This week, I’ve been at the ‘Care Experienced People Conference 2019’ – a joint venture between Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum. This is the third year this conference has happened, thanks to the leadership of Teresa Clarke.
Here are 5 reflections on a really inspiring event:
1. Things can change
Back in 2017, it was ground breaking to have such a large gathering of professionals from across prison, probation, social care and third sector organisations – and it was clear we were in the first chapter of a much needed conversation…. In discussion groups I attended that year, while there were pockets of good practice there was a lack of understanding about issues that care leavers face.
Why is this such a big issue?
It is estimated that 25% of the male prison population and an astonishing 60% of the female prison population are care experienced.
People who are care experienced - or who have been a looked after child for any period of time - have often suffered significant childhood trauma and experience particular vulnerabilities and challenges. This year, it was very clear that the conversation has taken big strides forward, with a shared understanding of the needs of care leavers – to the extent that Jo Farrar, the new CEO of HMPSS launched the Strategy for Care Experienced People. HMPSS now has a dedicated member of staff leading this strategy and lead people in each prison.
Of course there is a way to go – Teresa Clarke spoke of aspirations to ensure all prison and probation workers are trained around the needs of care leavers and integrating this into existing training. It is clear that the huge HMPPS vessel has started to change course and for anyone trying to effect change in any organisation or sector, this should be a huge encouragement.
2. Listen to the voice of People with Care Experience.
Once again, the event prioritised the voices of people who have been care experienced, with the conference starting and ending with the talented Spoken Voice artist Jason Smith and a chance to hear from Ian Thomas who is now a social worker himself. There is nothing that underlines the urgency of the conversation better than hearing from people who courageously shared their own stories and experiences.
3. Creativity is a powerful agent for change
Jason Smith told us how he started to write poetry in prison, despite being dyslexic and how this helped him to express himself and connect with his emotions. Now he is offering workshops to people in similar situations asking them to start with a very simple poem with 18 lines with a prompt for each line starting with:
Our Resettlement Passport table was next to the table promoting the work of the Shannon Trust which works in every prison to teach offenders to read, using peer mentors. One of the conference delegates who was care experienced and had been to prison identified that she had learnt to ready through the Shannon Trust and had then gone onto complete an English Literature degree while in prison. How fantastic is that?
4. ‘The Longest Journey is from your head to your Heart’
Throughout the day, we heard about the need to support people to connect their head with their heart – to start to process their stories and understand their emotions and actions – whether that is through creativity or other ways. There’s no way to do this without having relationship with the people we support and without a strong degree of connectedness ourselves.
It was good to hear how relationship training is getting trialled in several prisons, recognising that we’re good at the practical aspects of supporting people but we can shy away from discussions around managing emotions and talking about issues such as loneliness.
Lord Farmer spoke about the ‘Lifelong Links’ pilot that is taking place – supporting care leavers to identify a wide network of adults who will form a support network when they leave care. This is based on the ‘Family Finding’ work in the US care system that we’ve been talking about in our Resettlement Passport staff training for several years.
5. The Kindness of one person can Inspire Change
Within the talk of changing systems there was a reminder that the kindness of one person can inspire change in another person: Ian Thomas identified the turning point in his life being the kindness of a solicitor who met him in a police station.
I wonder if she ever knew the impact that she had ….
Hannah McCowen, Resettlement Passport Co-Ordinator.