CARE-experienced young people are working with Devon County Council (DCC) to help influence the way that staff and councillors think, behave, and deliver support to children and young people in the council's care and to those who are leaving care.

DCC are taking a look at the support it gives care-experienced young people to see what that support looks and feels like from their perspective.

The council asked a group of 11 young people to deliver training to frontline staff across the council.

The training programme, ‘Total Respect’, is a nationally recognised programme designed by care-experienced young people that uses a variety of different exercises to evoke empathy and promote understanding of the lived experience of young people in the care system.  

The young people delivering the training believe it’s a vital step in helping improve support available to care-experienced young people.

While every young person’s individual experience of life in care is different, the council knows that it can do better to understand the perspectives of young people themselves as they journey through the system.

Emily is a care leaver. She has a good, strong relationship with her foster family, and although 18, she has decided to stay living with them for the time being, in a situation known as ‘Staying Put’. 

'I would say that I’ve experienced the highs and lows of being a child in care,' says Emily.

'The start of my time as a care-experienced person was bad, but then I found the family who I live with now and who will continue to be a part of my story forever.

'I feel very lucky to have them, and just wish this was the same for all young people.'

Emily is one of the young people now delivering Total Respect training to council officers, explaining to staff what it’s really like to be in the care system.

'Because of my experience, I feel that I can express what works well and what really doesn’t work so well, and use my bad past experience positively to change the future for our young people, so that they don’t have the same experiences that I did.'

While in a good place now, Emily says that she finds it hard to express how difficult it is being a care-experienced person in a system she describes as ‘not always working how it should’.

Twenty one year old Millie is another in the group who believes the care system can be improved for young people.

She feels that she wasn’t always supported as an individual well enough, and that sometimes there’s a tendency to see people in care or leaving care as a single group rather than as individuals.

'Some staff need to change the way that they talk to young people, how they’re approaching young people, the questions they’re asking, and what they’re wanting from the young person,' says Millie.

She describes her first months as a care leaver as being particularly difficult.

'It was a rocky start,' she said.

'The person supporting me hadn’t got to know me properly, to know who I was or how I feel in different situations. They assumed that I dealt with situations the same as other young people, but I don’t.'

Both Emily and Millie, and the rest of the trainers, are optimistic that their training will improve how the care system works for young people.

'We can truly show workers what it is really like to live as a child in care or care leaver in today’s world,' says Emily.

'All workers in the service are there for a reason, and they want to help young people.  I think that this training will give them a lot more insight into how to really help young people and how to support them properly, which will be amazing.'

'With this training, I hope that young people will get treated as individuals,' says Millie.

The Total Respect training has only recently begun, starting with Children’s Services before moving across the council, including Councillors, but already feedback from recipients has been positive. 

'Overall, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to be able to give this training, and I think all of us involved as trainers will agree that it is such a rewarding thing to be part of,' says Emily.

'Every young person delivering the training wants to improve the life for our children and this enables us to do so, but also it is helping us with so many valuable life skills we need and is just overall such a good experience for our young people.'

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member with responsibility for children’s services, said: 'This training is really important. Councillors unanimously agreed recently that we should give children and young people who have experienced care protected characteristic status, which means that we will do as much as we possibly can to better support the young people in our care.

'Part of that involves looking at ourselves and asking young people what we can do better.

'This training helps us do that by reminding us who this is all for, and that we need to be putting their voice, their experience, into all that this council does.

'I have attended the training and feel that I have learned a lot.

'I want to thank Emily, Millie and the rest of the team who are delivering the Total Respect training, for their honesty and bravery in helping us be a better council to children and young people in care.'