Young people in Falkirk who are either in care or have been in care have been given a chance to make a difference.
And being members of Falkirk Council’s Champions Board is not just changing their own lives, it’s also having a positive impact on the lives of all children who find themselves in the care of the local authority.
The Champions Board gives them an opportunity to speak directly to their ‘corporate parents’ – the council bosses, service managers and politicians – who have the power to shape the young people’s futures.
But the young members of Falkirk’s Champions Board are not asking for any favours, according to children’s services manager Vivien Thomson.
“They just want a level playing field and to have the same opportunities as everybody else,” said Vivien.
The hope is that the changes they are helping to make will help level the playing field when it comes to education, employment, housing, health and wellbeing and other vital areas where care-experienced young people are all too often at a massive disadvantage.
The board, which has been funded by Life Changes Trust for the past three years and has funding for two more years, meets formally four times a year, although the young people also meet more often.
By telling their stories to people such as the council’s chief executive and council leader, the young people have given those holding the purse strings an insight into the battles their young charges have faced and are still facing.
And drawing on their experiences also means they have been able to bring in some vital changes.
One of the first did not require a lot of money – just a major change in attitude.
The young people wanted to change the language that is used to describe them in meetings and reports – in particular, acronyms and jargon.
Laura Mullarkey (24) has been a member of the Champion’s Board since the start, both as participation assistant and member.
She said: “For me, it’s given us a chance to amplify our voice and be able to speak to heads of service to help towards making a change. It’s been a platform and we’ve able to make a difference.”
Their top priority, they decided early on, was a focus on mental health and they have been working hard to produce a booklet that pulls together information and advice on where to get help.
Not only have the young champions found that council bosses are listening to them – they’ve also found friendship and a sense of family with the others taking part.
Laura continues to attend – partly because she feels it’s worthwhile and there are still many improvements to be made – and partly because she gets so much out of it personally.
“It’s increased confidence for all of us and we’ve grown as people – but also, we’ve come together as one big family,” said Laura.
Siobhan O’Neill (17) had to be persuaded to go to her first Champions Board meeting and only reluctantly attended – but she’s glad she did, as she recently took on the role of participation assistant.
“I have been given so much help and so many opportunities since I joined the Champions Board,” she said.
“Before I was in my own little bubble and felt very isolated – I just shut myself off from everyone.
“But when I came to Champs, it broke the shell and made me more confident.”