5th June 2017
Last week the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry began public hearings and participants will include several groups of former residents of residential care who have formed around a shared experience of pain and mistreatment.
The charity Who Cares? Scotland has for some years now been trying to forge a different kind of momentum behind the views and voices of young people who are looked after by the state.
As an initiative it wasn’t always universally welcome, and some questioned whether it was ethical to put vulnerable young people through the pressure of public appearances, for example. But one of the most powerful meetings I have ever experienced was when a group of a dozen or so children from a care background confronted shocked MSPs with the reality of their difficult lives.
Another response recalled by Who Cares? director Duncan Dunlop highlights the stigma that still attaches to these young people. “I was told it was like connecting up young offenders,” he says.
That false idea that looked-after children are in care for being “bad” still lingers. One council recently relocated a planned children’s home because neighbours – including two teachers – objected, Dunlop says. “It is such significant oppression – you couldn’t do that to any other identity group”.
Meanwhile, there has been a tendency for people who grew up in care to put that experience behind them. If they succeed in life, their background is glossed over, if it all goes wrong or they struggle they are often blamed, rather than the state.
But Who Cares? is increasingly succeeding in encouraging people, young and old, to claim their identity as “care experienced”, and it is having a powerful effect. Last week Nicola Sturgeon launched the Scottish Government’s root-and-branch review of the care system – a review that will put young people front and centre, and will, she says, put love for the children it cares for at its heart.
Previous attempts to reform the system have taken place without any sense at all of what young people themselves think. This time, that seems unthinkable.