Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice, is explaining why the charity set up a writing competition for children in care and care leavers.
“Being in care can be a label that carries quite a heavy stigma, which was what we wanted to change.”
Now in its third year, the Voices 2018 competition invites young people to write stories and poems about their experiences in care. Written with passion, those words are about “redressing the balance” and recognising that children in care and care leavers do have positive stories to tell.
“In terms of the benefit of participating in the competition, what young people told us was the question had inspired them to write more, it had improved their writing skills, for some it had also been an opportunity to come to terms with being in care,” Briheim-Crookall explains.
A unique aspect of the Voices 2018 competition is service users are sharing their experiences without it being a vehicle to generate feedback and learning for professionals and organisations that work with them.
“It’s allowing children and young people to be heard in another way than other participation methods. They can say what they want to say,” Briheim-Crookall says
“When we share their entries, we don’t select what we want to focus on, we don’t edit them in any way, it’s sort of the unadulterated voice of children and young people. We share their voices directly without putting our own interpretation on it.” .
Professionals can of course learn from the stories. Briheim-Crookall says the words can act as another way of understanding the reality for children in care, , what they worry about and how it feels to enter and leave.
Briheim-Crookall highlights the potential for creative writing to be used more widely in work with children. “I think creative writing can be a way of putting others in the shoes of these children and young people in a way that other work sometimes doesn’t.
“What some of the young people fed back about the competition was it wasn’t directly about the professionals around you, so it could give you opportunity to share your story more.
“Saying what you truly felt about the care system without worrying about what professionals might think. It’s safe in that way.”
Coram Voice’s competition is open for children in care and care leavers until 8 February.