Can creative writing help break the stigma for children in care?

Just as a lack of awareness, misconceptions and negative media stories can perpetuate the stigmas for children living in poverty, many children in the care system can also grow up facing negative views.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation discovered that children are highly aware of their social position and the limitations it places on them from an early age. Negative labelling and stigmatisation can affect many young people in care as they grow up, with a negative impact on their life chances, and their beliefs about what they can achieve now and in the future.

In its ‘Bright Spots’ literature review, Coram Voice, a charity that provides services for children in and around the care system, found that young people in care faced reactions of ‘curiosity and sympathy’ or ‘assumptions that they were trouble-makers’. One young person reported a ‘mind-set which says because you are in care, you are not going to achieve or do very much.’
Young people also highlighted misconceptions about why they had been placed in to care and a lack of understanding of the challenges they have faced.

With over 70,000 children in care in England, it is clear that more needs to be done to break down these stigmas.

Coram Voice found that young people in care wanted to challenge stigma through openness, education and discussion, and a greater focus on celebrating strengths and achievements. They also said that being given opportunities and encouragement was important and made them feel they had the same chances as other children.

That’s why the charity has recently launched its second annual creative writing competition ‘Voices’ for children in care and young care leavers. The competition was set up as a platform for the voices of young care-experienced people to be heard, and to showcase their creative talents.
Through the competition, Coram Voice also wants to listen to what young people in care have to say to better understand their needs.

This year’s theme is ‘New Beginnings’ and the charity is asking children and young people to write up to 500 words in any format about a change in their lives or opportunities they’ve had to try something new. It is grouped in three age categories: Primary School, Secondary School and Care Leavers, with a special additional award for migrant children in care or care leavers.

Coram Voice believes that children and young people in care have exceptional creative talent not despite of, but because of their experiences, and hopes that their writing competition Voices will help to continue to challenge the negative labels often connected to being in care.

The entries will be judged by a panel of leading authors, writers and journalists, some with personal experience of the care system. This includes author Jenny Molloy, whose bestselling novels are inspired by her experiences of growing up in care, and who is judging the competition for the second year running.

Commenting on the importance of opportunities such as Voices for breaking the stigma for young people in care, Jenny said: “The competition is a positive celebration of young people’s voices, when so often there can be a focus on negative experiences. The talent we unearthed last year was unbelievable – the entries were so powerful and the young people used such creative ways to share their thoughts and feelings.

“It’s vital that young people in care are given the opportunity to take part in something so positive and their stories definitely need to be heard.”

The deadline for entries is 21 February 2017. To find out more and to enter, please visit coramvoice.org.uk/voices-2017.