We are care-experienced people and we are powerful in our own way. We are part of a history of people who have experienced familial separation and displacement. We want to create a space where we can heal from the harms we have experienced together, and reclaim a sense of shared identity, history and power. We don’t need organisations, charities or other people to speak for us, because we’re more than capable of speaking for ourselves.
A group of care-experienced people and a non care-experienced ally met on 28th November 2020 to talk about starting to build a group – for care-experienced people, by care-experienced people. We know we’re not the first. Groups like this already exist - other organisations have tried to do this work in the past, and some are still doing it now. We’re not trying to take anyone’s space, but help to create more spaces.
Who/what we are
We are a collective focused on healing together, supporting each other, and understanding our shared histories and imagining possible futures. We recognise that care-experience is diverse in terms of intersectionality, length and type of care experience. We also recognise that there are others with similar experiences of familial displacement and we embrace collaboration amongst communities with shared experiences, including adoptees, individuals who have experienced estrangement or harmful separation, being orphaned or an unaccompanied asylum seeker, and birth parents harmed by the care system.
We want to change the care system. But first of all, we want to be there for people who have had to interact with the care system. We believe that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have at that time. We want to create a space for understanding our collective trauma, our adaptive survival strategies, our stories of healing, and a practical community of support.
Although we acknowledge all experiences of the care system are different, we are concerned with it in the way that it harms people. This is our starting point. Being in the care system can harm people, and we want to be there for each other, providing support, a space to listen and be listened to. Together, we believe that we can name and identify the harms of the care system and create solutions together. So often, people are afraid of ‘coming out’ as care-experienced because of the stigma attached to it. We want to find ways to make this easier – to build a community of care-experienced people who care for each other.
How we want to do things
We want to take actions towards connection, understanding how we can connect with each other and other members of our community in everyday ways. We want to do this in an equitable, diverse, inclusive and just way, and so we recognise the need to centre and make space for multiple experiences of care.
We want to share skills, knowledge and resources amongst our community. We are the people who best know what care-experience is like. If we work together to share these skills, knowledge and resources, we will all be in a better position to care for each other and to understand and heal from our experiences. For example, we want to cultivate accessible understandings of trauma, healing and therapeutic support, helping each other to build collective understanding, strategies for healing, caring and support that work for each other. We should share as often as possible, in as simple and clear a form as we can.
Charities, local authorities and support organisations claim to ‘listen to us’, to ‘hear our voices’, or to ‘speak for us’. We can speak for ourselves. Campaigns are often approached extractively to elicit ‘a story’ – whether it’s a success story or a trauma story. We don’t want others to profit from our stories. They’re exactly that – ours. Often it takes us years to get to a point of being comfortable with telling our story. Participation work can be tokenistic, using the same voices again and again, drowning out the diversity of care-experience. We want people to recognise that asking for our stories in campaigns can feel exploitative and cause harm. This all needs to stop, and we need to be enabled to genuinely shape campaigns, practice and policy.
We acknowledge that there will always be power relations that affect how we work with others. For example, not properly remunerating a care-experienced person for participation at events when external ‘expert’ speakers are paid generously. Why is their labour seen as more valid than ours? Why does support for care experience end at age 21 or 25, when we have a whole life to live beyond that? We think it’s important that support for care-experienced people doesn’t just disappear. Older care-experienced people are left to cope alone when we would really benefit from support. We want to change that by recognising our community healing is bound to understanding our transgenerational history, collective trauma caused by systemic harms and mutual support across generations.
What we want to do
We want to be a space for collective healing. Sometimes, that might mean sharing skills and resources, or providing some other kind of practical peer support. Other times, it might be holding organisations accountable or making them understand our experiences in our own words, committing not to misrepresent these.
Reclaim Our History and Heritage
We feel very strongly that we are part of an intergenerational community of care-experienced people finding heritage and ancestry from our collective past. We want to be part of collecting this history and heritage – particularly thinking about how it can be healing and connecting to find, recognise and understand across generations and from our ancestors. We recognise the impact of the lived experience of intergenerational and transgenerational trauma, and want to work to collectively heal and repair these. We believe historically and systemically there hasn’t been enough done to support families or enough exploration of alternative options of supporting and raising children in difficult situations.
Reclaim Our Stories
Accessing our files without appropriate support is really, really hard. Our care files almost never contain the answers we are looking for, but often contain a huge amount of new information and often redacted information about our lives and a lot of stigmatising language that can be hurtful, confusing and trigger conflicting feelings. We want professionals to take responsibility for the potential emotional impact of what they write about us. Equally, we strongly feel that we should have access to therapeutic support when accessing our files at any age, but this rarely happens. Ideally, this would be done with people who are trained in therapeutic life story work. We deserve to be supported to learn about our pasts, these are our lives!
Reclaim Our Voice
During Care Leavers Week 2020, many care-experienced people had a difficult time with how campaigns encouraged us to publicly share our stories of leaving care. Comparatively, non care experienced people were encouraged to share their experiences at 18 and 25 which were understandably hard to hear. We own our stories, and wish to share them on our own terms. In time we hope to create and raise awareness of spaces and resources for people to understand how they can feel comfortable sharing their story in their own way from a place where they feel safe and powerful.
If you are interested in joining us on this journey – expanding our focus, developing our work, and caring for each other – then join our movement to connect the threads of our community of care. Follow us on Twitter and our website to keep updated!
Isabelle, Sophia, Ty, Jamie, Kieran and Lys
and all who join us on the journey