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Duncan Dunlop, Who Cares? Scotland – A new beginning for our broken care system

Duncan Dunlop, Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, member of the SCSC, writes for Friends of the Scotsman and discusses the importance and potential of the proposed review of Scotland’s care system. 

On Saturday 15th October 2016 at the SNP Conference, the First Minister announced a “root and branch review” of care in Scotland. This review was announced because the First Minister listened to what care experienced young people had to say about their lives, experiences of care, and their dreams of a better system for future generations.

This system is built for children whose families can’t look after them. They often experience abuse and neglect early on in life. Too often, the system seems to habitually exacerbate, instead of heal these wounds. I’ve heard countless stories from individual young people who are experiencing the care system. Their experiences never fail to mobilise me to act, and I’m encouraged to know the First Minister has experienced the same motivation.

The big picture for the care experienced population is equally poignant. The outcomes for care experienced young people compared to their peers are unacceptable. Mental health problems, issues of criminality and poor educational achievements are just a few of the countless inequalities care experienced people face. One of the hardest parts of being Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland is listening to our members, our advocates and our youth workers tell me that someone they grew up with or worked with has taken their own lives. That’s why we’re determined to empower all care experienced young people to talk about their lives honestly. It can liberate them and drive change. This review is proof of that.

As part of this announcement, the First Minister also referenced her commitment to listen to 1000 care experienced voices over the next 2-years. She has made it clear that these voices will lead the review, and shape it’s narrative. I believe this process is the best way to move forward and create a care system that is built around those who have to live with it and the consequences of it, day in and day out.

On December 20th 2016 the Scottish Parliament debated “Improving the Care Experience for Looked-After Children”. The debate struck me as a powerful moment. All political parties were united in their understanding of the inequality that care experienced people face, and inspired to act on and support the review. This is of course a positive outcome, and shows our members that their representatives are prepared to recognise failures and accept responsibility for their improvement moving forward.

Parliamentary and cross party support is encouraging, but I am still astonished that until now we have never enabled the care experienced voice to participate meaningfully in the development of care. Care costs us between £1.6 to £2.5 billion per annum.  This investment should help these young people flourish into happy, healthy, and functioning members of society. A culture of professionals and adults speaking for children has prevailed, and the time to change this is now.

When we listen to care experienced voices one core message rings through; “we want to be loved”. Everyone understands the power love has to heal us, support us and build our self-worth. These things are vital for all people, especially those who have experienced trauma, like so many in the care system. Love is preferably given by our families, but if they can’t be there, a caring, supporting system should step in to provide the loving environment these young people so desperately need.

The care review has the power to fundamentally change the care system, but it is up to us as a society to listen to our care experienced citizens and accept them, to truly provide them with a life free from inequality. In June 2016, Laura Beveridge delivered the first ever TED Talk from a care experienced person in Scotland and called for a revolution, throughout society, in how we support young people in care.

This is a powerful movement, and the importance and potential of this review has not gone unnoticed by our members. Harry, a Who Cares? Scotland member and fantastic voice for the care experienced population, met Nicola Sturgeon to discuss his experiences of care for the Who Cares documentary, before the review was announced. He has since stated:

“It is impossible to put into words how elated I am that not only were our voices heard, action is now being taken to change and rebuild the broken care system. This is an unprecedented moment for care and care experienced people in Scotland. I would like to say a huge thank you to Nicola. This means the world to us.”

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About the Author

The SCSC is a collection of leading independent and third sector service providers. Members deliver specialist care and education services for children and young people with complex needs and care experience.