How my experience of the care system is informing work to improve outcomes

My name is Aimee and I’m the Scottish member of the Living Assessments project at NCB. This is part two of my blog about the work I have been doing as an Expert by Experience for the Living Assessments project.

During the last session we explored the need for changes to language and terminology in children’s social care – caseload was a big one that popped up.

Drawing from an activity that I did with WhoCares? Scotland, we created a bin and stuck terminology on it that we thought needed to be binned. Some examples of this were “manipulative”, “LAC” (Looked-After-Child), “looked after/not looked after”, “challenging behaviour”, “non-engaging”, “placements” and “it’s their fault they’re in care”. 

For those who enjoy a good statistic, we discussed how we could measure positive outcomes, and an increase in care leavers attending university was number one on our list.

I’m one of only 6% of care leavers in the UK aged between 19-21 to attend higher education– for me this was made easier by the support of the Scottish Government and the care leavers grant from the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).

Barriers such as paying for accommodation and affording books are often covered by families, but care leavers often don’t have that support. Even the 6% of care leavers that do attend university are nearly twice as likely to drop out than their non-care experienced peers.

To measure more positive outcomes, this would be an excellent stat to raise. But how do we raise it? Well, I think we must start by providing concrete support from the roots up. You cannot build a house with no foundations, so how can we expect care leavers to support themselves with no support systems in place?

After these very meaningful discussions, we were then joined by three members of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Board and one staff member who was working directly on the Review with Josh MacAlister (the lead reviewer).

We engaged in further discussion, this time surrounding how children, young people and families can be involved in designing social care services. Being given the space to share our experiences and help push for change is so important. We may not be able to make change for ourselves, but we can change how others experience the care system.

We explored how this involvement could be possible and the key finding was that basic communication was a good place to start. Coproduction must be meaningful and not tokenistic. It shouldn’t be to tick a box or to make a report look good. Care-experienced people must be listened to, respected, and valued when sharing their voice. Another suggestion was an addition of a yearly review for those involved in any sort of services. 

Finally, we were asked our opinions on helping to deliver training to professionals, something that I think we were all keen on. I believe this idea of teaching professionals how to help us should be considered invaluable. Our voices are the ones that can provide real life insights into the field. If we are able to offer our own experiences it makes us more than a statistic or a presentation. We are real life humans with real life stories and it’s important to remember this when dealing with children in care.

I think it would be a good idea for England to learn from “The Promise”, Scotland’s ambition for children and young people and their commitment to all children in care and care leavers:

“We grow up loved, safe, and respected so that we realise our full potential.”

I have found that the answers coming from our questions throughout this session are the same key findings that The Promise found. This shows that this is a UK issue. It is not a Scotland issue, or an England issue. It is not a Northern Ireland issue, or a Welsh issue. This is a UK crisis that should be treated as such. To move forward, we need to understand where the current shortcomings are and how we will overcome these. I like being a part of the Experts by Experience because it is not about being Scottish or being English.

It’s about being a part of the solutions to a system that needs fixing.

Living Assessments is a five–year research project on children’s health and social care funded by the Wellcome Trust in a partnership between NCB, University of Cambridge and University of Kent.