This year, Aiden, 18, stood in front of media, representatives from Government, AFL players and Executives to proudly share his story. The event was to celebrate the unveiling of a community art project that Aiden and his peers had spent many months conceptualising and bringing to life with the support of AFL Club, the GWS GIANTS.

The mural depicted young people walking up a Ladder and sent a powerful message that “there is a giant in all of us”. When Aiden took to the stage, he delivered a speech that challenged and inspired.

“My hope is that when people see this [artwork] they will first be blown away by our talent and that it inspires people to educate themselves around the different issues affecting young people today and young people that have an out-of-home care experience.

“Often we may fly under the radar but we are working hard to build ourselves up. We want to be seen and heard. We have something to offer and we want to make a mark because we can. Just like the players that train and play on this oval, we also want to achieve our goals. We have a vision for our future,” Aiden bravely shared with the audience.

Often we may fly under the radar but we are working hard to build ourselves up. We want to be seen and heard. We have something to offer and we want to make a mark.

This is no mean feat for any young person, let alone one who just a short time ago had come to the Ladder program in a very different state of mind. Like all program participants in the Ladder Step Up program, Aiden had an out-of-home care experience, having been placed with a foster family at just 6 weeks old. When he had to leave home at 18, he was referred to Ladder by the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS).

Upon entering the program, Aiden struggled with direction and authority and had low self-esteem. Like many of the young people who engage with Ladder, Aiden had minimal expectations of himself and his future. But in line with its advantaged thinking philosophy, Ladder worked with Aiden to identify and build on his strengths and interests. Through Ladder’s unique coaching model, the Development Coaches unearthed Aiden’s desire to learn new skills and found he had a keen interest in technology, music and media. He also had an aptitude for building and hands-on tasks. The coaching, tailored experiences, development programs and the belief shown in him by others, led Aiden to re-evaluate his possibilities and open his mind to a different future.

Over time, Aiden’s self-confidence increased and he begun to display leadership qualities. He became increasingly involved in activities and programs and his punctuality and attendance levels soared. He begun assisting other young people with tasks that he had learnt that he was good at. Aiden acknowledged that attending the Ladder Step Up program and connecting with other young people who had a similar lived experience had benefited him. And the work done to educate participants around healthy relationships had helped him not only with his peers, but with his relationships more broadly.

Aiden’s life today is not without its challenges. He continues to work through issues he has around securing appropriate accommodation and outstanding legal proceedings. However he continues to stay connected to Ladder staff members who work in partnership with other providers such as Mission Australia who assist Aiden with his housing requirements.

As an alumni of the program, Aiden has been invited back to select group activities and gatherings, and has already made a positive contribution. He has shared his experience and offered guidance to young people entering the program. Currently, he is focused and motivated to find work and to improve his fitness.

Aiden has well and truly found the Giant within. He has a vision for his future.