Being in care is tough, and that’s why so many care experienced people dedicate their lives to making the care system a better place to grow up in. I understand this motivation really well. I’m a care experienced young person, and I want change too.
I’m the newest member of the policy team at Who Cares? Scotland. That means that I get to help care experienced young people have a say in the policy that impacts their lives.
I know how isolating it is not to understand your rights, or feel confident challenging the complicated rules that guide every aspect of your day. I also know how much it means to have my opinions taken seriously. Getting the chance to let other young people be heard is what motivates me.
That’s why I was so excited to be part of the big conversation that my team had with young people. We asked 76 young people to tell us what they thought of the National Health and Social Care Standards. These are the guidelines that tell everyone what they can expect when they access health and social care services in Scotland. So they’re definitely a big deal for care experienced people.
It was pretty humbling to help shape the one on one advocacy, and group sessions where young people shared their views. Hearing care experienced young people express themselves honestly, reminded me just how powerful our knowledge is. We deserve the platform to speak, and we know what to do when we’re given it. We’re the experts and we should be part of any decision that is made about us.
The standards got lots of positive feedback. Mostly because they are so empowering. The young people discussed how it meant that they had something they could use on their own, to check that how they were being treated was okay. This is so important because care can be a very confusing place to be.
That’s not to say they thought the standards were perfect. Some things that were raised by the young people really stuck with me because I related to them so much. A lot of young people in care feel like they’re excluded from what’s really going on in decisions about their life. Their discussions took me back to when I was part of the care system.
One young person said:
“I hate it when you’re in the same room as a couple of staff and they start whispering to each other, probably about me”.
This was an issue through my time in care, and something that these standards need to recognise as a real issue. At meetings and children’s panels, I felt extremely uncomfortable when adults who were discussing my wellbeing decided to talk in secret, whether it be whispering or leaving the room to talk outside.
My social worker wouldn’t brief me before Children’s Hearings. She never asked me what I wanted or what was going on in my head. I would sit and stare at the table while she discussed me with the panel in a low voice. If I had felt comfortable with her I could have shared that I felt conflicted between what my parents wanted and what I wanted. I never got the chance to do that and as a result my care experience wasn’t what I needed. Everything that was decided about me was done behind my back. I didn’t have a say in anything that happened to me. At no point should a young person feel excluded, especially when it’s about issues that will affect their current situation and their future.
Information that’s shared about you can also be frustrating. I agreed with some young people who said that you should be asked for permission before someone can read information about you.
“People I work with need to get to know me on a deeper, more personal level and not just from paperwork that they read on me, or them being able to say they have ‘known’ me all my life. If you don’t take the time to get to know me, then you don’t know me. I am not a pile of paper.”
“I think this takes away from your dignity, knowing that everyone around you reads and knows everything about your life without you giving permission”
There were numerous times when I would attend social work events, which were get togethers where young people in care would go to socialise. All the staff knew so much about me and I had never met any of them. I always felt like these events were an excuse to get us to slip up, and share information we hadn’t before. If we did say something, there would be a one to one meeting after, and what we said would be taken out of our hands. This could influence our living situation. Again, I was never part of these decisions.
People should show compassion when it comes to personal information. They need to think about how they would feel if their life was written by someone else then shared around. It should always be the case that a staff member gets to know the person first and refers to their file after. If people delivering care want to build trust, that has to be the way. I want people to learn about who I am from me, not a file.
I’m hopeful that we will have influenced the standards. There’s things that, if you haven’t lived in the system, you just won’t consider. That’s why we needed to do this. Care experienced people have so much to contribute to the care system. We know where things need to change and we’re doing this because we want to guarantee the brightest possible futures for other young people in care.
I thought it was amazing how no matter who the conversation was with and where we had it, all young people talked about wanting positive relationships. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that everyone talked about it.
A positive relationship means having a chance of being considered more than just a file in a cupboard. It means having a chance at a home life that is nurturing and stable. And it means having a chance at being loved. We deserve that. Everyone does.