We all know how important it is to give young people tools to deal with their trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). But how often do we look at other ways young people can thrive - namely through their desire to help others? This piece looks at how civic engagement and the promotion of active citizenship works in practice - and how participants, such as Brandan, benefit.

Civic activity generally makes people feel like they belong by creating an inclusive environment supported by caring adults. Brandan engages with a CEYP group in East Ayrshire every week on a Tuesday. We have a core group who attend weekly, including Brandan, but newcomers are always welcome. Participants are always asked:

  • Why they want to be in the group
  • What they want or hope to get out of the group

A sense of belonging is a huge draw for participants – even if they don’t all like to admit it! For some participants, this is their only regular social activity – some even going so far as to say it’s the only positive thing about their care identity. That acceptance and sense of ‘fitting in’ is crucial for the development of vulnerable young adults, and these activities promote that.

Civic engagement arguably creates learning opportunities by encouraging openness and expression. Brandan, for example, uses the time as a safe space to showcase his very impressive drawings, and the feedback gives him great confidence. It took a while before he was confident enough to show us his talent, but the fact he feels he can do so safely is real evidence of how civic engagement fosters growth and talent.

More recently, we see how the group setting allows participants to develop empathy and unity. Brandan drew us a Connecting Voices flag of freedom to represent all the young people who are in the group. It’s wonderful to know he considered everyone in the group when he drew this – evidence that civic engagement fosters positive relationships and inclusiveness. Even more impressively, Brandan created a storyboard of images to make into a poster for helping other young people in care – watch this space for developments!

With this sense of belonging comes confidence and independence. Before, Brandan could only participate and attend meetings with the help of our support team, so he knew the route and where to get off, etc. Now, Brandan makes his own way to and from events, and it’s encouraging to see the boost in his confidence, appearance and self-esteem. Brandan was even able to present his images to social workers at a national Staf conference – a real step forward for him.

Brandan excels at helping others. His care, thoughtfulness and anticipating even prevented another young person in the children’s home committing suicide when they were very unwell. At a recent dinner, Brandan described one of his drawings, ‘Road of Hope’, to me.

“The road might start off in a dark place, but there is always light at the end of it.”

We can surely all appreciate this statement. Brandan has a whole road ahead of him, but he has already lit the way for so many others through his desire to help, grow and build positive relationships.

Without civic engagement, active platforms and caring adults supporting positive, beneficial relationships, it’s unclear how young people in the care system, like Brandan, would cope. Continued engagement, fostering relationships and encouragement is allowing our young people within and leaving the care system to thrive.