Following on from their recent article in which they discussed the importance of listening to the voice of the child, our Education Lead, Joy Waelend, and Children’s Services Manager, Marianna Nicolaou, are continuing their conversation – this time, with a member of the Children in Care Council in Bristol.
Cassidy Westlake, aged 17, is currently studying Level 3 Animal Management. She spoke passionately to the pair about her experience as a young person in care and how we, as adults, can help to improve the life chances of children and young people.
Cassidy is a member of the Children in Care Council in Bristol, which has worked closely with a group of young people throughout lockdown and provides children involved with the platform to share their voice.
She said: “I thought it was a great project and the more I learned about what they do for other people, I couldn’t not join it.
For the Independent Visitors, we decide how and when you have visits with other people, and we go out and do really fun things together”.
Here at Antser we understand that some young people are led to believe they are powerless and can’t make a difference. For Cassidy, being part of the Children in Care Council has challenged that stigma and posed a “great opportunity for learning independent skills and for actually getting your voice heard.”
She said: “In most cases, people think children in care are just another one in the system and are never going to achieve anything good in life, so it’s great that there are people are out there who truly believe we can do good in life and are listening to us.”
“Some of my peers have treated me differently due to growing up in care, especially in secondary school. I think because of our upbringings and being in care, many believe that we will carry on with that bad childhood and misbehave, which is not the case.”
Sharing her thoughts to those who have misjudged her in the past, Cassidy has only kindness and positivity in her reply and outlook on life: “I am doing well now and continue to do so. I am very focused on doing well in the future.”
When asked what is the one thing that has kept her motivated over the years, Cassidy said it was down to her love of animals. “I have always been set in my mind that I wanted to work with animals,” she said. “I have been around them all my life and what motivates me is that I would like to help them.”
Joy, who previously worked in education for over 40 years before joining the team at Anster, said: “I think you are amazing. Due to being a headteacher, I have worked with several children and young people who are in care and you remind me of them. Many think because they were in care they were never going to achieve anything, and I can imagine once you’re in that mindset, it is hard to get out of it. To hear how determined and passionate you are, I know you will be a great inspiration to those who are in care.”
Throughout her journey, the support from close peers has helped Cassidy immensely to share her voice.
She said: “My foster carer at the moment and my best friend have been great and have always supported me. Although I have only been with my foster carer since September, as I moved from a previous foster home of 8/9 years, she has been really supportive.
“My foster carer definitely encourages me to have a voice and always listens to me, and same goes for my best friend.”
Sharing her opinion on the government and current state of the social care sector for children, Cassidy said: “When people say they are struggling – even if they don’t look like they are – it is best to just listen to them and provide support. Just the smallest amount of help will go a long way.
“Something has to be done even if fundraising is put in place.”
“From experience, you only say you are struggling when you reach a bad point. If you are struggling even just a little bit, people tend to not speak up. So when people do say something, it is important that we listen and then do something about it.”
Listening makes all the difference. Reflecting on her past experiences, Cassidy shared that when she spoke about her troubles, she was listened to, which has, in turn, allowed her to become the person she is today.
“During my time at school, while there were many teachers who did listen to me, at the same time there were many who didn’t. It felt like they didn’t even care to hear my voice.
“Listen more, instead of brushing it under the carpet. All you need to do is listen. People will only say they are struggling when they’ve hit their worst, so listen when they do and be there to help.”
Find out more about Antser’s advocacy for children in care here.