Writing competition gives children in care a voice to express their hopes

Writing competition helps looked-after children and care leavers gain confidence and resilience by reflecting on their care experiences.

Provider Coram

Name Coram Voices

Coram Voice is continually inspired by the resilience and maturity of children in care and care leavers. Their experiences and emotions are not always easy for them to express but channels such as writing can be extremely effective in enabling them to harness their creative skills.

This was the motivation for the creation of "Voices", the charity's national writing competition for care-experienced young people. With stories about children in care so often focusing on the negative, we wanted to provide a positive platform to celebrate their talents and get their voices heard.

First launched in 2016, the creative writing competition is grouped into three age categories: primary school, secondary school and care leavers, and in 2017 included a special award for migrant children. The theme for this year's competition was writing about a new beginning. The entries are judged by a panel of leading authors, writers and journalists with personal experience of the care system, which in 2017 included Alex Wheatle, Paolo Hewitt and Jenny Molloy. Members of Coram's new Young Citizens programme for migrant young people helped judge and present the special award.

Jenny Molloy, who wrote bestselling book Hackney Child about her experiences in care, spoke of the importance of the competition: "Writing gives back some form of control, as when you're in care everything is written about you in your social services file which you don't always see. This builds a drive within to get our stories heard."

The competition culminates in an awards ceremony attended by the shortlisted entrants, which this year was hosted by actor and Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi who commended the young people for "giving powerful insights into their lives and experiences".

Winners and runners-up read out their entries during the ceremony. The winning pieces were:

  • My First Match - a rap by a nine-year-old about his foster carer cheering him on for his first football match
  • The Gentle Breeze - an account of being taken into care by a 17-year-old
  • I Know What It's Like to Be a Butterfly - a story by a care leaver on the fragility and resilience of the butterfly
  • When a Door Closes, a Better Door Opens - a poem on a traumatic childhood and building a better life by an 18-year-old.

Coram Voice is sharing the young people's stories through a partnership with Pearson Publishing. Together we have launched Creative Voices, a free app featuring an anthology of writing by children in care, including shortlisted entries from the 2016 and 2017 competitions.

Linda Briheim-Crookall is senior policy and external practice development manager at Coram Voice

My View: Jack, 17, Voices 2017 category winner

I learned about Voices through Carefree, a local charity who knew I had an interest in writing. As I was writing my piece, I had a flurry of emotions as my fictional story was similar to an experience that I had gone through, and although I wasn't feeling confident in my piece, I sent it off.

I didn't give it much more thought until I received an email to say I'd been shortlisted as a finalist. I was excited when I saw Peter Capaldi's name and realised it was a great opportunity.

When my name was called out at the ceremony, I was feeling incredibly anxious but I stood up and read my story. I was amazed when I finished - I'd never done anything like this in front of a crowd before. Since then I've been congratulated by Carefree and the head of children in care services at my local council.

I'm very honoured to be a winner and it has now given me the inspiration to write more, including song lyrics for my college course. Overall the experience and having the chance to meet Peter was amazing.

For more, visit www.coramvoice.org.uk/voices-2017

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