From August to October around 200 people with a huge variety of experiences of children’s social care gave up their time to take part in a series of online meetings called Bridge the Gap. These events used an ‘Open Spaces’ model to bring people together to identify problems and suggest solutions. Elisha Mulvaney writes about her experience below.
The final question considered by Bridge the Gap participants was “What is the one solution-focused conversation that you feel has the capacity to change children’s social care as we currently know it?” – if you would like to offer your contribution to this question please share your ideas with us through the Call for Ideas.
The Bridge the Gap consultations were a succession of online events to gather the views of people from across the social care system. I took part as both a care experienced adult and a social worker. I attended four events in total which consulted both professionals, and people who have care experience, inviting them to have a say in improving the care system.
The process was designed to gather individual stories and perspectives, in search of the collective stories and themes from within the cross section of the community. The goal was focused on finding the solutions and change the care community knew was needed to improve the lives of young people growing up in the care system. It felt like a therapeutic space with a sense of purpose. It functioned as a more grass roots method of creating solutions to current and recurring issues.
I witnessed how cathartic the process was for many. It is a community so often silenced out of professional necessity, or a fear of judgement. In the telling of their extraordinary stories it was a valuable experience for some just to be heard and validated, and to experience a shared understanding.
I also witnessed the care experienced adults and young people supporting each other to speak up, tell their stories, to be counted, and to plan for a better future for others. The resilience, respect, and sense of fair play in those groups was so strong it was powerful. It showed clearly that communities and groups for care experienced people hold weight as a therapeutic tool in the future.
During the consultation process, two of the events had groups of just care leavers or professionals debating together. The value of this was that groups with shared experience can very quickly drill down to the nuances of a problem. The strength in this collective experience is that it can draw out the cultural barriers within the system itself that are often unspoken, unrecognised, and unaddressed on an individual level.
However, the beauty of the mixing professionals and care leavers in groups was that one issue had the benefit of multiple perspectives with which to synthesise more accurate ideas or solutions. The structure of the events was well managed to draw on the best aspects of these different groups and bring them together to create a collective voice.
For myself, the discussions and debates and story-telling with such a varied cross section of the community brought me to new ideas, and offered me fresh insights and perspectives with which to challenge my own assumptions. It wasn’t always an easy process, and it took courage. The debates could get heated and a couple of people came with fixed agendas and closed minds which could temporarily block the process of collaboration until the group worked around them.
However for me, the experience was galvanising and compelling, giving me the chance to connect with my community, and to hope for a better future. It was good to be able to draw on and to be recognised for my 32 years of experience of the care system as a professional and care experienced adult. Those experiences, good and bad, powerfully shaped who I am today. It has left me with a desire to create positive change and to ensure good experiences for those young people the care system is shaping right now.
It always feels good to be given the chance to hope, but it feels even better to be given the opportunity to take action.