I recently had the pleasure of attending our Herts Awards, organised by the Virtual School for the children and young people in our care. There were over 600 entries, the highest number since the awards began 15 years ago. I don't think anyone could attend one of these fantastic events without experiencing a full range of emotions from excitement for the children and young people for their achievements, anxiety that they might trip as they race onto the stage to sheer joy at how proud our children are to achieve and receive their well-deserved awards. A foster carer on my table told me how he can hardly wait at this time of year to see if an envelope drops through their door with an invitation for the young person in their care - this year she received a gold award and everything was brilliantly captured on video. The event was made all the more special as a whole range of children's services staff and councillors helped out ensuring that it ran smoothly and, most importantly, that the children and young people had fun. What I take away from events like these is the important emphasis on what children in care can do… rather than what they can't.
And it's those last few words that I want to pick up on for this blog and the inspiration behind an essay contributed to by Kelly, Jemima and Tory from Hertfordshire, ‘Are We Valuing Care' (a collection of essays, published by iMPOWER, on children's services). How often do we hear about, and indeed contribute to, the negative perceptions of those children and young people in care? Unfortunately, we often hear about "poor" educational outcomes, "poor" career prospects, "over" representation in this area and that area, and our Children in Care Council and care leavers group have articulated how it feels to think that you may be one of those statistics. A young woman once described to me her emotions when a social work lecturer, talked about the poor outcomes for care leavers.
Herts's young people in care are challenging us to take their Project Positive approach, to stop quoting and reinforcing statistics and speak confidently about how young people in care can achieve their goals and should "not be defined by what happened to them". (It also makes you reflect on the current emphasis on adverse childhood experiences but that's for another blog.) I know there are similar projects happening across other local authorities and through social media, care leavers are increasingly celebrating the whole range of their achievements. In fact, we heard from two impressive young ladies on this topic from the City of York Children in Care Council at the ADCS conference earlier this year. And many of you will have watched Superkids: Breaking Away from Care earlier this week if you haven't make sure you do. It showed the strength of several superkids and their achievements as they expressed their experiences of care through poetry - at the end they read their poems in front of a packed audience on stage at the Belgrade Theatre.
So let's celebrate success, strength and bravery throughout the year, campaign and change perceptions - this is what being a Corporate Parent is really about!
Jenny Coles is DCS in Hertfordshire. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website