In our role as advocates and helping to project the voices of children and young in care, we are often privileged to build long lasting, respectful connections with the young people we work alongside. Felicity Graham is an amazing woman whom we have the absolutely honour of having such a relationship with.
At 20 years old, Felicity has packed a lot into her life. Writing her first book (Not Held Down – an autobiography about growing up in care) when she was just 16 years old, Felicity founded her non-for-profit organisation (Fostering Change Australia) by 19, and this year was a SA finalist for the 2023 Young Australian of the Year Awards and most recently won the 2023 SA Young Achiever of the Year. Plus, Felicity has just launched her first children’s book ‘Oscar’s Layers’.
“My office is relentless in our ambition for children and young people’s voices to be embedded in everything we do and advocate for. It is through their words, through their actions and through their lens that we create resources, go into battle for their rights and continue to play our part in raising the volume button so those making decisions can’t ignore their voices,” Guardian Shona Reid said.
“Being there at the 2023 SA Young Achiever of the Year Awards and to see Felicity so graciously and humbly accept the award, I couldn’t help myself from leaping out of my chair and squealing with excitement,” Shona reflected. “Felicity’s achievements are truly outstanding, and this recognition is a testament to this. I am also humbled everyday by the myriad of contributions made by so many of her peers who go unseen from the public eye. We are deeply thankful for their never-ending willingness to share their experiences, time and knowledge with us. This enables me and my team to play our part in this very clunky child protection sector and ultimately for children and young people who live and grow within it.”
Here, Felicity talks about her new book and her push to create platforms for those with a lived experience to be heard.
Written by Felicity Graham
When I was growing up in care I often experienced big feelings that I didn’t understand, let alone have the words to be able to articulate and process them. I often felt awkward and alone and struggled to be understood. On top of all that, I would get teased at school for being in care. The bullies didn’t understand why I was in care or why I didn’t call my carers ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, and they made fun of me for not living with my birth family.
I first wrote my book, Not Held Down, more as a journal for processing my experiences, while also sharing my life so other young people in care knew they weren’t alone and that there were other people living in the system. I didn’t expect publishing this book would open so many possibilities for me.
As time passed, I realised I had more to write about, especially to help children in care recognise their feelings and being brave enough to share these with the people around them, but also to educate children not in care what living in the system may look like.
Oscar’s Layers tells the story of Oscar the onion who moves from a group home to a foster family where he learns to accept help, how to make friends, and how to let love (and people) in. Being an onion, the layers represent the walls that I had up around me when I was younger; fear of rejection, feeling isolated, constant negative thoughts, and poor mental health.
As Oscar goes through the issues of moving homes, he struggles with friendships, he struggles to ask for help, but each time he overcomes one of these fears, a layer falls off. At the end, all 12 layers fall off and he finally feels like he’s home.
As a kid I had massive feelings and emotions and didn’t know what they were, and I didn’t know how to express them, so I lashed out or shut down. It was hard for carers and school counsellors to help me. Oscar’s Layers is about asking for help to understand the big feelings children have and that it is ok and actually very brave to put up your hand and ask for support. Thankfully, I had people in my life that supported me to break down my big feelings and understand what I was going through.
I know Oscar’s Layers doesn’t reflect what care is like for everyone, there is so much more that could/does happen, and I plan on writing more books in this series, representing other kids and their experiences, and showing the diversity of what living in care is like. I really want children to learn to be brave and tell people what they want and need. I want to hear their voices loud and clear.
Just a few weeks ago I was awarded the 7News Young Achiever of the Year for my ongoing advocacy work within the child protection space – a win that still shocks me and feels like a dream. As someone with imposter syndrome, I feel like someone else is more worthy of this award. My journey hasn’t been easy and I could just hide from the world but I know I have a responsibility to give voice to the children and young people in care – and those who are yet to enter the system – to help make change and to speak the truth of what young people often experience and ways we can make it better.
If I was to pick one single thing to fix in this broken system it would be to provide as many platforms as we can for children and young people with a care experience to speak up, for people to listen deeply and to then act on what the young people are calling for.
You don’t need to win an award to tell your story, but I am going to use this recognition to keep fighting for what’s right, keep advocating for change and uniting the voices of children and young people in care to make a real difference.
Thanks to Felicity for being so honest and sharing her story with us. To purchase a copy of Oscar’s Layers please contact Felicity at linkedin.com/in/felicity-graham-571982216.