Project Return is run by the Scottish Through Care and Aftercare forum (Staf), Scotland’s national membership organisation for all of those involved in the lives of young people leaving care. It is funded by the Life Changes Trust. It is driven by an amazing steering group called ‘The Catalysts’, all of whom are 16 years old and above and have experience of the care and or justice system. Together they meet and explore how safe nurturing environments and healthy relationships can resolve trauma, and from these discussions, we create supportive resources for care leavers and their workers. To learn more about what we have achieved in our first 6 months of meeting you can click here.
Frustratingly, many young people who have care experience have faced adversity and trauma beyond that experienced by their peers. This shapes an individual, impacting upon their mind, body, and way of being.  Project Return is determined to address this, ensuring that relationships and other positive supports are put in place so that young people leaving care no longer have to focus just on surviving but instead can thrive.
Project Return during COVID
The current period is a struggle for many but particularly for care leavers, since the challenges they face caused by inequality have been heightened and there is not always a family net of support to help mitigate this. 
During April the group used their collective creativity to develop a video highlighting issues and good practice during COVID. This is displayed below:
COVID has also changed how the Project Return group is run: from how we meet to what we focus on. What has not changed for this group is their commitment to creating change, their commitment to each other and Staf’s determination to ensure this group feels loved.
Cheryle, our newly employed Youth Worker who started as a steering group member in this project, has described our COVID journey below:
“Since COVID we have been keeping in regular contact with each other using zoom which we use every Tuesday. We always have a new activity every week to keep it interesting so it’s never the same thing twice and we have chill-out nights as well so that it isn’t just work. As a group, we have come up with different ways to have fun and still stay safe.”
“We have thought about creating a box with veg and flowers which we grow ourselves, called Seeds for Change, and have looked at who we would like to share these with and are they a good wellbeing resource. Before lockdown, we set up a care experience choir but as this can no longer meet, every Thursday we have Rock the Lockdown where we have Cheryl who was originally a part of the care experience choir and she goes live on our Facebook page and sings for us all and we choose which songs we would like to hear. Even though we all can’t be together we still keep in regular contact with Jenny whether that be through text or a phone call which really helps our mental health, especially during these hard times. We get a care package once a month which consists of a food voucher and a lovely letter from Jenny and other wee bits to cheer us up.”
“I hope that social work can maybe look and see that it is a struggle for care leavers and other people but most hardest on those who have no one. There’s been good stuff happening and we would like to see this be celebrated and built upon as these things make a difference and help us even if we can’t see each other. This should happen during COVID but also after as isolation isn’t just a thing that affects care leavers during lockdown, especially those who have no one.”
The Seeds for Change kit highlighted by Cheryle is an indoor plant starter kit that will bring nature to care leavers and workers’ homes. It has been created as a way to use nature as a wellbeing tool, one that given the isolating and negative mental health effects of COVID is very much needed. To learn more about Seeds for Change kits please click here.
The other resource Cheryle mentions is Rock the Lockdown. Which is an online space that has taken our care experience choir and placed its singing for wellbeing and ability to connect to others inside a closed Facebook group. This group hosts a live singing along and open mic segment every Thursday evening from 6.30 pm until 7.30 pm, to see a watch a video on Rock the Lockdown please see here. If you live in Scotland and have care and/or justice experience, or you are a member of the care workforce, you can join Rock the Lockdown here.
Over the summer we will be undertaking some research and are looking to hear from care leavers and the workforce on what they think Throughcare and Aftercare services need to know about trauma and recovery. This will be done through ‘Discovery Workshops’ which will interactively explore these themes. Given the effect of COVID these are currently being re-designed but if you are a resident in Scotland, have care experience, or are a member of the workforce, and you’d like your voice reflected in these please get in touch with us.
Equally, we are looking for people to join Project Return’s steering group, The Catalyst. If this may be of interest, then please also get in touch. The group is open to anyone in Scotland aged 16 and above with care and or justice experience and members of the care workforce. In being involved you will hold a key role in a movement for change and will learn new skills and form new friendships. And most importantly you will have fun!
This article has been written in partnership between Jenny Ferguson, Project Development Worker, and Cheryle McInroy, Youth Worker, at Staf.
To find out more about any of the work
described here please contact Jenny Ferguson on firstname.lastname@example.org.
 McCall, R.B., (2013). ‘Review: The consequences of early institutionalization: Can institutions be improved? –should they?’. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 18, 193–201.
 Treisman, K., (2019). ‘Becoming a Culturally, adversity, trauma informed, infused and responsive organisation’. Winston Churchill fellowship.