A conference highlight by Caroline Richardson and Heather Gray
In May 2007, Jemma, Natalie, Barry and Zoe (four young people from residential units in the Renfrewshire area) came together with Caroline Richardson (their Who Cares? Scotland worker) and Naomi Breeze (Breeze Productions) to develop their presentation for the Annual Conference of the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care.
On the day of the conference, the young people were nervous but looking forward to performing in front of the delegates. Prior to their presentation Naomi presented her one-woman show, highlighting the many issues faced by young people in their care journey. This drew on the real life experiences of young people and provided a composite experience from birth to drug addicted mother to leaving care and the birth of her own daughter. They watched Naomi’s presentation, saying they could relate to the issues she raised, recognising in her words journeys similar to those experienced by other young people in care they knew.
Zoe said of the presentation, “It made me want to cry. It made me realise that you should listen and take advice and support from staff”. Barry commented, “I found the portrayal of a young person in care very good, considering Naomi had never been in care herself. It was hard hitting but very realistic, it also mirrored some of the issues that I have faced and other people I know in care have had”.
The young people used their extensive individual talents to present their information through a dance routine, a song, and two speeches concluding with a joint delivery of a speech by Nelson Mandela highlighting the potential of children. Two of the young people explained their reasons for choosing their presentations.
Barry, who raised the issue of negative stereotyping of young people in care, said, “I wanted to highlight the stigma that still exists for young people in care to delegates at the conference, to encourage people to do something about it”.
Zoe went on to explain her reasons for choosing her presentation, which focused on her future career aspirations in social care, “You hear stories about young people in care not making it; you see them not making it, and I want to prove to everyone that I can make it. I’ve got potential!”
The young people put across a powerful message both about self-belief and active learning to help young people in care achieve their full potential, and also about regret concerning the stigma and low expectations young people in care can experience. Their presentation received a standing ovation. Asked how they felt about doing a presentation in front of three hundred people, Zoe commented, “I felt dead nervous at the beginning, but I decided I was going to show the delegates that I have potential and that young people in care can do well”. They enjoyed the experience and wanted to know when they could do it again!
The combination of Naomi’s powerful performance followed by the young people became a focal point for the conference. Many of the conference delegates were very moved by the content and presentation and were reminded of the central themes for the conference and the importance of the contribution, potential and energy generated from the active involvement of young people.
The conference overall was a resounding success. The involvement of young people in shaping that success was undisputed. The power of the different media used in these performances will remain the outstanding symbol of what we aim to achieve – real and meaningful involvement of young people in shaping services into the future.