Residents snub youth voice at care home meeting

Campaigners have voiced dismay after young people who grew up in care were not allowed to address a public meeting to discuss plans to create a new children’s home.

Harry O'Neill was due to speak to residents. Picture: Toby Williams
Harry O'Neill was due to speak to residents. Picture: Toby Williams
Harry O'Neill was due to speak to residents. Picture: Toby Williams

Representatives speaking on behalf of children in care claim they were told not to tell their “sob stories” by members of the 300-strong gathering of residents, who voiced fears that the home at Lewisvale Park would fuel antisocial 

Harry O’Neill, a 21-year-old student nurse at Queen Margaret University, was due to speak to locals opposed to the construction of the two-storey building to house children from across East Lothian in a bid to ease community concerns.

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However, representatives of care charity Who Cares? Scotland were told after arriving at the meeting on Thursday evening that the decision would be left up to attendees.

When asked by the meeting organiser, East Lothian MSP Colin Beattie, residents 
reportedly shouted “no”, cutting off any contribution.

Members of the community deny that their opposition is connected to the children who would be housed in the building, but campaigners say the experience is an example of prejudice faced by young people in care.

Who Cares? Scotland chief executive Duncan Dunlop called the refusal to let care leavers speak “discriminatory”. He said: “All the community members were allowed to say what they have to say, except the young people who are from that community and want to live in that community.

“That is to exclude their voice from the conversation. It’s part of our democratic process of free speech, but they were not given that right.”

Mr O’Neill said: “It was really quite horrible. People were saying it wasn’t about the kids, but that was always coupled with a ‘but’. They were saying things like, ‘these young people will be able to come and go as they please’, and ‘what about the old people?’ It was closed-minded and discriminatory.

“Part of me is glad that those views were expressed so strongly, because I don’t want young people living in a community that doesn’t welcome them. They deserve better.”

Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale said she was “disappointed” that the young people were stopped from speaking.

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She said: “Too many people have very outdated attitudes to kids in care. It’s both alarming and deeply harmful.”

But Musselburgh Community Council chairwoman Irene Tait said residents were “worried about change” and the loss of green space.

Mr Beattie told the Evening News: “The point was made from the floor that this wasn’t about the kids. It was about the design of the building, the look of the building, the positioning, all those things. That’s what everyone was talking about on the night.

“They were very disappointed that they didn’t get the chance to speak, but it was the residents’ meeting. The residents were unhappy that there was an attempt to bring the kids into it.”

A second public meeting to discuss Lewisvale Park is due to be held next week, attended by council planning officials.