February 19th is #CareDay21. Care Day is the world’s biggest celebration of children and young people with care experience. It’s an opportunity to unite in celebrating the rights and resilience of care experienced children and young people, their stories and their achievements.
Lydia and James have been fostering with Brighton and Hove for nearly 6 years and have written about their young person Vinnie. This is a wonderful way for them to share Vinnies achievements and to tell us a little about who he is as a young person.
The following is their own words.
"Care Day is an opportunity to unite in celebrating the rights and resilience of care experienced children and young people, their stories and their achievements." So when I was told about #CareDay21 I was excited to put pen to paper.
“You cannot be what you cannot see”
In recent years, different groups have been able to draw on this phrase to highlight the injustice they face within society, the lack of representation and inequality they face. More recently, there has been a focus on shining a light on role models or those individuals breaking though stereotypes and glass ceilings, to show that they have role models who they can aspire to be like and there is nothing they should not be able to achieve.
I have often thought - who can my foster child look up to? Where is the public acknowledgement and awareness of children in care, the barriers they face, the celebration of children in care and their incredible achievements. #CareDay21 resonated with me.
“Reality is wrong, dreams are for real” – Tupac Shakur
Society needs to know about care experienced children, their stories and their achievements. They become teachers, youth workers, social workers, footballers, lawyers, Oxford graduates, doctors, foster carers, electricians, charity workers, comedians, artists, Oscar winning actresses, poets and boxers. Some will achieve these things with the help of the care system and some in spite of it. Children in care need to know they have amazing things to aspire to be and dreams they can achieve, for real.
“Long live the rose that grew from concrete” – Tupac Shakur
Children are often compared to plants, with adults as their gardeners, nurturing and tending to them to help them grow. As a foster carer I would say that it is like being given a flower whose roots have been ripped out or leaves torn off. You are given soil but no pot. So you have to use your hands to keep the soil from falling away while you shout to others to bring water and more soil.
Not every child has a foster carer, social worker, teacher or family member who is able to provide the support they need - but they grow anyway.
Every child’s experience in care will be different. Some will have a positive experience and will have the opportunity to build relationships with people who will support them throughout their life. Some will receive the specialist support they need within a residential setting. Others will bounce around a system overwhelmed. However, there is always hope.
I am not sure if any care experienced individual thinks, “I’m really glad I was in care.” No individual is going to be pleased with the reasons that lead them to being placed in care. But we can celebrate and champion all those individuals with shared experiences to let them know that they are seen, they are heard and that there is nothing they cannot achieve.
“I didn’t change, I just found myself” – Bob Marley
On the 28th June 2021, James and I will have been foster carers to Vinnie for exactly 5 years. And he’ll be 18 by then.
In that time, we have seen Vinnie grow, literally grow, at 6ft 4” he towers over us. The gentle and respectful giant.
To see him deal with more than life’s fair share of challenges on top a global pandemic is inspirational.
If, 5 years ago you would have told the teachers, social workers or even Vinnie what he would have achieved by 18 they would have laughed in disbelief. A two-time national boxing champion, on the England Boxing pathway, a place at university secured, a part-time job and Olympic aspirations, who would have thought it.
For James and myself it is just about enjoying time with him, going for walks, making pancakes, laughing and talking, and having one more person to love.
We need to change the narrative around children in care. They are not destined for school exclusions and prison cells. Children don’t need to change, children are all the same they need to be afforded the same opportunities, relative to them, to be able to find themselves and fulfil their potential.
“I suppose I see a little bit of myself in him” – Vinnie
We recently looked after a young person who had an impact on all of us, when he had to leave. When asked why he was so upset when he left Vinnie said, “I suppose I see a little bit of myself in him.” For all of us it was seeing someone at the start of their journey and their first experience of a fostering family, we know how hard the journey will be and we have an insight into some of the challenges they might face but we are hopeful that they will receive the support they deserve.
There is a Vinnie in every child.
To all care experienced children who are still in care or who are now adults, we want to say wherever you are in your journey we are rooting for you and we are proud of you! For all you have overcome and achieved - For real!
The Brighton & Hove Fostering Service
"Our Foster Carers provide support, care and stability to children and young people. Part of their role is to be a role model and to have aspirations for each child and young person they care for. We are incredibly grateful for the care and “cheerleading” that our Foster Carers provide, and the journey they are on with the children and young people in their care. We so often hear about the achievements of children and young people, and we hear how proud our Foster Carers feel. Sometimes this can seem like a small achievement, but any positive change brings children and young people a sense of wellbeing, greater resilience and hope for an optimistic future. It is so evident to us, that care experienced children and young people have a resilience and resolve that they bring to their own futures. We thank our foster carers and commend all children and young people for all they achieve."
Karen Devine (Head of Service for Fostering Placements and Permanence)
“I’d like to add mine to the many voices celebrating the achievements of care experienced children and young people this week. The strength, determination and resilience we see in these amazing stories of young people who had such difficult early experiences, who, with the right care and support go on to show us just how special, talented and strong they are. Inspiring!”