Finding the courage to say "I'm care experienced"

Prompted by Who Cares? Scotland's Care Experienced Week, Laura Beveridge, co-chair of the Stop:Go group within the Independent Care Review, reflects on her journey as a care experienced campaigner and looks forward to the future of the care experienced movement.

It’s an interesting time to write and reflect on the care experienced movement during such a special week of celebration.

It is truly incredible to reflect on the many years where the care experienced voice has been fighting to be heard. Although there is so much work still to do and a journey ahead, it is an incredible moment in time that so many of us will never forget.

A personal journey

Personally, I have found peace with my identity as someone who has experience of care. For most of my life I have had to hide a part of my life experience; many years I desperately hid the effects of childhood trauma, keeping loss and grief tucked away in my heart. I was hiding a secret pain that I feared would frighten people away. This continued as I hid that I lived with foster carers and then hid that residential care staff looked after me. I was so ashamed.

I remember a time when I was homeless, sleeping in stairwells and doorways, but always scraped up enough money to access the shower facilities at Edinburgh Waverley Station. I was utterly ashamed of myself and felt crippled by depression in my late teens because of that shame, but I still kept struggling to hide what I was going through. I tried to wash away my circumstances

Someone asked me last week how I made it. I simply replied that I’m still on a journey. There have been times when I have felt triggered, told my story too many times or shared more than I planned to, but as a campaigner there were no half measures for me. It is something that I always put my heart and soul into. I have no regrets about sharing my story to campaign for change but there is so much that I have learned along the way.

For a long time I felt angry. Angry at not being heard, angry at hearing about the death of my friend who had just left care, angry at seeing so many more young people struggle and fight for an equal chance at life. None of us had a space at the table where decisions were made about the future of care. What I campaigned for was not only to be heard, but for action to be taken and for care experienced people to have an equal seat at the table.

The complexity of campaigning

For me there was a time when I needed to listen more and a time for me to speak out. I remember reading Kenny McGhee’s blog on love in the care system and how much more complex the discussion is but I wasn’t ready to hear what he had to say. As a campaigner my concern was getting the voices of care experienced people heard, I wasn’t ready to think about the complexity of it all. I had seen too much suffering and wanted meaningful change to happen now.

To be honest I feel that no one who has lived experience owes anything to the care system. I will always cherish every care experienced voice that I hear because I know what it takes to file through trauma and find the most palatable parts to share. I wasn’t ready to hold the complexity of it all because I was too busy holding the complexity of myself. I was sorting through what I wanted to say vs what I felt and the memories that resurfaced as a result of dipping into my trauma in the name of a campaign.

What I do know is that, however personally challenging the campaign was, I felt valued by our First Minister who listened and is continuing to listen to care experienced people.

The Independent Care Review

I attended a conference recently where I respectfully listened to the testimony of a campaigner with lived experience. I understand the preparation that it takes to build the confidence and clarity to verbalise a message based on real experiences and could see the energy that it took to deliver, which is invisible to so many. Following the conference I saw a professional further try to understand and unpick what had happened by asking “why didn’t you?” and “what if?” with no understanding of the complexity of these asks. That is why I spoke to Fiona Duncan, Chair of the Independent Care Review, and Liz Brabender, Lead of the Independent Care Review Secretariat, long before I joined the Independent Care Review team.

I explained exactly what it takes to hold up a heart, to say the words “I’m care experienced”, and told them of the trauma that is at risk of resurfacing. They listened. The Independent Care Review now provides support and supervision through peer support and counselling when required. I see a Review that has care experienced people at its heart, with 50% care experienced co-chairs. That is what partnership really means. I also see more care experienced people holding up their hearts in support and partnership of the Care Review. It makes me very proud to be part of an incredible movement that is making change happen.

In the words of rapper and Poverty Safari author Darren McGarvey, I too have no call to action at the end of this blog. What I do offer is an open door. The Care Review will listen and ensure action will follow. We are ready to hold difficult conversations with conflicting opinions because holding complexity is what needs to happen to make tangible change. Difficult and challenging conversations are very much a part of this chapter of the Care Review. Kenny McGhee had the courage to hold complexity. I’m ready to do the same. Are you ready?


[Originally published on this blog October 26 2018.]