’s fair to say that we were inundated. We received well over 800 applications and many of them were tough to read. It was sobering to see the confirmation of much of what we already know – that young people with experience of the care system are affected by inequalities in relation to health, income, digital access, housing and other areas of life. It is vital that we acknowledge this reality and let young people know that we see and hear them. Often they do not have access to the same networks of extended family and community that many of us turn to. The risk is that young people feel invisible.
We have paid close attention to what young people have told us through the Keep Well Fund. It’s been a privilege to have a glimpse into their lives. It’s also been humbling to read about the creativity and determination of young people not to allow the pandemic to pull them under. Almost without exception, young people have been very honest about the impact of lockdown on their mental health. By providing funding for things like fitness equipment, bicycles, tablets, arts materials, garden equipment and musical instruments we know that in a small way we are helping combat the mental health challenges. We also understand that just knowing someone out there is listening and cares enough to make an offer of concrete support can be equally important. We are so appreciative of the funders who stepped forward to demonstrate that they care – the William Grant Foundation, the Cattanach Trust, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Cycling Scotland and Inspiring Scotland all provided funds to help us reach more young people.
Through the Keep Well Fund, young people with care experience have communicated their sense of isolation even when living with carers, partners or children. Through our work at the Trust, we know that relationships are fundamental to creating long-term change for young people with care experience. By funding programmes such as mentoring and offering opportunities for young people to get active and creative in their communities we have steadily been working to expand the networks around young people. Our Champions Boards, now active in 21 Local Authority areas across Scotland, reach out to young people and create a variety of opportunities to get engaged. Through our Home and Belonging initiative, we’re learning more about what’s needed not only to make sure young people have a roof over their heads, but also how to help them feel that they belong in their communities.
The global Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has starkly demonstrated the volatility and uncertainty of our world. It has highlighted the inequalities that continue to stifle potential and limit quality of life – and threatens to deepen these inequalities. It has also showcased the determination of the human spirit and our capacity to care for one another. Young people with care experience have remarkable resilience, creativity and capacity to connect. When this is combined with the commitment and passion of the people around them – carers, key workers, mentors, youth workers, social care staff, health professionals, volunteers – collectively we have the potential to create a powerful human network. Through this network and others like it across society, there is a real opportunity to think afresh about the type of society we want to live in. A society which keeps all of its people well.
Director of Evidence and Influencing (Care Experienced Young People)