NHP Annual Conference 2022 - Changing the Narrative

Posted 18th March 2022

Our recent annual conference was a huge success and was enjoyed by presenters and audience alike. In the aftermath we reflected at some length on the theme of the day which led us to draw this blog together.

Charities are established for a number of reasons with social justice and a quest for a fairer society being the driver for many that support marginalised groups. NHP was established against the backdrop of poor outcomes for care leavers, a negative narrative, and the resultant low aspirations of young people. It set a vision that young people leaving care should live ‘independent and fulfilling lives’ and the wording was sufficiently broad to reflect the aspiration to not only support young people in House Projects but to develop new ways of working and be a catalyst for wider sector change.

In order for all young people to truly succeed, systemic change is required; the system that supports them and the language that describes them, the narrative that young people have about themselves; the understanding and narrative of the communities where they live and the general population that ‘others’ them. To achieve change, one has to provide an alternative narrative which then has to achieve prominence by being put in to practice and adopted widely. New stories are extremely powerful in shaping public opinion and influencing policy.

The House Project approach enables local authorities to support their young people to leave care well. In a social care system that prioritises safeguarding and children in care services it provides an evidence-based and psychologically informed framework that works. It shouts loud and clear that care leavers are worthy of investment and provides the narrative about how to support them well.

Moreover, in a context of austerity and funding shortfalls it demonstrates that outcomes can be improved whilst also saving money. This success creates the narrative, the stories, ‘the word of mouth’ conversations both within a Local Authority that supports the expansion of the service, but between local authorities whereby the House Project approach is regarded as credible and supports adoption and scaling. This is evidenced by the scaling to 16 projects and 380 young people. Providing services that improve outcomes that are recognised by professionals and stakeholders (Department for Education, local authorities, Ofsted, Trusts and Foundations) builds the reputation of our movement and the positive narrative around care leavers. This has enabled the National House Project and the Care Leavers National Movement (CLNM) to meet the Minister, to be at a round table with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and to be invited to a Royal Garden Party later in the year. Given that our reputation and credibility is very much aligned with having young people as equal partners, it reinforces the positive narrative about them.   

The psychological approach, practice framework, training, consultations, learning and support via Community of Practice enables staff to work with young people where they are at, and see beyond presenting behaviours. Getting alongside the young person develops trust, builds relationships which are key and develops an understanding of how best to help the young person and keep them safe. In a sector that focuses on risk and labels that are driven by the needs of services, this approach skills and emboldens staff to be able to say ‘‘I’ve got this, we can do it’’. Every intervention matters and language is important. Staff tell us that they are able to engage and support young people who the system had previously classically labelled as ‘hard to reach’ or ‘disengaged’. This approach to practice cuts across the service led labels that sadly reinforce negative narratives and demonstrates that interventions work, and more importantly that young people who are understood do engage, can achieve and are more than the labels they often receive. Not only do they disrupt the former narrative they change the narrative to one that screams out CARE LEAVERS CAN!    

With an approach that changes the narrative about how services should be provided, it is also important that we support young people to change the narrative about, and for, themselves. The House Project approach provides opportunities and experiences that develop their skills, knowledge and confidence in themselves which builds ambition and aspirations. These are supported by their contact with positive role models who are care experienced. Young people tell us that being trusted and having agency is key to them achieving success. AQA certification, preparation and clothing for work, undertaking and delivering a peer evaluation, hosting a national conference and presenting their evaluation reinforces this positivity and helps young people to feel good about themselves. Young people share this positivity amongst their own community and to wider audiences via blogs and lifehacks on their own local website and the CLNM website.

Our excitement about independent evaluations is based not only on us acquiring the knowledge and understanding of how our approach works but more importantly how it can be improved to better serve young people. Qualitative in nature, all four approaches have taken a ‘story’ approach looking at the meaning and impact from the young person’s perspective. Young people have told us that focusing purely on independence is unhelpful for them and we recognise that we all lead interdependent lives. We have since changed this and our practice framework which changes the narrative and recognises their connection to communities and that whilst successful, they still need and can access support.

Whilst young people tell us that the House Project works for them, it is important for us to communicate this to others. Independent evaluations /studies provide objectivity to the messaging and when the various approaches report consistently it can impact positively on the narrative about young people, their value and the ways in which the approach provides the scaffolding to enable them to succeed. It is important to recognise that the Peer Evaluation has at least, equal weighting to our learning approach and the experience of having young people presenting their findings on the same stage as Clinical Psychologists and Academic Researchers is empowering for them as individuals, inspires peers in the audience and provides a stark antidote to the usual negative image of care leavers.

Changing the narrative amongst the general population is more challenging. Whilst greater concerted collaborative effort across the public and voluntary sectors is needed to ensure that the new narratives are amplified and heard, we cannot underestimate the significance of providing the opportunities and platforms for our brilliant, creative and successful young people to be seen and heard. We all have a role to play in progressing this and as Saeed said at conference “it is not about giving young people a voice, they have a voice, it is about providing the platform for their voice to be heard and then acted on”.

After the conference I wrote to all the brilliant young people who were involved in the day, and I received the following back from one young person that encapsulates how they contribute to changing the narrative “thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell people our progress".

Care experienced young people are amazing and we all have a role in making sure that they are supported to succeed, their successes are recognised and valued and that the positive stories become the new narrative. We look forward to you joining us on this journey.

P.S. #careleaverscan

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