Posted 2 March 2021

Susan Wojcicki, Kirsty Murphy, Sarah Gilbert – not necessarily names you’d recognise. However, if we instead introduced you to them as the CEO of YouTube, the first female Red Arrow and the professor in charge of designing the Oxford vaccine – well, they may seem a whole lot more exciting. This week sees the arrival of International Womens’ Day 2021 (IWD), with the theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’. The organisers believe that a challenged world is a changed world and they could well be right. The ladies above certainly prove what can be achieved if we try.

We know that you’re used to challenging and advocating for some amazing girls (and boys too). Which is not always easy. But be encouraged, because as you work on behalf of children in your care, there are some great examples for them out there.

Reluctantly discounting Black Widow and Princess Leia because apparently they’re only fictional, in honour of IWD we’re taking a look at the stories of four inspirational women. Women who also experienced the care system.

First up, subject of the recent Netflix mini-series, Madam C. J. Walker. The first in her family to be born free rather than a slave, her life soon became hard when she was orphaned and eventually placed into the care of her older sister and brother-in-law, who abused her. Despite little education, she invented a range of popular hair products aimed at black women. Undeterred by racism and sexism, Madam C. J. Walker eventually became the first self-made female millionaire in America.

Moving forward in history, we meet French fashion designer Coco Chanel. Years before she founded the famous Chanel brand, Coco’s mother died and so she was sent to a convent orphanage by her father. There she learnt to sew and became a seamstress, eventually opening her first shop. Before long she was regarded as a worldwide style icon. If you’ve ever worn a faithful little black dress, thank Coco Chanel. We’re not sure the strict nuns would approve.

Skipping to the present, Lorraine Pascale wasn’t appointed the government’s first fostering ambassador for nothing. The celebrity TV chef, best-selling author and wellness promoter has personal experience of care. Given up at birth, Lorraine spent the first part of her childhood in children’s homes, with her adopted family and with foster families. Not necessarily in that order and not as part of a one-way journey. She wasn’t always happy, but decided to make the most of her life. Bonus information - she also modelled for Chanel.

Finally, artist Alison Lapper. Born with a condition called phocomelia that left her without arms and with shortened legs, Lapper was institutionalized almost immediately. She spent her childhood at a specialist education and care centre, where she rejected her prosthetics. After leaving, Alison learned to drive, gained a first-class honours degree in Fine Art and carved out a career as an artist, presenter and speaker. She also posed for the ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ sculpture which was displayed in Trafalgar Square.

These may not be the best examples of care, but they show cared-for children can achieve anything – especially with foster carers and social workers on their side! Keep challenging for the girls (and boys) in your care, because you can make sure there really is change in their lives.