A new role created for a young woman who spent time in foster and kinship care will help shape Midlothian Council services in the future.
Ashleigh Stephen (20), has secured a specially-created post with Midlothian Council, after spending the last seven years in kinship and foster care, and endured periods of homelessness during which she managed to pass her highers and recently graduated from Edinburgh College with an HND in Beauty Therapy.
As the council’s first Participation Assistant, Ashleigh will be drawing on her experience in care to help the council shape, inform and improve services for young people in similar circumstances.
Ashleigh said that while she would now thank social workers for the help she received, at the time she sometimes didn’t understand decisions made for her: “I think it’s important to listen to young people and explain what’s happening. I sometime say to people, ‘do you want my name or my bar code?’ I didn’t feel I had space to be myself, that I was being labelled.”
Ashleigh kept her life in care a secret from most people as she felt she would be judged negatively. Now however, with a part-time post with the council, a job in a beauty salon and an upcoming move into a council property, she is more than ready to use her voice to influence change.
“I want to make a difference,” she said.
Councillor Jim Muirhead, Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “This is a remarkable young woman who has faced much hardship in her young life. As a council, we want to get it right for every child.
“Who better then to help us shape and improve our services for care-experienced young people than someone who has gone through it herself?
“We’re absolutely delighted to have Ashleigh onboard in a newly created role as a Participation Assistant, funded by the Life Changes Trust. Not only is Ashleigh giving us invaluable insight into the day to day reality of being care-experienced, but she’s also making a big difference by supporting our Champions Group.”
The Champions Group is made up of young people in care or who have been in care, meeting to talk about issues affecting them and others who are care-experienced.