Including the voices of people with lived experience

  • Portrait photo of Maria Whatley, a carer from Life Without Barriers.
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The QCOSS conference is fast approaching.

The overall conference theme is Leading change together –  understanding that it takes more than one person in a community to lead change and is a collective venture. We think it takes people, purpose and passion and needs to be supported by process, plans and partners.

This collective venture means ensuring people with lived experience are given a voice, which is why we have a whole session dedicated to it – Starting a revolution – including the voices of people with lived experience in our work. This session recognises that people’s stories are critical to successful campaigns and in the design of services. We ask, how can we do this well and respectfully?

During this session, Kay Thorburn from social purpose organisation Life Without Barriers, and one of the organisation’s carers, Maria Whatley (pictured), will speak on the panel about how including the voices of people with lived experience is transformative.

Kay Thorburn is a Supporter of Carers at Life Without Barriers. In her role, she supports carers to have an equal voice at the table so they can meet all aspects of a child’s needs across their life.

In Kay’s many years of service in varying roles with Life Without Barriers, she recognised carers continued to voice the same concern – emotionally, how do they adapt to manage stressful situations and crisis in daily caring?

This complex problem required a creative solution – a way for carers to become more aware of themselves and their feelings, and how their behaviour impacts on others in relationships.

Kay recognised that equine therapy is one way to explore new ways of connecting in relationships, while art therapy helps to explore and make sense of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Combining these two therapies provides carers with a better chance at tackling this problem themselves.

Kay is the designer and lead facilitator of the Life Without Barriers ‘Becoming Together Program – Equine Eco-Arts Program for Carers’. Since August 2018, 12 carers have met monthly for a four-hour workshop to engage in a process of self-discovery, with the arts inquiry continuing between the sessions.

“These important self-discoveries and shared experiences create awareness, allowing a vital, companioned practicing of new ways of managing difficult and challenging emotional content in day-to-day caring,” Kay says.

Maria is one of Life Without Barriers’ foster carers who participated in the program from the start. She has found it transformational.

“I thought I was managing perfectly fine but when this came along, you learn more about yourself,” says Maria.

“Most carers have been through something awful, but it gives you understanding. You don’t know what these kids have been through and it makes you more aware. The program helps you help the kids who come into care.”

Maria says equine and art therapy go hand in hand.

“The horses let you feel, and the art allows expression,” she says.

“The horses are so grounded, and they are attuned to us. As a group, if everyone was anxious, they would be away in the field. The calmer and more settled we were, the closer they came. They pick up how we are.”

Maria says the program has helped her to be more patient.

“I had a bad experience of waiting in the past. Growing up, I was told to wait, and things will happen, but they didn’t. It leads into the experience with kids. You can’t just approach a child coming into care and expect them to be family orientated,” she says.

“The program gives me insight and I get back and wait. I never used to be like that before,” she explains.

“It helps you with kids in care – you have a better understanding of when they want to talk to you. I developed more of an understanding from the child’s perspective,” she says.

Maria says the program has also helped her in her personal life.

“I’ve become less anxious and more self-confident.”

Through the program, she has also made deeper connections with other carers.

“You build bonds with those people by being able to talk about my past and they talk about their past. You realise you are not alone in what you are doing.”

Maria says one of the most important aspects of the program is that she feels heard.

“To be able to express things you haven’t expressed before, it is just a big relief. When I’m leaving the session, I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders – just because I have been heard.”

Register for the QCOSS State Conference here.





**Kay would like to acknowledge and thank her co- facilitators Caitlin Reid – LWB Care Team Manager, Candesa and Darryl Scarff – Equine Specialists from HorseAccord, LWB Operations Manager Andrew Keenan for having the courage and trust in a creative and imaginative approach, and most importantly to all the Foster Carer participants for their commitment.

20 August 2019