With a little help from our friends: Breaking down barriers and stigma around young people in care to help them realise their full potential in life – Emma Lewis, Founder of The Roots Foundation Wales

DIY-SOS-Big-Build---The-Roots-Foundation

Emma Lewis set up The Roots Foundation Wales to support young people making the transition out of care and the foundation acts as a helping hand to young people as well as the social services supporting them. Emma was taken into care at ten years old and lived in foster homes until she moved out to live independently at 18. Despite having turbulent relationships and leaving care with few support networks and no formal qualifications, today Emma is a key figure at the centre of her community and was recently awarded a Point of Light award by Prime Minister, Theresa May in recognition of her work.

Emma-Lewis - The Roots Foundation Wales

Emma Lewis

“…We look at ourselves as an extended family to our service users and they treat us the same… We are sometimes the first people they call when they have good news, but also when they are struggling and have nowhere to turn…”

About The Roots Foundation Wales

The Roots Foundation Wales is a voluntary led charity based in Swansea that supports young people in care, leaving care, care leavers and those in kinship care (living with extended family members and friends of the family) and their carers. We offer one to one support, training, activities and workshops that help with independent living and we have a specific Children in Need funded project that supports “care experienced” young people who have been the victims or are at risk of becoming victims of exploitation.

The-Roots-Foundation Wales - before

The Roots Foundation Wales facilities before…

Last year alone the project supported 123 young people in the South Wales region. As a care leaver myself, I am passionate about breaking down barriers and stigmas around young people in care. It was through my role as a Community Development worker in Swansea that I kept coming across young people in care who were falling through gaps in provision for many different reasons.

I had the fantastic opportunity to discuss a potential idea for Roots with some experienced people and that is how Roots was born! We started from very humble beginnings (the boot of my car!) and now our fantastic team are caretakers of a beautiful purpose-built facility for our service users. Many of our young people have suffered the most harrowing and traumatic experiences in their short lives and we continually allow them the opportunity to express themselves in a caring and safe environment.

Dramatic growth

Roots has dramatically grown over time – physically, in terms of square footage and also in terms of the opportunities offered. We are client led, so it is those individuals who identify their own need and decide how best we can help and support them. So, now we are able to offer up to 20 young people a year the opportunity to come and try living independently for up to five days each – in our independent living apartments.

It is our hope also to use one of the rooms as a post-natal placement where new mums and dads can come and learn the skills to support their baby and keep them safe. We simply did not have the opportunity to do this before now. We also have a beautiful kitchen, where we are keen on teaching those in care to cook good wholesome food from scratch and invite the community in. We also offer finance and budgeting workshops, healthy relationship workshops, as well as support groups and coffee mornings for carers.

My role day to day

Wow! My role differs each and every day – no two days are the same. I am part of an amazing team that heads our organisation. We all have different skill sets, but I like to be on site as often as I can be because I like to see the difference we are making, so I make a bit of a nuisance of myself.

I try and secure as much funding for our activities as possible and that means writing bids with my colleague Amy, supporting and supervising the staff, and most crucially, the volunteers who offer so much to the organisation.

A positive support network

We create a positive support network – young people in care often feel isolated, lonely and as a result many suffer with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. We even have young people telling us that had they not got involved in Roots, they would have killed themselves – that’s simply awful.

We look at ourselves as an extended family to our service users and they treat us the same. We are invited to weddings and the births of their children. We are sometimes the first people they call when they have good news, but also when they are struggling and have nowhere to turn.

Help from DIY SOS

The-Roots-Foundation Wales facilities after help from DIY SOS and Children in Need

…The Roots Foundation Wales facilities after help from DIY SOS and Children in Need

We were so fortunate to be the recipients of this year’s Children in Need and DIY SOS special – and personally it was the most amazing and terrifying thing to happen, especially when an idea is born and delivered from the boot of a car initially! The volunteers on the project are still involved with us as an organisation -they are part of the roots family and we are so grateful to them and the DIY SOS team for everything they have done for us and our young people and carers.

The building is beautiful and the people of Swansea and beyond are so supportive -we always know we can turn to them for their expertise and support.

How Womanthology readers can get involved and show their support

The Womanthology community can either support us in a capacity of fundraising – we are constantly looking for streams of funding that would help with our running costs, or in the capacity of sharing their expertise in business management and publicity. Any support would be hugely appreciated. We are particularly looking for a framing business to help frame some beautiful photos of our Warrior Face project – a celebration of people who have been through the care system as a young person or who is a carer.

Coming up next

Coming up for Roots is hopefully a year of breaking down the stigma and barriers to young people in care – sadly there is still a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions of young people in care. We found that out greatly during the build and how young people are just so keen on showing the world differently, getting involved in their community as part of their community and citizenship programme. This is amazing and true testament to their strength and determination.

Personally, I also hope to gain some more confidence as an individual and not to underestimate the difference we make as an organisation to young people and families, and to also complete my advocacy qualification! I’m also looking forward to a holiday very soon, an opportunity to switch off. I’d imagine I won’t find it that easy but I will try my best!

 

http://www.therootsfoundationwales.org.uk/Home.php

https://twitter.com/RootsWales

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