Our Youth Commission on care experience comes to a close at the end of September, and we’re celebrating their achievements by launching our film and ‘top tips’ document. It has been a journey of nearly two years to get to this point, so I decided to speak to Alex, one of our youth commissioners, about his experience.
The Youth Commission began in 2018 with the intention of making Scotland a better place for LGBT young people growing up in care. I asked Alex how he would describe its purpose:
“Our aim was to make a difference for people who are LGBT in care and to draw on our own experiences and others’ experiences in those settings that maybe haven’t been the best and try to find positives in that going forward and trying to make sure that doesn’t happen to other people.”
What did the Youth Commission do?
A group of care experienced LGBT young people were recruited to work in partnership with youth workers. The project had 4 key stages: peer research, getting LGBT voices heard in the Care Review, influencing work in the care sector and, finally, creating resources to act as the legacy of the project.
When I asked Alex what his favourite element of the work was, he highlighted an event we did in partnership with the Care Review where we invited LGBT care experienced young people from across Scotland to discuss their experiences. He also described how the residential we hosted shortly before this had prepared him for the event. Part of our approach to youth participation here at LGBTYS is to give young people the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with each other, to develop confidence as a group. During the residential, Alex co-delivered a workshop with another young person to their peers. He described this as a real turning point for him:
“I hadn’t really done much public speaking before and I definitely hadn’t run a workshop and anything like that before. And [the young person I was working with] was quite experienced so that helped me”
“I think as well seeing everyone’s positive reactions [. . .] It gave us confidence, it gave me a wee bit of experience and I felt like “do you know what? I’ve done that in front of other young people, so there’s no way I can’t do that in the future”
I asked Alex why the event we ran with the Care Review stuck in his mind so much:
“It felt like at the very beginning I think we all relied on you a lot and then, as much as we relied on you a bit, I feel like we didn’t rely on you as much as what we had and it was almost like we were taking charge then. Cause obviously you’ve always said it’s our youth commission and it is our youth commission, but I felt like then that was like the turning point of yeah this is actually ours and we can like do stuff ourselves now.”
“I felt like we done a really good job and we made sure that everybody was heard that day so that was probably my favourite thing.”
What was the impact?
Through presentations, training delivery, and meetings, the youth commissioners have shared their findings and key asks with the Care Inspectorate, Who Cares? Scotland, Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum, the Scottish Children’s Reporter, the Care Review and professionals involved in care settings.
It’s important to recognise the impact of youth commissions can also be very personal. When he first joined, Alex says he lacked confidence and felt like he didn’t have any strengths or skills. He has now participated for nearly two years and I asked him how he has changed over that time:
“I came in [as] a shell of myself, really uncomfortable, really self-critical, not confident at all- pretty terrified, to be fair. And now I’m like a lot more confident a lot more comfortable, I’ve done public speaking and all that and I know a lot of people hate it and I’m still not the biggest fan but to know that I can do it is an achievement.”
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding care experienced identities and trans identities today, and that stigma can be internalised by those who are affected by them. Alex reflected on how being on the care commission has helped him with this:
“I feel like I’ve not really felt ashamed or anything- not that I was necessarily ashamed before but I think like there’s always been a stigma with people in care, and thinking we’re bad kids, so like I hadn’t really told anybody about me being in care [. . .] But I think like I’ve just become more comfortable and confident in myself as a trans guy but also as someone who’s been in care and is care experienced.”
When I asked our youth commissioners what they are proud of, they all said the same thing: they were proud of each other. That really sums up this project: a small group of young people who have supported and valued each other and who stuck with it even in these challenging times.
I hope this comes through in the resources we’ve created. Our last project together was shooting our film, something we had to do remotely due to lockdown. We worked with Media Education who quickly turned the youth commissioners into a film crew! We recorded the audio and some footage over video calls, while young people filmed the rest of the footage on their mobile phones.
The film is complemented by our ‘top tips’ document (linked below) which was co-developed and co-written by young people. They hope that those who watch the film and read their ‘top tips’ will be moved to make policy changes to safe-guard the wellbeing of young LGBT people in care or will be motivated to change their practice. As Alex said: “I’m just hoping it has a positive effect and positive changes”.
As this project comes to a close, on behalf of Alex, our youth commissioners, and all the young people who shared their stories with us, I’m delighted to share the resources that we created together.
The full research report will be published in October.
By Sarah Anderson, Policy and Participation Officer.