Compassion and consistency – the key to enabling positive change

Natalie Atkinson

Natalie Atkinson

In this, her second guest post at the Social Care Workforce blog, Natalie Atkinson, a student at the University of Cumbria, updates us on her progress in getting support from her local authority for her studies. There is also news of an upcoming BBC 3 documentary on young people’s experience of the Criminal Justice System and prison. Natalie took part in the Communities of Practice programme: Delivering on the integration agenda for people with multiple and complex needs as an ‘expert by experience’.

Taking part in the ‘Communities of Practice’ research programme run by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit (SCWRU) and Revolving Doors Agency as an expert by experience, has been the start of an amazing year. Having been given the chance to positively use my own ‘lived experience’ to assist in improving front line collaborative responses to people facing multiple needs and exclusions, has given me more confidence to succeed. I never imagined that writing a guest post for the Social Care Workforce blog back in July would play such a huge part in opening doors of opportunity; the power of social media in today’s society is immense. Following on from the guest post I became a contributor for ex-offender.co.uk and was drawn into the world of Twitter; now I am probably classed as a ‘tweeter’.

In November 2013 I finally won my battle with the Local Authority (LA) and received commitment from them to support me through my journey in higher education but more importantly received an apology for how my case had been handled. At the age of 21 I felt that I had been abandoned by Children’s Services when they closed my case and this ultimately made me resent the LA. Yes, Children’s Services have shown compassion and heart in my case, but how many other young people are out there who are not in a position to challenge the decisions that are made about them by different LA’s? Consistency needs to be demonstrated throughout the care system as that is one of the main things a lot of looked after children do not experience. I consider myself to be lucky enough to have the determination and support to challenge decisions.

With only seven months until I graduate with a BSc in Policing, Investigation and Criminology from the University of Cumbria, I still find myself pinching myself to see whether it’s all been a dream. However, the closer I am getting, I am starting to realise that it is reality and this is actually the start of a new chapter in my life. I no longer have to feel ashamed of being a care leaver and an ex-prolific offender because I am actually able to use this to challenge the judgement and prejudices that exist. I can stand as a prime example that you should never give up on a child or a young person and hopefully this will empower individuals, who are in a similar position to one that I have once been in to make changes.

Having left school at such a young age and spending my time snowballing through the Youth Justice System and then the Criminal Justice System (CJS) makes me appreciate the importance of education. A big part of my journey has been returning to education and discovering that I can use my ‘lived experience’ to assist in gaining academic knowledge and I plan to carry on studying and go on to complete an MSc and then a PhD. I have recently been appointed as a Service User Trustee for Homeless Link and I am hopefully able to use my own life experience to campaign for continued and improved support services. One of the biggest opportunities to arise from the guest blog for SCWRU and being a contributor for ex-offender.co.uk has been to use my own experiences as a basis for a BBC 3 documentary on young people’s experience of the CJS and prison, which is due to be aired in April 2014.

Since a young age my life has been like a roller coaster and to this day I still consider my life to be the same but the only difference is, is that I am now part of a positive roller coaster and I get to decide the route I take. I am not able to say for sure what the future will hold for me, but what I do know is that I will always be standing behind the children and young people that are labelled by society; saying if I can do it then so can they. My mission is not to change the world but to challenge the policies and practices that effect children and young people and hopefully one day I might be in a position to influence change.

Natalie Atkinson was an expert by experience on the Communities of Practice programme. Lead researcher at King’s on this project was Senior Research Fellow, Dr Michelle Cornes.

Follow Natalie on Twitter @Nat89atk

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