The Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ) has contributed to an influential STV documentary on what life is like for looked after children in Scotland.
‘Who Cares’ which airs at 8pm on Tuesday, September 20, features interviews with young people who have spent their childhoods in care, and the impact this has had on their adult lives. It is part of the STV Appeal, an annual campaign which highlights the issues children in Scotland are dealing with.
The documentary depicts a system that is doing its best, but often fails with the ‘personal’ touch which can lead to tragic outcomes for care leavers.
Young people Harry, Laura, Shaddelle, Brandon and Ashley share their emotional and inspiring stories. Expert comment is provided by Dr Claire Lightowler, Director of CYCJ, Duncan Dunlop, CEO of Who Cares? Scotland, Sara Lurie, Director of Fostering Network Scotland, developmental psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, Strathclyde University social work lecturer Iain Macleod and Kenny Cunningham, a Prison Officer at HMYOI Polmont.
Currently 15,040 children in Scotland are in care, and the majority of these are aged under 12. Care leavers are 20 times more likely to be dead at 25, are more likely to suffer mental health problems and ten times less likely to go to University.
In terms of youth justice, 33% of Polmont HMYOI inmates grew up in care. Research undertaken by CYCJ shows that 91% have experienced bereavement, with 75% of these experiencing a traumatic bereavement. Dr Claire Lightowler discusses why we need to recognise these issues, and take action before offending behaviour starts to escalate.
“These young men (in Polmont) are dealing with a heavy weight of trauma, bereavement, loss in their very direct experiences. We have real issues with the revolving door and real issues with labelling. As soon as you are labelled as bad or troubled or an offender, it’s very difficult to step away from that label. It’s difficult to get accommodation, it’s difficult to get a job, training and education.
“I would never say anyone is a lost cause. But to some extent, by the time they have reached Polmont so many of those issues are so difficult to unpick, I would strongly argue about investing at an earlier stage to prevent them ever causing harm in the first place.”
Dr Lightowler stresses the importance of relationships – a theme echoed throughout the documentary:
“It’s really important to ask why other young people who have experienced trauma, bereavement, loss and abuse do not go on to offend? We know that’s about having relationships of love, having one person that believes you are worth a better future.”
The documentary concluded with the young people visiting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and asking her to change outcomes for Scotland’s looked after children. “We need to get to the point where being in care means you don’t go through the rest of your life with disadvantages to…there’s no point in coming up with strategies if they’re not based on your experiences.”
‘Who Cares’ will air on Tuesday, September 20th, 8pm on STV.