To mark Care Experienced Week, I wanted to highlight how physical activity and sport helps care experienced children and young people thrive.
I was an energetic wee boy who enjoyed playing football in the park with friends and taking my dog, Sparky, for walks. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my active childhood helped shape me into the person I am now.
Not only did it protect my health and wellbeing, but it helped me to make friends, enjoy quality time with my family, taught me to share, to be gracious in defeat, boosted my confidence and showed me just how much fun being active can be.
Not all children get that opportunity. In Scotland there are 14,738 care experienced children and young people growing up in care. These children can experience chaotic childhoods and are less able to take advantage of the opportunities available to their peers.
They face multiple barriers to being active, such as the cost of activities, the cost of buying clothing and footwear, a lack of supportive role models and frequent placement moves.
Edinburgh Leisure is a charity on a mission to help people lead happier, healthier, more active lives. We are proud to support people who face barriers to being active through a range of projects designed to improve their health and wellbeing. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to enjoy an active childhood, regardless of their background, so our Looked After and Active (LA Active) and #YouCan projects support care experienced children and young people to get active and stay active.
Last year, LA Active provided more than 500 care experienced children and young people with free access to our swimming pools, gyms and fitness classes and heavily discounted opportunities for soft play and sports coaching.
Richard is a kinship carer for his two grandsons, aged nine and 11, and has benefited from LA Active for a number of years. He said: “The boys love to be active so the variety of activities they’ve been able to access has been fantastic. They went to soft play and learned to swim when they were younger and now enjoy football coaching with their friends at Gracemount Leisure Centre.’
Many older care experienced young people have missed out on an active childhood and need a helping hand to incorporate regular activity into their lives. #YouCan provides one-to-one support from mentors, who help them find activities they enjoy and support them to be able to take part, whether that’s by accompanying them during activities, paying club membership fees or kitting them out with the equipment and clothing they need.
Since it launched last year, #YouCan has supported 23 care experienced young people, including 25-year-old Matt, who was struggling to cope with life after leaving residential care. He’s now got his own place through supported accommodation, although it can be a little lonely spending so much time on his own.
He joined #YouCan in February and it’s helped give him structure to his days while gaining confidence. Alongside his mentor Roy, Matt started weekly sessions in the gym and then they would go for a swim afterwards. His fitness has improved so much, he now even cycles to and from his sessions at the Commonwealth Pool.
Matt said: “I’ve really enjoyed #YouCan and have found such a change in how I’m feeling and how I’m coping. It’s great to get out of the flat to spend time with Roy. We work out together and talk about films and music – we’ve even been chatting about what I want to do in the future. I’ve discovered I love swimming and would like to become a lifeguard.
“Thanks to #YouCan I’m going to be taking my National Pool Lifeguard Qualification to help me get a job I love. Roy’s helping me train in the pool, so I can meet the required time for the speed swim. #YouCan has been lifechanging for me and I would tell other care experienced young people to give it a go’.
Physical activity and sport has a huge role to play in ensuring care experienced children and young people enjoy active childhoods and have the best chance at becoming healthy, happy adults.
Not only do they develop healthy habits; but it builds their confidence, helps them make new friends, teaches them new skills and can be a catalyst to help them realise their potential and thrive. For more information on how Edinburgh Leisure can support care experienced children and young people to be active, contact Andrew McIntosh at email@example.com or 0131 548 2100.
Andrew McIntosh is an Active Communities development officer with Edinburgh Leisure.