If you have never been through the care system, and survived, you will never understand what it is like. In our first meeting with Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, we invited him into our lives, to listen, to learn and hear about our individual and collective experiences of care.”

The number of young individuals entering the care system is steadily increasing year after year and with this, the statistics remain bleak. In fact, care-experienced people make up only 1% of the population between the ages of 19 and 21, but account for 7% of the deaths of people in this age range. These disturbing figures point towards the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the care system, from the ground up, with the care-experienced voices firmly at the forefront. The people who have lived it, have been challenged by it, and are overcoming it: the experts of the system.

Too often, the narratives of the care experience are dominated by policy makers and authority figures, with the faces and voices behind the statistics starkly underrepresented. With this in mind, we invited Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, to listen to the stories of our Drive Forward Ambassadors. An exceptional group of young people that have excelled in spite of the challenges and adversity they have had to face throughout their lives.

“Policy around support for care leavers cannot be changed without care experienced people at the centre of the debate. They are a valuable resource that should be consulted on a regular basis. ” Martha Wansbrough, CEO and Founder of Drive Forward Foundation.

It was an intensive meeting during which, these incredible young people spoke passionately about their achievements and goals as well as sharing insights into the real life issues, pain and trauma that lies behind the statistics.

Moved by the testimonies of our young peoples’ accounts and experiences, Zahawi, in turn, shared his own story of overcoming hardship as a nine-year-old refugee fleeing from the perils of Iraq in the early years of Saddam Hussein’s notoriously ruthless reign.

Zahawi has vehemently expressed his determination to ensure that going forward his work will be inclusive of care-experienced voices.  He has vowed to push for initiatives to support young care-experienced people through further education, providing access to free accommodation and improving access to apprenticeships.

This collaboration marked the beginning of a coalition committed to creating a revitalised care system, breaking the barriers to success and transforming the statistics.

“We shared insights from the transition from ‘before’ care, to ‘leaving’ care and highlighted the challenges and obstacles we had to overcome. He was engaged throughout the time we spent together and is committed to sharing our journey as the Policy Forum pushes for radical and sustainable change to the culture, ethos, legislation and policies to fix the failing care system in England and Wales.”  Jordan Morgan, Drive Forward Foundation Trustee.