Olivia Khan held the position of Care Experienced Executive Officer at Ayrshire College 2016-2017. She is – to our knowledge – the first care experienced young person to fill this role at a college or university, and hopes that roles like this one will invite other care experienced students to seek support and access information which could help the in their studies.
We approached Olivia in 2016 and she wrote the following blog:
I was brought up in Glasgow’s South Side with my mum, step dad, two sisters and brother. My mum had had mental health issues since she was a teenager but I was too young to notice. When I was seven years old her mental health deteriorated rapidly. My older sister and I went through about four years of moving from flat to flat without any school or stability. When I was eleven years old, I went into foster care in a small Ayrshire town. I fell in love with my foster parents. They were a young couple and I was their first foster child. We were all very nervous upon meeting but we ended up being a great match.
I have always been very open about being in foster care. This could be because I have had such a positive experience. I like to bring it up in conversation to offer people a chance to ask any questions they may have. I moved out of my foster home when I was nineteen but still regularly visit to home. We all are very active in each other’s lives, I always call my dad with car trouble and my mum owns a salon which I worked at for over a year in reception. I have three foster sisters and five genetic sisters and I am working hard to be a positive role model for them. I speak to them about issues I face because of my upbringing with hope that they are not so daunted by the future. I also let them know about the things I have achieved in an attempt to inspire and motivate them. I feel as though some young people in care are underestimated but I want my sisters to know that anything is possible.
I kept imagining my foster sisters being in the same place in a few years and feeling appreciated and represented. It was a really uplifting experience to be in a place full of likeminded people who were either care experienced or were there to support people who were.
I approached the college and asked them if I could offer any help with freshers of 2016, this is where I met Holly Bates, the student president. She told me about an opening in the student association – The Care Experienced Executive Officer. I was intrigued. I wrote a short manifesto about what I would bring to the role and nominated myself for the post. I then took part in some campaigning for votes. I was running unopposed but thought I’d better make some effort!
The first executive meeting was really exciting. It was very professionally done and I loved how organised it was. We discussed some ideas we had for our roles and addressed some issues to do with student life . I did not have much of an idea of what my role would involve or what I would do. I did have an ideal scenario in my head where I was the point of contact for care experienced students and could offer help and support to them.
Being the first in the role meant that there was no history which was exciting but meant I had no footsteps to follow in. I was then invited to care experienced events across the Kilwinning and Kilmarnock campuses. They were wonderful! They consisted of stalls and markets in which all attending could access information about drugs, alcohol, support, education, health and much more. There were also prizes awarded to the young people attending for their hard work or achievements . I kept imagining my foster sisters being in the same place in a few years and feeling appreciated and represented. It was a really uplifting experience to be in a place full of likeminded people who were either care experienced or were there to support people who were.
The recurring theme in my role is that it is difficult to identify care experienced students to direct my support towards them. It is important to find a way to communicate information and support without being intrusive. I am in the process of creating a video to try and remove some of the stigma from the care experienced process as a whole. This video will go out to all students and the college’s stakeholders. I hope this video will reach students who are care experienced and make them feel comfortable enough to approach the student association for support.
I have been telling anyone that will listen that I am offering one to one tours of Ayrshire College campuses for young care experienced people or even foster parents. I am working on a list of contacts, support and events for the person who takes my place in 2018. I hope to lay a little bit of ground so they have a rough guideline .
Since coming into the role I have been a part of many corporate events and interviews. Contact with students has been very limited which is unfortunate. My attendance at these events and in these video interviews will hopefully be enough to spread the news about a change in education. I am only in this post until June so there is not much time left for me to do much else. I plan to continue my studies at UWS Ayr and will approach the student association there about adding a Care Experienced Executive Officer role. I hope that we soon find a good balance of communication to care experienced students and can remove the stigma and shame from identifying as this.
by Olivia Khan