On Friday I spoke to around 150 delegates at the Buttle UK Charity Annual Conference on best practise for young people leaving care and education. I’ve always been passionate about this subject and having been in care myself during the 1980′s, been financially supported by Buttle UK so I could ‘get’ my education and then working for a number of years in the field in Education and Social Services, my passion is emotional, personal and practical.
Speaking in front of a room of people, while nerve racking, is not something that I get particularly worked up about – in fact I quite like it. Public speaking can be a bit like playing a part and my inner Thespian usually responds well to this. However, speaking to a sea of eyes in a raw yet real state, sharing who I am, who I really am, was incredibly overwhelming and emotionally meaningful.
After I had spoken, there were three young people sharing their very unique and different experiences via a panel about having been in care and their current educational circumstances and how their own Colleges and Universities were helping and supporting them. We’ve moved on so much in this area but I connected with these three young women on a profoundly deep level because their battles, their determination, their survival instincts and their ability to stand up and be counted was not different and I recognised it all in a deeply profound way.
There is so much negativity about young people and the institution we know of care, predominately because they feature so badly in statistics regarding mental health services, the prison population, homelessness, poor educational achievements, etc. Yet when I listened to the young women mirroring back to me where I had been 20 years earlier, I saw a strength and a courage that knows no bounds. I saw a passion for survival that many people need not ever explore. I saw an openness and an honesty that says “I can be this honest because you won’t hurt me. I can show you who I am, because I believe in myself regardless of whether you do or not.”
I can honestly say that I have never been in a Conference where the afternoon session was filled with so much emotion and respect and love. It was a privilege of the highest order to be a part of it.
Karen Melton (above) continues to dedicate her life’s work to working and supporting young people, quietly and without desire for any recognition, and looks exactly as she did when she helped me 22 years ago. I am so grateful to her as I am to all the people who work in this field with their passion to be a part of the process of change. I must also mention my gratitude to my lovely friend Tracey Jefferies who took the day off to be with me, instinctively knowing that I would need a friend (to give me hugs and buy me coffees and flowers)…..a thought which hadn’t occurred to me but was absolutely the case.
My key messages are this:
- Creating an environment that allows us all to express our experiences and emotional space is the only way that stigma and shame from life’s experiences can be removed. Through my writing I have learnt that being open and honest about who we are and where we’ve been, invites others to do the same. We all carry our experiences, the good bits and the bad bits, with us and that is part of what makes us human.
- Creating the illusion of a homogeneous group is necessary for the purposes of research and initial identification. But in practise, we are all individuals with unique and separate experiences….judgement is not required, not helpful and continues the sense of isolation.
- Finally, we may not always know how we make a difference to a person whose life we may touch in some way. It would be comforting to know that those of us who seek to make a difference, do so, but the ego is banned. All work has to be done in the knowledge that we may never know what difference we make….but we should always work from the starting point, that we will make a difference even if that is not something we will ever know or ever see.