Midlothian Council’s new recruit to share her care experiences

Ashleigh Stephen.
Ashleigh Stephen.

Midlothian Council has recruited the help of a highly qualified member of staff to help launch its latest foster care campaign.

In a role specially created for her, the council’s first participation assistant, Ashleigh Stephen (21), is already using her experience in kinship and foster care to improve Children’s Services.

With foster carers urgently needed to look after teenagers, Ashleigh is sharing her story to encourage people to consider fostering this age group. She said: “I was 13 when I first went into foster care. I can still remember the short drive with our social worker to the house. It’s so difficult because you are going to live with strangers. They don’t know anything about you really.”

She and her brother were placed with a couple and their dog. She liked their warmth, kindness and also their honesty. While the social worker stressed the placement was temporary, the couple pointed out temporary could mean years. In the end she lived with the couple on and off for two and a half years. She still thinks of them and their extended family as her family. In their home she had safety, security, regular meal times, help with homework and people who listened to her. A spell back home with a parent was chaotic by comparison.

Asked what are the most vital qualities teenagers need from their foster carer, she said: “I think foster carers need to understand that teenagers can be more difficult (than younger children) just because of the trauma they have been through. Teenagers in care often hide how they are really feeling or lash out verbally, so knowing how to access mental health support for young people such as an advocacy worker is really important.

“Foster carers also need to make sure they take advantage of any training on offer about teenagers and mental health.”

Ashleigh, who has passed her Highers and graduated from Edinburgh College with an HND in Beauty Therapy, said she would encourage local people to foster. “Offering a teenager a home can change their life and give them the security and sense of belonging they need,” she added.

To find out more about fostering visit www.midlothian.gov.uk/fostering or call the Family Placement team on 0131 271 3413