I’ll do it my way

5 May, 2021

In our offices the other day, a young woman reflected upon her life. ‘I was born into drugs’ she said, explaining the logic, as it appeared to her, of why she feels compelled to use. It’s true that her parents used drugs throughout her life, leading to her growing up in foster care and children’s homes. ‘There are always possibilities to change our lives’ we responded to the young woman’s statement, trying once more to nudge her in a direction that we feel is best for her. ‘Yeah, but I don’t want to stop’ she returned.

This got us thinking about how people discover things about themselves and for themselves in the journey of working out who they are and how they will live their lives. This need to find out for themselves can be especially pronounced for some children looked after, who have come to trust themselves more than they can trust anyone else. After a childhood of services trying to do their best for children who are looked after, there comes a time for each young person to leave care and go their own way. With this greater independence comes the process of becoming responsible for themselves; ‘It’s down to me now. It’s my life, who else could possibly live it?’

As young people take matters into their own hands, practitioners in children’s services often brace themselves and hold their breath. The gift of protection falls away, and we worry for young people. Yet protection is perhaps replaced by another, equally valuable gift; that of self-determination. When we take responsibility for our own life, exercising our right to find our own way, we can avail ourselves of the advantages of becoming our own boss. We can look to ourselves for solutions and harness our own potential. We are afforded the privacy to quietly try things out beyond the watchful gaze of others. We have greater control over what information is shared about us and thereby greater freedom to cast off the unhelpful stories that have previously followed us about. When we take matters into our own hands, we can fully use ourselves as a guide. Maybe all of the well-meaning help and decisions made for us as children inadvertently cut us off from this resource.

Perhaps then, whilst professionals in children’s services wince a little as young people tell us they are going to head out to engage in things we think they shouldn’t, we might appreciate the gift of self-determination that these young folk can only pick up when we get out of the way. Another care experienced young woman whom we worked with some 15 years ago called us the other day. ‘I’m doing a psychology degree. It’s going to take six years but I’m determined’ she said. ‘Funny isn’t it?’ she added ‘I couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as you when I was 15, and now look at me. Would you help me with my course?’

Is that the power of self-determination right there? Taking this young woman so much further than she would ever let us? We’d like to think so.

Jen & Jael

A Gwent Partnership Board Service