Plymouth care leavers are sending a powerful message to MPs by delivering colourfully decorated shoes to Westminster – each one of them with a story to tell.
The special delivery is part of the “Walk a Day in Our Shoes: Not One Size Fits All!” project organised by young people supported by Barnardo’s Plymouth Care Journeys.
Almost 20 pairs of white training shoes have been decorated by the care leavers to represent their challenges, achievements and ambitions, as well as the stigma they’ve faced. Each pair also comes with a young person’s life story which make powerful reading.
The aim is to help people understand that every young person leaving care is unique, each on a journey shaped by their experiences good and bad.
They include a young woman who says she had both her little boys taken into care because she didn’t have the support she needed.
“No one offered to help me become the parent they wanted me to be, I was belittled and told as a 22-year-old care leaver that I didn’t know the world. My world had collapsed, it just completely crashed, there are no words to describe how I felt,” she said.
The shoes will be displayed in a special exhibition at the House of Commons on Tuesday, September 6 and the young people hope that MPs will take the time to read the stories and improve their understanding of the issues facing care leaves. The public will be able to access the stories on the website during Care Leavers’ Week (October 24).
Carin Laird, senior project worker with Barnardo’s Plymouth Care Journeys, said: “The idea came from the young people themselves and they have worked hard to make it a reality. They hope that by taking the shoes to Westminster they will inspire MPs from across the UK to go back to their constituencies and find out what support care leavers need.
“The aim of this project is to shine a light on the individuality of each young person’s journey, their unique experiences and how these have shaped the person they have become.”
Some of the young people have used the opportunity to call for system change, including more resources put into prevention work and greater opportunity for siblings to stay in contact.
Many of the stories have positive outcomes such as one young man who said: “My shoes represent my past and my present. The anger and resentment I felt at the world for being cruel and unfair just ate me up and took me to places I shouldn’t have been – but I am so glad now that I have experienced that because it has made me who I am today.
“If I hadn’t of had those experiences, I wouldn’t have had the determination and drive to reach my positive destination.”
Barnardo’s runs Plymouth Care Journeys, in partnership with Plymouth City Council. It works with young people to help them take positive steps to becoming a young adult such as finding a job, a safe home and staying healthy. The partnership also helps them develop their support networks by providing social activities, advocacy and the support of volunteer befrienders.
Many care leavers are isolated and lonely and don’t have a strong support network around them. Volunteer mentors help reduce that isolation, build young people’s confidence and self-esteem while also encouraging them to develop new skills, interests and activities.
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