A new beginning for our broken care system

On Saturday 15 October last year 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 young people had to say about their lives, experiences of care, and dreams of a better system for future generations.

Duncan Dunlo, Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, member of the Scottish Children's Services Coalition
Duncan Dunlo, Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, member of the Scottish Children's Services Coalition

The current 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.

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 they face. One of the hardest parts of being Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland is listening to our members, advocates and youth workers tell me someone they grew up with or worked with has taken their own life. 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.

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As part of this announcement, the First Minister also referenced her commitment to listen to 1,000 care-experienced voices over the next two years. She has made it clear that these voices will shape the review’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 20 December the Scottish Parliament debated “Improving the Care Experience for Looked-After Children”. It was a powerful moment. All political parties were united in their understanding of the inequality care-experienced people face, and inspired to act on and support the review. This positive outcome shows our members that their representatives are prepared to recognise failures and accept responsibility for their improvement.

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.

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, as so many in the care system have. 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 they 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 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.

“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,” he said later. “This is an unprecedented moment for care-experienced people in Scotland.”

Duncan Dunlop, Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition