The Independent Care Review gave thousands of people an opportunity to contribute to the thinking and discussion that led to The Promise. One of these people was Marie Gibson, who has written a blog on having her voice heard, and on the impact of entering the court system rather than the Children’s Hearing System.
I had never considered myself to be care experienced until recent years, and I still swing back and forwards between thinking I am and thinking I’m not. In terms of legislation I was never officially looked after. The first time I was involved with social work services was after a ‘child protection incident’, or that’s what I’ve been told it was anyway. For me at the time it was just another thing that happened, but this time people actually noticed, and the police were involved. Due to lots of other things happening around the same time that no-one noticed, I stopped going to school, started drinking and taking drugs all the time, and then getting into a lot of trouble with the police. Sometimes that meant being reported missing and going home to find the police in my house talking to my mum and dad to get photos of me in order to find me. Other times it meant getting pinned down on the ground, arrested, shoved in the back of a police van, being stripped searched and staying in the cells. All of it meant having constant social work involvement throughout my teenage years and having what seemed like endless reports written about me and sent to the children’s reporter
None of it went to a hearing though, despite my last report recommending a Compulsory Supervision Order when I was 15. The Children’s Reporter at this time knew I was being charged with serious assault, but left it to the Procurator Fiscal to deal with instead. This meant the police turning up at my door one morning when I was still 15 ready to take me into custody for court in the morning. It also meant another two years of going back to there, regular deferrals and then a year on probation with another social worker. This time with a condition of doing alcohol counselling and anger management, which in actuality just meant being handed a couple of leaflets about drinking and anger.
I was around 18 by this point when the probation ended and it has taken me years to move forward from any of these experiences (and many I’ve not mentioned), to get to the point of starting to work with young people and then go to university to study Community Education. Throughout this time, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what care experience means, having now worked with some ‘real’ care experienced young people and being involved with a steering group for care experienced young people. I know that officially my involvement with social work was apparently ‘voluntary’, although I had no idea that I had any choice. And did I really? If I had refused to see my social worker, would I have just been put through a hearing anyway and then it would have been compulsory? In my own experience, whether it was classed as voluntary or compulsory, it didn’t make any difference to me. I still had the experience. I just haven’t had anywhere to talk about it for years. Until I started sharing some of these experiences with the organisations I was involved with, people on Twitter and then as a consequence of that, the Independent Care Review. I had seen the work being carried out by The Review over the past few years, but it wasn’t something I even considered I would have any involvement in. I didn’t think I’d had any experience with the ‘care system’ and didn’t think they’d want to hear from me until Ross at CYCJ suggested it to me and put me in contact with them.
The whole experience of sharing my story with the Care Review was one of the most validating things I’ve ever been part of. And all I did was sit for an hour or so, talking about my past. But I was being heard. These are parts of my story I have rarely told anyone and looking back I still wish I’d shared more of it (even though I talked a lot). For once it wasn’t just about framing my experiences in the lenses of trauma or mental illness. I was just sharing my experience of what happened, and what I thought could have made it better and the things I believe need to be changed. I’ve always found it easier to frame my experiences of mental illness, or even as trauma because I know for sure that I’ve experienced those. But when it comes to care experience, I am less sure, and I know many will probably still say I’m not.
The legislation still says I’m not.
The financial support for university or other types of grants still says I’m not…
The criteria on many websites defining care experience still says I’m not…
…all because I didn’t go through a hearing and it wasn’t compulsory.
But if not, then my experiences feel lost to me. They feel hidden. There is nowhere for me to be heard. For me, it is not about legislation, but about having a place where I can own my experiences and I am just glad that being able to write blogs for CYCJ and sharing my story with the Care Review has helped me with that. But what about all the other hidden stories and experiences? We need to keep hearing them.
About our blogger
Marie is a Community Learning and Development student with an interest in sharing her experiences of social work involvement, the mental health and criminal justice systems, and in questioning what it is to be care experienced. You can follow her on @mariesvoice_ and www.mariesvoice.com. You can also read Marie’s previous blogs here and here.
If you have experiences of the justice systems, be that as a child, young person or a relative of someone who has come into conflict with the law, please get in touch with email@example.com.