Celebration of Achievement Ceremony
Tate Britain 24th October 2017
As I walked to the beautiful Tate Britain I could see young people arriving and already the thick aroma of hope, joy and inspiration was welling up! This was going to be a comedy show for me like none other! Usually I jostle through swearing sweaty comedy clubs, but this was pure electric joy and a chance to celebrate life.
I watched in explosive happiness as one little 5 year old girl went up to get her award tripping up every single step to get to the stage – she just couldn’t walk quick enough! The audience cheered so loudly the past crying shames and pain was no more in that room, as seeds of hope, self-value and overcoming were embedded into the next generation right into their hearts. This truly was a day no one would forget…
The flyer I was handed wrote:
‘Welcome to the Annual Celebration of Achievement Ceremony organized by Virtual School of Westminster City Council. We believe in the importance of a good education and encouraging young people to succeed is a core commitment of Westminster City Council.
Westminster City Council’s Virtual School is a dedicated education service whose purpose is to ensure that the Council fulfills its corporate parenting responsibility to promote the education of looked after children and care leavers’.
Some of the more fickle may now be thinking, why?
Well I was invited to speak at the Tri-Borough Virtual School Conference
(Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham) earlier this year (see blog) and see the pioneering work being done in these London borough’s, aiming not just to help these often disadvantaged young people to survive their life challenges, but to thrive. Many other Local Authorities are doing similar great work up and down the UK, however… the scary facts still remain.
Scary facts – forget Halloween, these statistics are read year by year, I’ve been working and campaigning in this field for 10 years and the stats are still frightening…
There are 700,400 children in care in 2017
75% are being fostered
50% of young offenders have been in care
6% of children in care attend University compared to the average of 61%
Without hope, vision and value young people will grow into adults and their issues will grow into mountains
The BBC published a brilliant but shocking article about deaths in young care leavers – read here
The amazing work the Virtual School does in all the London Boroughs and all organisations that aim to support young people require more support and understanding in society to challenge these figures and change the statistics. Prevention for young people is better than cure. How long as a society will we continue to read these shocking headlines for?
Why is intervention in Schools necessary?
As an adopted person myself I can also tell you that without this type of work and similar support, understanding, council, wise guidance and knowledge it is impossible to gain an education at school because of the inner trauma that you face trying to not just get through school, but also fight your own personal battles as well. Many care leavers are dealing with massive personal
issues, complex emotional structures and all with a challenging moving base that isn’t the traditional ‘family’ structure. Frankly. The work the Virtual School does and many other incentives to work with young people is game-changing. Life Changing and radical.
Why was I asked to speak?
Well as an adopted person, yes I have parents however the huge challenges that accompany any disruption in a child’s development during those furtive years still applied to me. I always joke that I have the ‘Emotional PHD of emotional intelligence’, I have the full set of ‘mistakes not to make when growing up’ and now backed with years of personal study, learning and a 60 minute comedy show about my adoption story and surrounding issues often performed alongside my 30 minute motivational talk, I love to share my knowledge on this subject – especially with as much joy as I can deliver. Everyone loves a laugh and I have found that humour is a powerful way to heal deep wounds of sadness and create much needed joy. I have written a humour based seminar called ‘LAUGH 4 LIFE that explores the power of laughter to overcome adversity, great for corporate events/schools/Churches etc.
As I sat and waited for my tight 20-minute slot and watched these remarkable young people whose age range was between 5 to 20, I soon realsied that this was no ordinary award ceremony. Everyone there truly was a winner! Foster families, carers, field workers and social workers. In fact the room was packed with overcomers.
These were young people achieving against all the odds and reaching their potential. Some were recognized for 100% attendance at school, no big deal you may think but bear in mind that many of the young people had suffered greatly in their young lives this meant that just getting to school is was a miracle.
Others won awards for good behavior, again no big deal to some families, but for many children disruptive behavior is a symptom of the horrific challenges they daily face. Everyone needs to be told ‘Well done’ and the experience of seeing others achieve and a pathway of hope in all ages will inspire children for the dark days that lay ahead. Some of these children will be in care all their lives, they need to hear and see the possibilities of hope from the older children. I had no role models growing up and this left me with a huge hole of despair, loneliness and total isolation.
The look on the children’s faces will stay embedded in my brain. I looked out as I stood on the huge shiny stage at Tate Britain and all I could see was PURE JOY! I have never seen smiles as big and as wide and deep as this in my life, their whole bodies seemed to glow. It felt like Christmas. When you think of the fear and pain we are all familiar to seeing on our TV screens of refugee children running for their lives, well these children in that moment were the total opposite – they sparkled like diamonds of hope and inspiration. A day such as this they could draw richly on for the rest of their lives.
They were being recognized for their achievements and no one could stop them! Attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster who handed them their certificate, shook their hand as their photo was taken, it was like the ultimate Oscar Ceremony.
As I delivered my words of joy, inspiration and hope one little boy with corkscrew curls literally shrieked with delight at the front! I nearly exploded! For a second I thought ‘who could leave or hurt a little boy like that?’ Then I looked at all the children and thought the same, in one second I nearly cried. Then I remembered I too was one of those ‘left’ kids…
Everyone in the room either had a story to tell, or was there to make sure that a child’s past DID NOT dictate their future. The staff too were like proud parents having their ‘big day’ and watching their children get recognition for overcoming their ‘dark days’. That room shone with light. Some children wanted to become doctors or engineers like other bright little boys and girls, except the cost of that achievement would take a village to achieve, in this case the corporate village. Do I wish all boroughs had events like this? YES! It quite simply works. Children were united in joy not despair, and could change a negative trajectory to a positive one… It’s important to have role models this includes older children doing well too.
Seeing 150 young people that day who would become adults I prayed that they each would get the opportunity to live their dreams as I believe every child should have that right to escape the nightmare of their past. Education is a way out of poverty, and for some the only way.
Please do support your favourite children’s charities, fostering and adoption organistions because without your help many children will not get the chances they deserve in life. We can change that.
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