Last Christmas, I had the utter joy of watching a new family forming in a fairy-lit stable on the outskirts of Glasgow. To the sounds of Christmas tunes, presents were opened with tears of bewilderment, crackers pulled and paper hats worn, we ate turkey and shared stories. And, like all good families, I was welcomed in with warmth and friendship. The real difference to my regular Christmas: for many there, this was by far from regular.
Family means a lot to us all. Even more so for those who can’t turn to theirs so easily. Earlier that morning before heading through west, I’d shared presents with my own family and played with my nieces, whilst others were setting out from a very different place. For many of the youngsters, having spent years within a succession of foster or care homes, they faced a Christmas alone in independent or supported living until Who Cares? Scotland had the simple thought: why don’t we have everyone round this year?
People from across Glasgow had donated some fantastic presents, but it was the very personal notes and words of encouragement that meant so much to the recipients. We, society, did care.
“He’s helping out with some troubled youngsters” was how a lot of my own friends and family described where I was. Every part of this was wrong. I was aware of such innocent perceptions and prejudices; I probably shared a lot of these until this brilliant wee group welcomed me in.
I didn’t appreciate how spending a few hours sharing crackers and laughs with the Who Cares? Scotland family could shape my feelings about where we can make a real difference.
This Christmas, again, over 15,500 children and young adults will be living within the Scottish state care system. Children that we as a society have determined, for whatever reason, must be placed under our universal care. Calling it ‘the authorities’ or ‘a system’ has allowed us an element of detachment – but societal care means just that. Who Cares? Scotland’s mission is to ensure their voice is heard in a system amid circumstances that too often significantly affect the course of their young lives. Since last Christmas, I’ve continued to stay in touch and help out where I can with this new organisational family, learning more every time.
Helping out at the annual Who Cares? Scotland Festival during National Care Leavers Week Scotland, I was blown away by how hundreds of kids and teenagers from a huge range of experiences and backgrounds from across the Glasgow area came together and had an absolute blast doing the things we all take for granted. The innocent joy of helping very young siblings decorating each other’s gingerbread men would be a happy day out for most. I later discovered that this may be the last time they would spend together as they navigate their childhoods in care.
Christmas and Halloween, will now be a constant reminder that, for some, trying to simply be kids is tough. We might not be able to fix the circumstances, but if wrestling in a sumo suit or sharing a laugh at my complete lack of dancing skills brought some cheer on a dreich Saturday, then sign me up. It certainly didn’t feel like ‘volunteering’, a lot of that cheer was mine too…
A wee chat with our bunch of six and seven year olds on the way home hit me hard and has spurred me further in trying to lend support where I can. My nieces think receiving mail is the greatest thing in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s postcards, birthday wishes or even the latest Lidl flyer. When this came up, it was met with a collective groan. The post to them signified another hearing or information from the authorities, more disruption to their already complex lives, or facing things that would rock most adults. They hate the post. They loath and fear it. At six years old.
As I write this, I’m about to set off to attend my Children’s Hearing System induction as a trainee panel member. I’ve had my reservations and fears – am I just another middle class do-gooder? This isn’t something I necessarily relish –being part of a system that can only make do and try to slightly improve the realities of a tough, largely alien world will be hard. But if it’s going to be tough on me, I get to go home, which for many of those involved is not an option. I just hope that in my own actions, the system, and more importantly the lives of our youngsters, will be slightly less fearful and a little bit more hopeful. Like all families, we owe it to each other to try.
If you are interested in volunteering you can express your interest here.