Guest post by teenager Matt Langsford
I’m Matt Langsford, I’m 19, I was in care for nine years, I lived in over 15 different care placements and I was homeless twice.
I was in care due to my mother’s mental health problems – she is agoraphobic, has bipolar disorder and suffers from alcoholism. I’m back in contact with my twin sister but no one else in my family.
My care experience was poor. I was told by my care workers that I’ve had “bad luck” with carers as two of them were de-registered and a couple resigned with immediate effect. When I was homeless I slept under a bridge, in a shed and in a garage.
My experience at first made me not trust any authority figures and made me lose my confidence, but I’m putting that to good use to help improve services for looked-after children and young people. I work with the LILAC (Leading Improvements for Looked-After Children) project. I understand better what happened with my care, and I want to improve the care system.
LILAC is project funded by the Big Lottery Fund and hosted by the charity A National Voice (ANV) which ensures looked-after children and young people are involved in decisions about their care and in the practices of the services that look after them. I assess how well services involve their looked after young people, deliver participation and LILAC standards of care. I think the standards are important as they are key areas of involvement for young people and children. They help gauge how an organisation involves and includes their young people. I am one of 60 young care experienced people recruited as LILAC assessors and so far we have assessed 18 different care settings from fostering agencies to local authority care homes.
I heard about LILAC in January this year from a role I had with ANV as the West Midlands regional development coordinator. I did some research and applied for the post after thinking what a great opportunity to build on many of my skills and get employment and to meet some like-minded young people. I was then interviewed and selected to become an assessor. Getting to the training course was a race against time for me; I travelled throughout the night on a 12 hour journey to get to the course (half a day late!). The training course took place in Manchester and I was living in Aberdeen at the time.
I think that the hardest part of the course was the role-plays because I’m rubbish at acting. The most rewarding part was gaining my qualification, meeting new young people and meeting the great staff at the project.
I think what we do at LILAC is important because we are going in helping organizations and local authorities improve the services they provide to their looked after children and young people. An example of how important LILAC assessment is that Wigan were assessed at the start of the project and only achieved some of the standards, after the LILAC team fed back their recommendations, Wigan started to implement them. A year on Wigan invited LILAC back to re assess them and they have achieved all of the standards.
My first assessment was in Birmingham – a private fostering agency – I had a briefing meeting before the assessment and it all went great.
LILAC has helped me on personal level as the team has gone out of its way to support me, with advice on attending college and also they have helped me develop my skills. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the hard work and dedication from the LILAC team. It has made me more confident and helped me to trust people again; I can talk to the team whenever I need a chat to keep me sane.
My plans for the future are to finish my level two and three health and social care BTEC and go onto university next September to get my social care degree. I am continuing my voluntary work with the local Children in Care Council which is something I have done for the past three years now, I’ve been the chairperson and co-chair here and I do things from outreach work to managing our team and budget.
For me the general public see looked-after children as trouble-makers or problem children, this is wrong as most of us in care are in care as our parents can’t look after us. The media unfortunately plays a mostly negative role in portraying us, as they only show bad things and don’t promote any good stories of looked-after children and young people; I am trying to change this.