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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

'Lived Experience' - How politics, ego and greed distort the authenticity of changing perceptions.

I remember back in 2016 whilst writing Poems From a Runaway when people were telling me about how social workers and foster parents could benefit from hearing my story and experiences. Since then I've done some talks with some fantastic organisations including fostering and social work groups where I've not only been able to share my own story with groups of people, but also absorb others experiences and insights too.

However, one thing I'd started to pick up on but just couldn't quite fully understand at the time had been the politics and elitism going on within the realms of 'lived experienced' relating to care leavers, fostering and children's mental health. This doesn't just include those doing workshops and talks, but other projects and forms of employment too.

I've even written about my own experiences with these issues in the past but had deleted my writings not too long afterwards whilst questioning if it was simply me seeing things wrong, along with the anxiety of people thinking I was a drama magnet.

The complete Twitter drop-off might just account for that, but what if much more shadier things are going on within the realm of 'care experience' than some of us are honest enough to admit to.

Perhaps I was a fool for thinking that the realms of social work and care experience had been free from the needless ego-driven issues that too often arise in the so-called 'regular' world and corrupt it.

Recently though, it's been interesting to hear others speak about the same experiences that I've had myself. 'So it wasn't all in my head then?' is quite a refreshing thought to have.

There are plenty of companies and organisations claiming to help support the voice of care experienced people out there, of which many really can and do help bring more social understanding and change perception. Equally though, perhaps the scope of what I'm about to tell you is so big that it can impact care leavers and the like in many other environments too.

Ironically, some of us talk about the exploitation and manipulation we came across as somewhat vulnerable children and young people. But as each day goes by I'm only confirmed further through more stories that the exploitation and abuse of care leavers is in fact so normalised that it carries on to this very day. As usual it's too often hidden behind smiles and a sense of charity or social change. Day by day I hear more stories of care experienced people having their stories and ideas completely stolen. It's so brazen and normalised in fact that when it happens few even take notice, and raising your concerns as a care leaver that this sort of stuff is happening can often bring nothing more than a raised eyebrow to those that don't acknowledge what is at play. It is my belief that in many ways the whole realm of 'care experienced' has been corrupted by ego and greed before it ever had the chance to achieve it's full potential. Still, a lot of great work was done by some very dedicated advocates, some of which are sadly no longer with us. But the more stories I hear, the more it feels like I witness the phenomena's of either care leavers being muscled out from the posts and projects they find themselves in, or that for many like myself it's a complete 'not what you know but who you know' situation.

Let's not forget here, there's a lot of money being made both within the care system and at times by those sharing their lived experiences. I think it would be nice to see those that seem to have the big backing and followers actually start connecting on an authentic level with their fellow care experienced people. Perhaps I've simply been on Twitter too much, which seems nothing more than a shouting match of endless self-promotion, where authentic back-and-forth communication seems to be very limited.

Similarly to the rest of the world, cabals form, and when those cabals are highly influenced by non care leavers, perhaps there are times when the real purpose for embracing lived experience isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

The concept of what appears some sort of natural exploitation and the taking credit for the work and things we do is perhaps more overlooked than it should be. The truth is, society doesn't really want to admit it, "we're all great charitable people" they say, yet there's many out there raising yet another glass to the stolen ideas of care leavers, some of who I know. It indeed seems to be 'a thing.'

Don't just take it from me though, this sort of thing is in fact so undealt with and normalised that now you've heard it once maybe you'll start hearing it everywhere!


Firstly, I think all organisations, companies and charities that make a point of taking on people that are care-experienced need somebody within the HR department or similar to be care experienced themselves.

I think it's the only way that such events and stigmas will ever be truly dealt with or recognised. To often such events are instantly fobbed off by those unfamiliar with how all of this really plays out.

There's simply no point in taking on people that are care experienced without having the managing in place for those that might not understand their experiences, perceptions and any mental health struggles.

Adult bullying is very real, and can happen on very subtle levels. I'm able to stand my ground against people when I play by my rules, but too often when care experienced people are the minority the game can be automatically rigged against them in which many of us enter situations where we're set up to fail.

Secondly, perhaps we really do need to acknowledge more that the 'me me me' mentality that all too often infects the real world sadly has also infected the realm of 'care experienced advocacy'. I think we need a more 'grass-roots' approach to giving a voice for care-experienced people, many of which are diverse in their own ways and may not always appeal to the shiny blue-chip style corporate side of social work and fostering. Come on, let's not pretend it doesn't exist.

And maybe, just maybe, that's how we help bridge the gap between social work and community awareness and inclusion.

Despite around 25% of the UK homeless population being care experienced as well as around 27% of adult prisoners, why are these issues almost never spoken about or brought up among those talking being care experienced? Does that question in itself point to a major lack of understanding of care leavers, homeless people and adult prisoners?

I've tried to bring those things up many times, at first I thought I was shadow-banned but then since the confirmation brought to me by tweet view statistics, it became immediately clear that there was a significant lack of interest of anything relating to the many care leavers that find themselves homeless and in some cases even living on the streets.

There are of course many other stories that need counting for, and I think those that have the most important ones to share might not always fit the perception of what those from other walks of life think they should be.

It goes to show that this sort of thing happens everywhere. There are plenty of child abuse advocates out there, but who really ever took the time to connect with and directly listen to the young women on Twitter involved in the grooming scandals that were all over the media. I can tell you now, they don't get a lot of attention, and it seems that in a lot of cases everybody else profits from their story but them, and maybe many of those stories told gave no real justice or insight into the lives of the then-young girls involved in the grooming scandals.

Currently I feel worlds away from when I'd come back from the Care Experienced Conference and people's ideas were coming together online afterwards. There was a real sense of co-existence and collaboration. Two years on and I feel many of those attempts all too often feel like one-way traffic.

I guess this will be yet another way to completely ostracise myself from the social work community. But I'm Ben, this is what I do, speak out for what I believe rather than try to be popular. I think it's needed. Perhaps someone at least will find this refreshing.

For those others like me going through this, just keep doing what you do. The truth is, we're not all meant to go down the same path and do what others are doing. So trying to be original and doing it unique doesn't always work out, if anybody can tell you that then it's me, but the further away you walk from your own truths the longer it takes to get back. Life is too short for playing up to appearances, be yourself and if it changes one or two people's perception or understanding then it's a good job done. Peace.

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