Relationship First Revelations

by Lisa Ryan

When my manager handed me a sheet of paper well over a year ago and said, “I think you might be interested in this,” she had known that I was looking for something to add a bit of interest to my work. I know how to do my job very well and was always curious, looking for ways to learn more, looking for ways to bring joy, learning and growth into my daily work. So, when the information about the Relationships First project came into my hands it ignited a little light in me.

The project also hit a personal nerve as my mother, after raising all her 13 children had embarked on a career as a foster parent for a selection of teens who needed some support. I watched her put a lot of time and effort into that task. I think this stemmed from her having an insecure upbringing herself. I had thought about fostering over the years myself but at this moment in time I still have 3 of my own children living at home so do not have the space I would need to do this.

I have never been involved in any project using the service design process so this project would be a brand-new experience for me, I would be learning as I went, and learning is one of my favourite things to do. I have constantly been working on my own personal development since I left high school. Another aspect of the project that was very important to me was that during my work career I have supported others, helped colleagues to learn and master tasks needed for work, taken part in numerous projects (lbrary based) that nurtured children and young adults. I had also volunteered for a year at my son’s primary school to encourage reading in young children. This project seemed to fulfil both a need to keep progressing but also a genuine love of learning that would encourage me to take a leap of faith and hopefully make an impact on the lives of the young adults who are going through the leaving care process.

I was excited about taking part, mostly because the project was to bring both workers and care experienced young people together. It felt important that the people who had left care had an influence on the system that supports them. It is their voices I most wanted to hear. I have learned a lot from those young people.

What I didn’t anticipate was the effect this project would have on me. I didn’t realise the scope for growth that it has opened-up for me. It has shown me all the skills I have and some I never knew I had. It has brought up tasks that scared me a little – I had a few internal panics, but I just took a deep breath and threw myself into it. I have been through many emotions over the last year, but this has brought a sense of connection, achievement and an overall feeling of warmth. My life is bigger and fuller as a direct result of the project. From those running the project who have shown me great levels of support and confidence to those who are working alongside me who I know are available for advice, or a conversation or just hashing out tasks for the project and the young people who give the project vibrancy and give me hope for the future – this project has huge potential for positive change.

I have met the most amazing young people who all have different views on the care experience. These people have opened my eyes to their lives: they have taken a huge chance on improving a system that needed change. Getting to know all the other participants in the project has let me see how diverse Falkirk Council’s role is, but it also showed me how skilled and committed its staff are. I feel privileged to be part of this project. I know we still have a long way to go but I am as determined now as I was on day one.

I had not considered the fact that this project would change me. I had not realised that maybe the people I have met both young and older have become dear to me, a new understanding, caring family all with the same goal to create a system that nourishes, supports and values the young adults going through the leaving care process, the staff who work with them and the greater workforce of Falkirk Council and beyond. In this time of pandemics and austerity this project has been a beacon of light, a focus, a challenge, but also a joy.

I would encourage everyone who can to take that step – to participate, to look beyond the constrains of their own role, to realise their skills and how they could be put to good use to help someone else. I would also encourage them to be open, to listen, to care, because in letting yourself open up to the possibilities of what you can achieve then you let yourself be willing to welcome new people and experiences that could have passed you by.


Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash