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Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told by People Who Actually Get It

The call for submissions for the new book ‘Free Loaves on Fridays’ is now open to care-experienced people.

18/11/22

Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told by People Who Actually Get It

People with experience of the care system are being urged to share their story and their voice for an upcoming book.

The call for submissions for ‘Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told by People Who Actually Get It’ opens this week to care-experienced people.

If you were in care for any period aged 17 and under, and want to help change the public's understanding of what it means to be care-experienced, the book’s editors say they would love to publish your words.

People are welcome to submit their story, regardless of their age, background, or level of writing experience.

The book’s editor, Rebekah Pierre, said she hoped the anthology would allow care-experienced people to write their own story.

“For far too long, care-experienced voices have been silenced, forgotten, and marginalised. It always seems to be that we are written about - whether by the press, politicians, or professionals, but we rarely get to write our own story.

“This anthology, which is open to all care-experienced people of diverse backgrounds and ages (including adults and children) aims to change that. If you know any care-experienced wordsmiths who have something to say, but nowhere to say it, please do share this wonderful opportunity.

Rebekah, who lived in foster placements and unregulated hostels as a teenager in care, said that writing was the only positive coping mechanism she had.

“I'd spend hours confiding in my diary, often in the dark when the electric meter ran out in my unregulated placement. The circumstances were far from ideal, but in that space, being able to express myself through words gave me hope - and a voice - even if what I wrote never went beyond the page. Now, it is time to pass on the baton to a new generation of writers, whose words deserve to be heard so that together we can change the narrative about who we are and what matters to us.”

The deadline to submit your story by is 15 January 2023, and professionals are being urged to share this opportunity as widely as possible within their own networks to include as many voices in the anthology as possible.

The North East branch of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) recently held an event in celebration and support of grass roots activism by and with people with direct experience of the care system. Christian Kerr, social worker, lecturer and Chair of the branch, said the following about the event:

“The event was, it's fair to say, modestly attended, but it was perhaps this air of intimacy that led to some frank, personal and, ultimately, uplifting discussions on 'care experience' and what it comprises.

We heard from the book's editor, Rebekah Pierre, who described her own direct experiences of care and the circumstances that led to those experiences. Rebekah also read from her powerful open letter to the social worker whose records from the time – which Rebekah obtained through a subject access request to the local authority in question – had so hopelessly failed to represent Rebekah as a person with rights, hopes, dreams and abilities, and also as a child who needed and deserved to be protected and, crucially, believed. These records are, to be perfectly frank, a masterclass in professional oppression, denial and exclusion and should be read by all social workers as a guide to how not to do recording. Taken alongside Rebekah's open letter, these documents are powerful testament to the impact of such records and to the fact that those involved in supporting and caring for children and young people too often fail to really see and respect the person, instead constructing them according to their own biases and prejudices. This is perhaps one of the most egregious and most common of failings by social workers and other professionals and workers involved in the care and support of children and young people - indeed people of all ages - who need support from the state due to challenges arising from their social circumstances.
Read Rebekah’s open letter: https://unbound.com/books/free-loaves-on-fridays/updates/an-open-letter-to-the-social-worker-who-wrote-my-case-notes

Rebekah noted the “solidarity and sense of belonging which emerged during this event” as being “really significant”. She went on, “I really wish that, as a care leaver/social worker, safe spaces like this existed. I only began to feel comfortable opening up about my care experience a couple of years ago - I hope through this anthology, we can support the next generation of care leavers to reclaim their narrative, challenge stereotypes, and take pride in - rather than feel the need to hide - this aspect of their identity’.

We also heard from the other speaker on the night, counsellor Alice Spencer, who reminded us that care experience includes having siblings in the care system. Alice said afterwards, “The event provided me with a platform to share my experiences which felt empowering and overdue. I hope it opens a door for other people who have stories to tell.”

These and other contributions on the night opened up the definition of 'care experience', which, we learned, can include experience of being ’informally’ cared for by grandparents and other family members for periods, as a result of difficult and unexpected life events. Attendees’ openness and bravery in telling their stories encouraged me to share aspects of my own history as a young child in and around Glasgow, when, after my dad left, I spent a lot of time at my gran's, growing up with three long term fostered children who were, for all intents and purposes, my older siblings. For a while now, I have been thinking about this part of my history and how it never occurred to me until fairly recently that my foster-siblings were in something called the 'care system'. We were just a family, getting through in the ways we knew how. This is my care experience.

We heard of the good, the not-so-good and the downright bad. We heard of positive and uplifting aspects of residential care, and of strange nights spent in foster carers' homes, where a sudden change of environment was underscored by the alien sound of traffic outside the bedroom window.

We heard how the stories shared may provide workers and professionals with invaluable insights and learning into how to better support children and young people and people with experience of the care system. What struck me most of all that evening was what we learn about ourselves and about life, about relationships and hope, from listening to such stories - insights often not acknowledged in the discourse surrounding care experience. Amid an understandable and valid desire to learn how to do things better when supporting people in our work, we should never forget that people with direct experience of care are so much more than their care experience, even while it remains an important part of their identities. And, in light of the myriad experiences of care, which run the gamut from positive to traumatic and every shade and permutation in between, and which take in very many different situations and types of care, we come to realise there are more of us with ‘care experience’ than we might think, and that our own and others’ experiences in and around the care system are not to be taken lightly, save for when levity and humour provide welcome release. It is for the people to whose experiences these things pertain to decide if and when such responses are suitable.”

Please support ‘Free Loaves on Fridays’ by pre-ordering, and/or sharing the link within your network: https://unbound.com/books/free-loaves-on-fridays/

Please read this document for submission guidelines and how to submit: https://s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/media.unbound.co/download/Submission+Guidance+for+Free+Loaves+on+Fridays+PDF.pdf

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