Last Friday (17 November) young people experiencing care in Ealing were invited to ‘take over’ the council, and we took that very seriously, so we really meant take over.
This wasn’t an opportunity to come and get some work experience for these young people, this was putting them in the driving seat, with decision-making placed firmly in their hands after they were briefed by senior officers.
That included Chanel, who took over the role of assistant director of communication and public relations, who advised me on what this blog should be about.
Take over day
The take over day was a pledge we made at the Care Leavers Summit back in March this year, and last Friday that pledge came good with young people aged 17-25 spending the day at the council.
Those who took part were matched with council officers and services that they had either expressed an interest in or where they could bring their own experiences to bear on decisions that were being made.
Young people who are currently working towards degrees, BTECs, A levels in law, computer science, psychology, marketing and more paired up with council officers who not only briefed them on the decisions to be taken but also informally advised the young people on how to achieve their goals in education and, later, their careers.
Protected characteristic – why does it matter?
One of the things that the young people that I met were keen to highlight was the stigma attached to experience of care. They felt strongly that their experience of being in care, and the perceptions that others have of them as a result, marked their lives.
That’s one of the reasons why in April we made experience of care a protected characteristic. Protected characteristic status makes it easier for young people with experience of care to access services and support.
One young person was asked what making experience of care a protected characteristic meant, and she said: “We’re not linear like most children, we don’t have stable homes or families, so this helps to create an equal playing field for all of us.
“I’ve got a job to help with the costs of being at university but it’s hard if you go for an interview, which is stressful enough, without having to kind of explain the reason you keep moving house…Hopefully by this becoming a protected characteristic it could help remove some of the barriers which I face in day-to-day life, like getting a job. And if I face those barriers, I’m sure others taking part in today also face them.”
Real privilege and opportunity
I know that I felt privileged to have met many of the young people who came to take over the council, and many of them gave positive feedback. They particularly felt that the opportunity to make connections with experienced professionals was invaluable. And all hoped that this was not a one-off but something that could be repeated as it was a real privilege and opportunity. One young person commented: “I often feel isolated and like I don’t have a voice, but today has helped me to be heard and to recognise that the council is not just my social worker and there’s so much support available, and a lot of interesting roles in the council, and more days like today would hopefully would encourage quite a lot of us to pursue a career with the council.”
Chanel – my take over day assistant director for communications – thought that it was also important for me to mention the work the council is doing with local charities and faith organisations to offer warm spaces over the winter months. The council has made some grant available to make these spaces possible.
Warm spaces offer more than somewhere to shelter from the weather, with many offering warm meals, activities to boost fitness and health, crafts and opportunities to socialise and tackle loneliness.
These warm spaces are invaluable for families who may be facing difficulties this winter. “The numbers of children experiencing poverty are growing,” said one young person working with a senior level Ealing director last Friday. “I know first hand how poverty and not having enough to make one good meal a day can really impact your education and when your education is impacted then you struggle to handle other opportunities that you face in the adult world.”
Check out the warm spaces that are local to you