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Recently, IMO interviewed Jerome Agyei, a care experienced supervisor and co-founder of The Tope Project, he spoke about his opinion on PAs, the care system, and his personal journey. 

In this blog post, Jerome shares his experience with PAs. 

A Personal Advisor (PA) is someone who acts as a focal point to make sure that a young person leaving care gets the right support as they move into adulthood. Your PA will assist you to develop skills that will help you to live independently at time when you are ready to do so. 

What was your experience with PAs?  

Balanced. I had PAs that cared a lot about me and my process, some of them were very resourceful. The first PA I had would call me and remind me when I had important dates like exams or things going on. He liked to have lunch with me or a catch up, he helped me dictate what my life looked like. He also helped me to understand meaningfully what a pathway plan was. He didn’t put pressure on me to do well in education, which wasn’t my thing.  

I also had negative ones as well, I had more negatives PAs than I had positive ones. There are so many difficulties going on with PAs and care leavers, so I was very knowledgeable. I wasn’t told of my rights entitlement which my PA knew. My PA found me challenging because I knew things he didn’t expect me to know and I knew what I was entitled to. The levels that PAs are trained to compared to social workers are different. I noticed that there wasn’t as much of a requirement to see me and there wasn’t a requirement to ask the same kind of questions that social workers asked, like how you’re doing or how is your health?  

What was one of the main things that changed when you turned 18 and got your PA?  

Once you hit 18 your money is reduced, which is something I disagreed with because it felt like they were setting care leavers up to fail. Emotionally dealing with that, then having an attachment to money was hard. I felt I often had to chase them because money became a thing. I saw how my PA was attached to using money against me, that was detrimental to the relationship with my PA because he would use it as a punishment or reward. He would say: “Do this and you will get your money” or “If you don’t do this you won’t get your money”. I found that troubling because you are supposed to have money to live, eat and have important necessities. You have the rights to have that, money shouldn’t be used as a weapon.  

What would help create meaningful bonds with PAs?  

I had a lot of issues with PAs, particularly the ones that took credit for me doing well. I appreciated that they cared but they didn’t have a meaningful part in my progress. When things are done the right way, potentially, you can have a beautiful relationship with a PA. This is because parameters are not the same as those for social workers. They don’t have the same amount of demands, I understand how challenging that can be in terms of expectations, needs and fears. When things go wrong the system acts in a certain way, that doesn’t solve care leavers issues, they need love not fear. When people are revisiting how they support children or nurture them when they are leaving care, they need to be thinking about how they can simplify this for their workers. They need to make it easier for them to have more meaningful bonds, take the young people out, take them to the park or other activities. I would have loved to have my PA play a football game with me. 

What do you think about the demands on PAs? 

I appreciate the demands from the system, they have 20 plus young people to manage a week, but it’s not a care leavers problem. Care leavers shouldn’t be hearing about everyone else or workloads. There is something about quality time, it’s about what you do in the time you have available. There is also a bigger ask, because it’s about how you support and nurture you workers to create that time, and to use that time more effectively so that carers and PAs can be making the most out of their young people. So, for instance, you don’t have to focus on every part of their life every time you meet. You could sort out a plan with them each week or month where you can focus on their wellbeing, their nutrition, and hustle deals, or you just spend quality time with your care leaver, like having a two-hour walk. Finding out what they want to know and getting to know them is important. We should be using voice notes to record times spent, technology is there why aren’t we using it? When I had a PA, the technology wasn’t there, they had to do paperwork that was about keeping them safe and everyone else safe but in that process, I was lost. 

Overall, I appreciate the role, but I thinks there should be a slight adjustment in how we see this role and how they are able to nurture those relationships they have with their young people. 

Tell me about the impact a PA can have on your mental health?  

When I had one PA I was quite suicidal, I was put in a hostel at 15 and I was surrounded by 18 year olds that were stealing my clothes and food. That was a hostile environment because I was on edge all the time. It was all those dynamics where they’d taken me from an environment that I called home where nothing was getting stolen, to that mess. That for me was difficult, and they don’t understand the impact it had on me. I had quite negative PAs that didn’t know how to communicate with me, It’s on you as a professional. PAs don’t get the same level of training and don’t have the same commitments that a social worker does, so the quality wouldn’t drop if their heart was truly in it. There’s not the same level as investment because it’s not necessarily a requirement they just have to get you through to a certain age. Where is the heart in this? Where is the care in this? 

What would your ideal PA be like?  

My ideal PA would look like me or not necessarily, but just have a level of cultural competence. They wouldn’t be triggered by my experiences but would be able to relate in some way of form. They would have a level of empathy that can help me to meet my needs. Ultimately, having a PA that is just resourceful is really important.  

Turning 18 can be the most challenging time as a care leaver, and it’s a time you would benefit from more engagement with your personal advisor. Some care leavers find it hard to navigate life, so they need that push from their personal advisor to get them going as they move into adulthood. Some can’t live independently, everyone is different. Care leavers go through that transition on having to start a new chapter on their own, they will have to do things they probably haven’t done before, learn new things and engage in certain tasks which can be scary. I feel like care leavers need that security from personal advisers and more support. A lot of young people go through mental health issues, or just go through rough stages in life. They could be struggling and may not feel they have any guidance, some who may even think they are alone and don’t have anyone. That’s why it’s so important for personal advisers to be more involved so care leavers have someone they can lean on when needed. 

Are you are struggling with your PA? Here is where you can get support
Help at Hand is the Children’s Commissioner’s advice and assistance service for children in care, children who have a social worker or are working with social services, children living away from home and care leavers. They can help you with a range of different difficulties and give you the advice you need.
Find other support on our helplines, advice and support page.

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