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As National Care Leavers' Week draws to a close, it’s an ideal time to share care leaver Luke Rodgers' views on the importance of listening to young people to help shape children’s services. 

Luke Rodgers is a multi-award-winning social entrepreneur, founder of Foster Focus and a care leaver. He has created a career developing youth participation strategies to help children’s services engage with the young people they work with for improved outcomes. In the latest issue of Sanctuary Social Work News, we catch up with him. 

"I remember looking around the room and seeing tears in the carers' eyes."

Tell us about your background...

I was brought up in care from the age of 10, after coming from a home where I experienced and witnessed domestic violence. I was moved in-between parents after my mother and father divorced when I was four-years-old. At the time I entered care, I had attended 13 primary schools and for over five years I moved between foster homes and children’s centres trying to find a stable home. When this wasn't achievable, I was placed into B&B accommodation at the age of 15 to live independently. I was in the middle of my GCSEs at the time. 

Although I had been unfortunate in my youth, I believed that independence was my chance to make a life for myself. I was only 15 but I had grown up very quickly and made the choice on that day to make a conscious step to leave my old life behind.

I would often reflect on my experiences and what I would have done differently had I been given a second chance. I thought about the individuals who had worked with me and the impact that had. I began to think about what services could have done differently to have supported me and the other young people I had met along the way. From this energy and thought process I began naturally moving towards a career in children’s services.

How did you first become involved in helping children’s organisations and how has this led to Foster Focus?

I was given the opportunity to be involved in a consultation day for children in care and foster carers when I was 19 years old. I was very cynical about consultation events as I found they had little or no effect and were mostly a tokenistic effort to tick a box. 

I spoke to 50 people about my experiences as a child in care and how I felt growing up in the system, explaining to carers what they can do to understand children, whilst speaking to children about what they can do to make positive steps forward. Although I was nervous, speaking seemed to come naturally to me. I remember looking around the room at points and seeing tears in the carers’ eyes.

I had really inspired people from this speech and from that I was invited to speak at the National Fostering Agency's Annual Conference in May 2012. I assumed it would be a small conference like before, but it was a room full of 350 people and the Children’s Minister and Children’s Commissioner were also speaking! 

I remember being applauded half way through my 45 minute speech; it almost overwhelmed me to tears. Once I had finished my presentation, the CEO came up to me in tears, gave me his card and said: “if you ever need anyone to call and tell them about your achievements, you call me”.

From this, the National Fostering Agency (NFA) developed a role within their organisation for the purpose of my employment. I was named ‘Young People’s Ambassador’ and for the next two years of my career I worked for the NFA supporting the organisation to be more child-focused.

I worked closely with the Marketing Director at the NFA and he acted as a mentor. He taught me a lot about fostering as a business and how organisations work from a senior level. I was involved in developing national and local consultation strategies to engage with young people better, as well as training foster carers and social workers about children’s rights, child development and understanding the experiences of children in care. After a successful two years at the NFA I left in 2014 and set up Foster Focus.

Who have you been working with?

I have spoken alongside influential people, including both former and current Children’s Ministers, Tim Loughton and Edward Timpson; ex-Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson; Chief Social Worker, Isabelle Trowler and leading CEOs such as Camila Batmanghelidjh and Anthony Douglas.

I spoke at the launch of the DfE’s Innovation Programme earlier this year; Foster Focus is currently involved in a number of the projects, including The Fostering Network’s ‘Mockingbird Family Model’, North Yorkshire County Council’s ‘No Wrong Door’ project and Stoke-on-Trent Council’s ‘House Project’. 

I work for the University of Oxford’s Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education. I am currently involved in an evaluation of the London Fostering Achievement’s Programme delivered by The Fostering Network. I’m also looking to start a six month secondment with the research centre early next year.

The results

We also ask Luke about the results he has seen from the services involving young people and what his thoughts are on extending government support for care leavers up to the age of 25. 

The special feature (pages 18 – 21) in the October-December 2015 edition of Sanctuary Social Work News, also hears from others about the positive impact Luke’s company, Foster Focus, is having.  

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