Beneath the Surface

Looking back at her teenage years, Alice (not her real name) reflects on the hurt she experienced and the missed opportunities to do things differently.

I was 13 the first time the police pinned me down on the ground, handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police van. I was 14 the first time they strip searched me and put me in the cells. The police officer who did it, stood watching a crying and shaking 14 year old girl and said ‘if you don’t do it we will do it for you.’ I was 16 when I spent Christmas Eve in the cells all night after being strip searched again. I spent the night in tears scratching my face and pulling my hair out. Within those years I’ve lost count how many times they stopped us in the street, to take drink and fags off us, write down our names, and usually to put me in the back of the police car and force me to go home.

My mum used to hoover the house on a Friday night in advance of the police knocking on the door to bring me home, to come looking for me after I’d done something, or to get details about me when I’d went missing. As ridiculous as that sounds that my mum used to hoover for the police, I guess she felt it was the only thing she had any control over. None of us had control over anything at that point. Only the police, other professionals and some of the people around me seemed to have any power.

They’d turn up at the house other times too, sometimes to charge me. One day, when I was still 15 they turned up at the door with an indictment from the court ready to take me into custody until my court date. I spent a year going back to court and getting reports written about me, and another year on probation. The social worker who wrote my report called me ‘brittle, sullen and uncommunicative’, and she recommended I get a tag and probation. The media printed my full name, address and that I had mental health problems. I still feel the shame years later.

When people talk about children who cause harm to others, I was definitely one of those children. When I look back at my actions, I realise that someone easily could have died, but that child could have also been me. I was being harmed too. The child inside me still wants to know ‘why did no-one care?’

I wonder what would have happened if the police officers who obviously saw me as at risk when they tried to keep getting me to go home, instead asked me why I was doing it, or if I felt safe. Since they were the only ones out there on the streets in a position to do anything, why didn’t they? Why did they punish me instead sometimes just for seeing me as at risk? When I became a risk to other people, why did no-one look beneath the surface to understand the reasons behind it?

When I look back I have struggled throughout the years to see underneath that surface too. The labels and words used by people around me, including professionals, have left a permanent mark on that child. Brittle. Sullen. Uncommunicative. Troubled. Young offender. I still get caught up in calling her those things too sometimes.

But most of the time, I look back and see the scared child that I was, who was trying to do everything possible to escape from being hurt. A child trying to protect herself and find safety. A child who felt unheard and in pain. When I see that child, all I wish is that the police and other professionals had seen her too.

If you have experience of the justice systems, or are a family or carer of someone who has had contact with the justice systems, please contact Ross Gibson via to discuss how your views can be shared.


The Reality of Addiction

Studies over the years have shown the link between drug addiction and criminal behaviour.  In this guest blog for CYCJ about heroin addiction, Amc speaks frankly about peer pressure and the impact addiction had on his relationships – and why jail wasn’t the answer.

By the time l was 18 years old l had tried most recreational drugs.  Soft drugs you might prefer to call them, but you know what? They ain’t soft. Anyway, at a party (a party that was at my best friends that was for his older brother coming home) l was given the chance to try this new drug. He called it “kit”, and I’d never even heard of it before. I mean, this was one of my best friends; for years we had each other’s back, basically always together, never saw one without the other. So this friend, this person l almost felt was a brother to me said “try this, you’ll love it”.

And l did.

I did try it.

And l did love it.

Well it loved me, and from that first taste, that first moment, l lost over 20 years of my life to heroin.

Years later, looking back on this exact moment, l realise that my friend had long gone; what was left was a husk, a hollow person. He had no interest in me outside of getting me as addicted to smack as fast as he could. The more people you have around you with the same addiction, the more chance you have of being able to keep your own habit. Your friends, your family, your partner, they become walking talking bank accounts, and it’s your job – 24 hours a day – to get as much money out of them as you can. And you will use any means you can. You lie, cheat and steal from people who have loved you all of your life, people who have raised you and cared for you. But you see nothing but an opportunity to get more money for more drugs. So you manipulate, you beg, you cry, you threaten. Anything is allowed and all is permitted in the search for your next hit. Fuck everyone, as long as you’re ok, that’s all that needs to be.

For those 20 years, the only friends l had were also addicts, as they are the only people whom you feel understand. I was given more chances to quit and clean up than l can probably remember, but l was never ready to stop. Sure l’d get ‘clean’ now and again for a few days or weeks, but l was never CLEAN. My head was always in the same place. I was still always trying to figure out an angle to get cash or something to sell, to score again. Even jail didn’t help. If you go in an addict you come out an addict. Your body might be free and clean from drugs, but your mind, for the whole time you were inside, all you could think about was your first hit when you get out. That first taste, the first needle tear.

I wasted 20 years of my life. I lost my family, my real friends, l manipulated people all the time, l used people for my own gain and didn’t care one little bit about what happened to them. Long term isn’t a word in an addict’s vocabulary. Living till tomorrow is the most we can hope for and for a heroin addict, it’s 12 hours. Your life revolves around 12 hour segments, not days, or weeks. Once you use, you have around 12 hours, at most, until you need to use again. To be honest, saying need to use again don’t really do it justice. You have 12 hours until you feel like your whole body is in flames, like you’re dying but something’s not letting you. Pain is the only thing that keeps you going, or more correctly, the fear of that pain, the fear of feeling even a little bit like that ever again, and you will do anything to stop that from happening. And l really do mean anything. No matter how you think you see yourself, how much you think you have morals or standards or any of those words, you would and will do anything to stop the pain. No matter how low you think you are, you can and will go lower.

The jails are full of poor bastards that just wanted to stop the pain, that found that they’re the type of people who would go that little bit further than they ever thought they would. I was one of them, and you will be too.

Cos no matter how much money you have or how much drugs you have, it’s never enough. The more you have the more you take. Heroin is a greedy bitch. It eats you up and then makes you do the same to yourself and others.

If you would like to blog about your experiences of adversity or the systems, please email We’ll support you and ensure your details are kept anonymous.


Breaking the Cycle

‘You can’t and won’t put me in a box because of something that happened to me that was completely out of my control.’ For Care Experienced Week 2020, Bella explains why she’s determined to challenge misconceptions about the care system, to create a better future for others.

My husband and me have been very lucky in that we have experienced so many amazing things together. We love travelling and went on a cruise together for our honeymoon. It was amazing, we went to Sicilia, France, Italy, Monaco and Spain. Our other favourite thing to do together is to go to music concerts, we love music and always have music on in our house. So far in the past two years we have seen Tom Walker, Lewis Capaldi, Sigala, Kaiser Chiefs and Panic! At The Disco. This summer we were supposed to see Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy but I don’t think I need to explain why that never happened (COVID)…

Last December we were blessed to have a baby, the most amazing thing we have experienced yet. Both me and my husband are care and justice experienced, I think this is why we always wanted to have children and started young. I want my child to have everything I didn’t have and to know how much they are loved and wanted.

When my child was first born, I was absolutely petrified a social worker was going to take them away even though we hadn’t done anything wrong. It has taken me a long time to realise that I was taken into care because I had to be, and things were wrong at home. Things are so different with my child and their life is very different from mine, they are taken care of and loved so much, beyond words. I’m so scared of doing the wrong thing with my child and I think it’s because I know how things feel when they are wrong and go wrong. I do think after everything my experiences of life have made me a better person and a better mother to my child. I’m so aware of how my actions have an impact on my child and their life also how they feel about themselves as well. My priority as a mother is to bring up a happy child who knows just how much they are loved and wanted.

Breaking my family’s cycle is another one of my priorities. Both me and my mother went into care. My experience within the care system wasn’t great and I don’t want my child to ever experience or see what I have seen I have and I’m sure many other young people who are care experienced have.

The care system is overloaded and broken. Care experienced young people also have the extra stress of judgement and stereotypes from people who haven’t been in the care system. Since when is racism not ok but branding all children who have been and are in care “bad” people who are just troublemakers ok? I think most people would have a shock if they knew what had happened and happens to those that are in the care system. Stereotyping and treating young people differently because they are care experienced is as bad as racism and sexism. People need to stop judging young people for things that are out of their control. Not only do black lives matter but young lives matter too. Young people are the future so why are we teaching them it’s not ok to stereotype one group of people – but it’s ok to do so for another group?

I want to change these stereotypes and prejudges, and I will. That is a promise I make to myself and all other young people who have been or are in the care system. I’m starting slowly by proving all the stereotypes wrong in my life. I’m going to be the best mother I can be to my child and any future children I have. You can’t and won’t put me in a box because of something that happened to me that was completely out of my control.

I remember when I was in care, I came out of my care home to go to a shop and I walked past a family. In that family there were two young boys and a mother and father. One of the young boys, the oldest of the two turned and said to his younger brother that’s a home for bad boys and girls, pointing at the home. I was so angry and so upset I couldn’t even say something. Just because we are in care and care experienced doesn’t mean we are bad, in fact most times something bad has happened to us and that’s why we are in care. If you had something traumatic and huge happen to you as a child and didn’t know how to deal with your feelings and experiences how would you behave and how would you act? We had things happen to us which as children we didn’t know how to process and overcome which is why sometimes we did naughty things. Does making a stereotype making you a good person? We are just like you, only we have different experiences and have dealt with them in our own way. There isn’t a handbook given to children with how to deal with grief, life and trauma. We are care experienced, not care shaped or a stereotype.

Thank you to everyone who has read this far, I hope I haven’t bored you too much and I hope I have challenged some people’s perceptions of care experience young people. We are not bad people; we are just like everyone else. We want to make a life for ourselves and get past what has happened to us in our childhood.

About our blogger

Bella lives just outside of Glasgow with her baby, husband and two budgies. She’s 22 years old and has loads of hobbies, some of these are music, art, travelling, eating out – and she loves to learn new things.


Scotland – time for open hearts and minds

Today marks the launch of the Secure Care Pathway and Standards Scotland. These Standards have been three years in the making after a series of recommendations from the Secure Care National Project. The project identified the need for a specific set of standards for Scotland’s most restrictive form of care for our children.

In late 2017, I was asked to become a board member on the secure care strategic board. Having spent a lot of my youth growing up in secure care, this was an ask I had not a second thought about. I have been a fierce advocate for change amongst the care sector for as long as I can remember, and secure care is something that I am so passionate about. If care and compassion is delivered correctly, secure care can be a lifesaver for many. However, I am also acutely aware of the trauma secure care can either cause or further compound. I have experienced both. Therefore, I agreed to become a member of the Pathway and Standards working group. Tasked with creating a brand new set of national standards rooted in voice, it was right up my street!

Young people’s calls for action developed through the Secure Care National Project and detailed very clearly the things that worked well in secure care and the things that young people thought needed to change. Throughout the process of creating the Standards, everything we did was rooted in voice. We analysed the data and evidence so selflessly provided by young people and began to map the journey of secure care for a young person – before, during and after – and what the adults around the young people need to be doing to ensure their rights are upheld every step of the way.

We then begun to draft the 44 Standards. These were then taken to the STARR group (of which I am the current founder and chair), Scotland’s only curated space for secure care experienced people. The group discussed in detail the wording of the Standards, the importance and relevance and lastly, the strategic implications of each Standard. I was incredibly humbled at the strength, tenacity and hope for the future the group showed. Knowing that whatever they do will always be in service of young people today and will not change or alter their own experiences I think shows an incredible amount of strength, and I will forever be in awe of them.

Being part of such an inclusive and dynamic process has made my heart sing. The shared vision and values held by everyone involved has been incredibly humbling. People really care about our children whose liberty has been restricted or could be and want to make the process as conducive and trauma free as possible, but sometimes they just don’t know how to, and that’s okay. As long as they enter the process with an open heart and mind, are willing to listen and respond to the voices and what they’re telling us.

There are aspects of secure care and the supports provided before and after that need to be radically different to ensure rights are respected and upheld, and it is my hope that these Standards provide a blueprint and permission for individual centres to come together as a collective and have some creative and radical conversations. This also needs to involve everyone who works with children on the edges of secure care to make sure children get the support they need throughout and at each stage of the journey.

I will never forget my time in secure care, it is such a life altering event that I simply cannot forget, the restrictions places on my liberty caused me great heartache. I am certain however, that my time in secure has turned me into the person I am today – so for that I am grateful.

I can see myself in many of these Standards but a couple that really stand out to me are:

Standard 15: “I am welcomed at the main entrance unless it is unsafe for me or others. This is based on my individual circumstances and needs”

This Standard is incredibly important to me and many others as the admission process can be quite traumatic for a number of reasons and being welcomed at the front entrance humanises the process. It makes you feel welcomed and reassured instead of feeling like a bad secret by entering via a garage.

Another Standard which stood out is:

Standard 42: I am confident that people I know well and have trust in will continue to be involved in supporting me after I leave the service.

This is also incredibly important as it focuses on the need for consistent, loving relationships and ensuring that those relationships are supported to flourish.

Over the past few years, I have made it my mission to advocate and campaign for more awareness of secure care, what the benefits are as well as the deficits and how we can collectively overcome these. I firmly believe that if care is delivered correctly and the Standards are fully implemented, we will not see as many young people enter secure care. This should be Scotland’s ambition. I believe supporting young people to heal from trauma at the earliest stage will radically reduce the number of young people who experience secure care.

It is time everyone involved in secure care in Scotland comes together with a shared vision and morals of not depriving our children of their liberty. Ever. I believe it should be Scotland’s vision to support and empower our children to heal. These are just a few of my hopes, I could go on all day but I truly believe that this is an achievable goal and I’ll continue to advocate for this throughout my career until one day, my vision is realised. Come on Scotland, we can do this.

About our blogger

Bethanne Logan, who is care experienced, describes herself as “striving for children to have access to equitable chances”.  She is founder and Chair of the STARR group, a Board Member for Children’s Hearings Scotland and was a member of the Pathway and Standards working group. Follow her on Twitter @Beth_AnneLogan.


Be a buzzkill

Picture the scene: You’re heading down to your local shop to pick up some essentials, and queue outside when you get there behind an elderly couple, in line with social distancing measures. It’s about ten seconds later that you realise something is a bit strange – you hear a high-pitched ringing noise, quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It’s incredibly irritating, and the noise is relentless. About a minute in, it starts to become painful, but covering your ears does nothing to stop it. Nobody else in the line seems to be reacting. Eventually it becomes so overwhelming that you give up and head home without the shopping you needed for that day.

Sounds pretty dystopian, right?

Imagine the same scenario happening to you while waiting for a bus? Or even outside the main door of your school?

This is a reality all too familiar to young people across Scotland, who have encountered the horrendous impact of a Mosquito device.

Marketed as ‘anti-loitering devices’, Mosquitos emit a high-pitched noise at a frequency only those under the age of 25 are able to hear. The noise is immediately irritating, and in time can become painful. It can cause headaches and migraines, tinnitus, increased anxiety and even panic attacks, in a few recorded instances, a survey of over 700 young people by youth charity Young Scot found.

The Mosquito was invented in 2005 to prevent anti-social behaviour from young people outside shops, transport hubs and other community hotspots, but in reality they completely miss the mark on their stated objective. These devices are indiscriminate, affecting all young people whether they are engaging in anti-social behaviour or not; cruel, emitting potentially painful sonic waves to any young person unlucky enough to cross their path; and dangerous, with little to no research having been conducted on their long-term impact.

What we do know is that these devices shouldn’t be legal. Not only have they been recorded to be responsible for the above effects on young people – with additional consequences and concerns for young people with sensory issues such as autism, and an unknown impact on the development of the hearing systems of young children and babies – but they also fly in the face of the human rights young people are entitled to under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Even putting to one side any general concerns about the right to health being violated by these monstrous machines, Article 15 of the UNCRC clearly states that young people have the right to freedom of assembly, clearly infringed by the use of these devices outside any area in which young people have a right to peacefully congregate.

This has been recognised by the UNCRC, as well as leading figures in the Children’s Rights arena such as Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, Together: the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the Scottish Youth Parliament, who have been campaigning for a total ban on Mosquitos for over a decade.

Let’s be honest: if somebody invented a device which only affected older people by emitting a high pitched and painful sonic wave to prevent them from just being in certain places, there’s not a chance it would be legal. The uproar would be enormous!

Well, I say it’s time to afford young people the same respect, and cause an uproar about this. The Mosquito Device project has failed to tackle anti-social behaviour in any meaningful way given that it simply moves the issue to another area instead of addressing it properly, and furthermore is an affront to the notion of young people’s rights.

The successes we’ve seen such as a total ban on the use of Mosquito Devices in ScotRail stations, secured by the Scottish Youth Parliament in 2017, have been encouraging, but it’s not enough – we can’t let the momentum behind this campaign fall again until we make these devices illegal.

My advice is to get angry, and get active! Write to your MSP asking whether they support a ban on these devices, and what they’re going to do about it. Make noise on social media – follow @BanDevices and make your support for the campaign clear. The louder we are, the harder it will be to ignore us.

On that, I am keen to work with any individual or organisation who has a shared interest in ending the use of Mosquitos. I’m looking to speak to interested groups, especially those who have experience of being affected by Mosquito devices, to gather evidence on the effect they have, and the strength of feeling young people hold on their use. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, please contact me at, or through the Twitter account @BanDevices (DMs are open).

It’s time to make Mosquito Devices illegal once and for all. Let’s do it.

#BanMosquitos #BuzzOff

About our blogger

Since 2017 Jack has been an MSYP representing Eastwood, and was previously the campaign lead for the Scottish Youth Parliament’s rights campaign which saw the government commit to UNCRC incorporation. If you want to hear more from him please get in touch through the details noted above.


Music matters

“Music can give young people a way to open up”. With the recent ‘Ban Drill’ debate linking drill music to violence and crime, Amy blogs about the importance of this music to young people – and why we should listen (both to what the music and the young person is telling us).

Drill music often provokes contentious and emotive discussions which are typically linked to violence, crime and gangs. One of the main implications of the genre is that it can glamorise crime and some argue that for this reason it should be banned. An alternative perspective is that the existence of drill is indicative of crime and societal issues which exist regardless of the music, drill just makes it harder to turn a blind eye to it.

I was inspired to write this after being given blanket guidance as a young person’s practitioner that I should not allow young people to listen to drill music in the presence of staff. The ‘Ban Drill’ debate has previously played out in mainstream media with the main argument for a ban being that drill glamorises, encourages and can be linked to violence, whilst those who opposed argued this would be censorship and would negate the right to self-expression. Of course, the debate is not as straightforward as this and would be a separate blog post. My argument is that ignoring or disallowing listening to drill is less effective in supporting young people than listening with them and inviting understanding and productive conversation.

Music is important to a lot of (young) people and often reflects aspects of identity. Whether it’s drill or classical music, I would bet showing an interest in the music is more likely to be appreciated and inspire conversation than to have it shrugged off as “a load of rubbish” and told to stop listening to it. Moreover, if a young person hears judgement being passed on music which they relate to, it is possible that they will feel this judgement on a personal level.

Showing an interest and being curious about young people’s music and the themes raised in it can be enough for conversations about their experiences and opinions to transpire. Listening together can help to facilitate conversations around whether drill glamorises violence and can be an opportunity for productive and meaningful debate. However, drill is more than glamorising crime as there are also lyrics which touch on trauma and pain, artists’ experiences with the justice system and what they have learned. In fact, lyrics often discuss the road to desistance and some encourage a life without crime:

Now I’m tryna make it out the hood
Make music and live this life
‘Cah beefin’ over a postcode is a waste of time now, I’ve realized
Back then I was young and reckless
Now I’m thinkin’ wise

I want this tune to be an inspiration to people
Everythings facts
It’s got a clear message of my life
Growin’ up on the roads and jumpin’
Tryna come off the roads now

[Kidavelly – Story Time]

With young people who listen to drill music, the glamorisation of violence should be something which is worthy of conversation, rather than being shut down. Additionally, these conversations can go hand in hand with related adverse experiences, trauma and pain. Music can give young people a way to open up to practitioners which is comfortable and on their terms, and practitioners’ discomfort or lack of understanding of drill should not be a barrier to this. It is very likely that people can listen to drill music without being directly influenced by it. To that end, the aim should be for young people to listen to drill if they wish to with the ability to recognise glamorisation and not be inspired by it.

Young people listening to drill music should be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it.

About our blogger

Amy McCourt is a newly qualified social worker who graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2020.  She has experience of working in residential childcare and did a placement in secure care during her time at university.

Photo by Gavin Whitner.


You’re never too young to receive support

Although young people are less at risk when it comes to substance misuse related deaths, those who are struggling and seeking recovery still deserve our attention, support and compassion. Claire* shares her experiences of alcohol abuse from a young age, and why receiving support at an earlier stage might have avoided years of pain and trauma.

I started drinking heavily at the age of 13. For me it was a way of numbing the experience of mental illness, but it very quickly began to exacerbate my illness and led me into a lot of situations which were deeply traumatic. When I look back I can recall being aware that my drinking wasn’t ‘normal’. My peers would drink with me – it was fairly common in my town for people to start drinking in their early teens – but there was an urgency and desperation in my drinking that I didn’t see in the behaviour of my friends. While they were happy to drink on weekends I was drunk in school, shoplifting bottles of vodka, and stealing money from my parents and siblings to fund another day of drinking. At regular Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) appointments I would tell my psychiatrist how much I was drinking but it was never taken seriously. Even after keeping a diary of how often I drank I was told that I must have been misremembering or exaggerating.

By the age of 18 my mental health had worsened and I realised that alcohol was a problem for me, so I began trying to cut it out without any support. These periods of sobriety would sometimes last a few months until I would drink again – each time I fell back into drinking it was worse than before. There were more trips to A&E, more confrontations with police, and my behaviour was increasingly self-destructive. I felt angry at the mental health services who I thought were there to help me. Despite telling them that I was sure I had a drinking problem I always had the impression that they thought I was simply too young to receive any support.

Finally, at the age of 22, I found a supportive GP who listened to me. I told her how often I drank, and how it affected me, and she referred me to the local Community Addiction Team. It took five months of attending appointments there for me to finally give in and admit that I couldn’t drink safely. I realised that I would never be someone who could have a few drinks with friends or enjoy a drink with a meal – I had to make a choice between a slow death or complete sobriety. Shortly before my 23rd birthday I began attending a community rehabilitation service which offered counselling and group therapy. The process of healing and staying sober was slow and arduous, but today I have been sober for almost four years.

Judging by my own experience and conversations that I have had with others with similar experiences, I believe there are few better ways of truly understanding yourself than going through recovery. It requires rebuilding yourself, bringing together what is left of your identity and nurturing those pieces until you feel whole, possibly for the first time in your life. The peace and acceptance that I have now finally outweighs the painful memories from my childhood and adolescence. The quality of my life now is beyond comparison to my past, however sobriety in your 20s does occasionally feel lonely. Despite having good friends around me who are incredibly supportive, I still often find myself in situations where I have to politely decline offers for drinks multiple times, often followed by questions about why I’m not drinking. The vast majority of people are understanding and even apologetic when I explain, in a roundabout way, that I never drink alcohol. The stigma still frustrates me. Not only does it feel inappropriate to be honest with people and say that I’m in recovery, the stigma attached to substance use problems and recovery means that there is often a misconception that it’s something that doesn’t happen in your 20s.

Whilst I was conducting research on substance use for my degree I became aware of the ‘ageing population’ of recovery and substance-related deaths. The most recently published statistics on drug-related deaths in Scotland show that the 15-24 age group has seen the only reduction in average deaths when comparing data from 2004-2008 and 2014-2018. Whilst the causes of this reduction may be due to differences in substances used, length of time spent using substances, or underlying health problems, young people are evidently at less risk when it comes to drug-related mortality. Yet I still fear that young people in need of support, particularly for alcohol use, are often ignored when they look for help. Young people in recovery or in search of recovery don’t fit the stereotypical image that we have come to know as the ‘(recovering) alcoholic’. Perhaps our drinking seems like relatively harmless adolescent rebelliousness but for some of us, myself included, it is life-threatening. I know that I came into recovery at the right time – I could see in myself that I was at a breaking point, that my physical and mental health were suffering and that each day brought more risk. Of course I am endlessly grateful for that compassionate doctor who recognised this and took me seriously, but I often wonder how different my life might have been if I had received support four years earlier when I first expressed my concerns to CAMHS.

One thing I have learned through recovery is that it’s not helpful to imagine the ‘what ifs’ of life, so I try to stay grateful for the fact that I managed to get support when I was still so young. However, the years of pain and trauma that I might have avoided have made me want better for younger generations. Perhaps young people in recovery are a minority, but we still matter. We deserve adolescent mental health services that recognise our problems and take us seriously. We deserve compassionate teachers, carers, health professionals and social workers who are aware of recovery services and know that nobody is too young to receive support. Everyone seeking recovery deserves a chance at a different life regardless of age. Not everyone will find stability in recovery at a young age, or any age for that matter, but we all deserve to be heard and to be offered support.

About our blogger

Claire is a young woman from Scotland’s west coast, and is now at university. If you wish to contact her, please email

Want to share your own experience to help others? We will keep all your details anonymous. Please contact to discuss.


Home sweet home?

Can you imagine having the place you call home pulled away from you without any notice? That’s often been the experience of young people involved in the justice systems, many of whom have lived in multiple places during childhood.  In this blog, Charlie McKenzie-Nash explores their feelings around home, and how this brought them into contact with police.

What is home? Is it the house where our parents put us to bed each night, kissing our forehead as they switch out the light? Is it where we sleep easy, after a hard day’s work, trusting we will wake up safe in the morning? Is it where we are free to make ourselves a bowl of cereal at 3am if that’s what we want to do? Is home a house, a street, a city, or is it not a place at all but rather a feeling of familiarity and comfort?

These are questions I ask with sincerity, as my childhood has left me with little understanding of “home”.

I moved four times before my first birthday. In the 11 years that followed, I was in a state of constant motion. I have been pulled from my bed in the middle of the night and placed in a car, still half asleep. I have arrived home from a hard day at school to be told that I am staying somewhere else tonight. I have lived in places where I am told my bedtime and have no freedom to have a 3am bowl of cereal, even if I am hungry. I have stayed with friends, with uncles, and with grandparents. I have shared a house with complete strangers, brought together only by the fact we have no home, and no one to care for us. I have slept in many beds, more couches, and some floors. Sometimes for a night or two, sometimes for longer. The shortest being sixteen hours, the longest being six years. Because “home” was not a concept I understood, my place of residence not associated with safety, there was no appeal to staying there when things got rough. There was no fear associated with running away, or “absconding” as the professionals would call it in meetings, because I had no sense of leaving somewhere safe to go somewhere dangerous.

I know of too many people like myself, who have moved 25 times in 25 years. I have heard stories of “unplaceable” children, in the triple figures. I have sat and listened to my friends sobbing as they describe how their experience of the care system left them feeling more like cattle than children. For the sake of myself and others, I stopped comparing these traumas long ago. It is not the amount of times I moved, but rather the threat of moving and the consequent feeling of never settling that has left me confused and afraid. I am left with a strong sense of injustice in the face of a system that was designed to protect us from harm, and yet leaves its own.

On most occasions when I ran away, the police were called. After finding me, they would present me with a choice – would I like to go with them? Only, as I found out, this was not a choice but a request, a polite way of saying that if I didn’t go with them, I would be restrained by two or more police officers and thrown into the back of a police van, clothes torn and screaming. Being taken “home” was the part I started to dread most, as it felt more like ritual humiliation. Two officers would march me into the office, where we would have “the conversation”. Not the “how can we help?” or the “what’s causing you to feel the need to act in this way?” conversation, but the “incident number” conversation, the “if you do this again, we will consider prosecution” conversation. I never asked what charges they would press against a traumatised and distressed young person, or indeed why they thought that pressing charges was an appropriate solution at all. I never had the chance to ask. I now understand that I ran because I saw the risks inside my own “home” as equal or greater than the risks outside of my home. I was in perpetual fight or flight, and ready to flee at the slightest hint of danger. Taking away my option to run but keeping me in a traumatic environment meant that I was only presented with one other alternative – to fight. This, too, resulted in police intervention and the threat of prosecution, and only served to trap me deeper in the cycle. In many ways, I was only as wild and unruly as the environments I found myself in. It is only with a good year of processing and a lot of looking back that I understand that for so many years of my life, I felt like a prey animal, always wary, never resting.

Again, I ask, what is home? It’s a place I feel unequipped to deal with as every council tax letter finds its way through my door. It’s a place that I am constantly aware I’m only one missed rent payment away from losing. It’s a place that I can never settle in, never believe to be my own. It’s a place I have lived for almost a year now, but have left scarcely touched, afraid to leave my mark and get attached, only to find myself packing up again. It’s a place that I feel guilty about inhabiting, a place I actively avoid, because my experiences have led me to believe I do not deserve safety. In my mind, shelter is a privilege to be earned, and I have not yet earned it.

These days, that looks like ambivalence. I find myself walking a strange line between uniquely terrified of losing “home” yet not really caring if I should lose “home” and find myself sleeping on another’s couch again.

It is hard to explain this sense of confusion and anxiety with those that have never known anything other than solid roots. However, I think all of us have experiences that we can use to empathise, and provide us with the smallest insight into what another experiences. In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Originally”, she boldly claims that “all childhood is an emigration.” This is a metaphor not only for her own childhood experience of moving from Scotland to England, but also for the universal truth that childhood is a transitory stage that is synonymous with change. But, as the poem highlights so distinctly, it is clear that all “emigrations” have a lasting impact, even if that doesn’t show itself immediately. I can only imagine that Carol Ann Duffy did not intend for her poem to resonate so strongly with care experienced people, but as she describes the alienation of moving and vividly recalls the feeling of having to adapt to a new home, it is something that I feel within myself.

Slowly, I am learning to adapt to my new flat, my first real “home”. Although it still feels strange a year on, I know I am safe here. I am learning to be okay with being safe.

About our blogger

Charlie is a member of various groups, and recently completed a justice focussed art programme through CYCJ and Staf’s Youth Justice Voices’ Artivism.  Look out for a digital exhibition of their work soon!  You can hear more from Charlie here where they often speak and tweet about their care and justice experiences.  They would love to hear your feedback on this blog.

CYCJ has also undertaken work to inform, influence and support improvements to local and national practice in responding to offending in residential care, along with Staf. The Next Steps project led to Police Scotland rolling out training to encourage a joined-up response to incidents to reduce the likelihood of criminalisation, offending or reoffending. Find out more.


Silver linings of lockdown

The Coronavirus and UK lockdown are impacting upon young people’s day to day lives – but it’s not all negative. Our guest blogger Simone shares the positives she’s experiencing during this time, and the hope they’re giving her for the future.

There has been a lot of talk recently on the current crisis situation of Covid-19 and the negative effects it is having on people’s lives, with a stalling economy and rising death toll. People are losing loved ones, are panic buying and can see that the world is in a bit of a state right now and that it’s not going to end anytime soon. I can foresee a long hard battle to get our economy and our health system back to a place of well-being and comfort.

However, I have seen some silver linings to all this and have been fortunate enough to witness some pretty outstanding things on my day to day life which have restored the faith in humanity. Over the past few weeks I feared I was ‘starting to lose it’ and I would like to share them with you all in the hope that you can see things a little differently and see the positives in what is undoubtedly a horrific time for all.

On my daily jog I have run the same route for a few weeks now and I have noticed some dramatic changes in the area I live. Not only are so many following the government guidelines and staying home – except for necessities and for a daily exercise – but they are also massive changes in the area itself. For example, the streets outside my local supermarket, which were previously scattered with litter are clear and empty. The houses I pass by – which never usually attract my eye – have pictures and rainbows in them from kids saying thank you to the NHS which has undoubtedly went to battle for us in a massive way. The people I pass who are normally so entranced in their busy lives are now smiling and looking relaxed; most of them even say good morning or wave which is lovely. Normally I would see them on their phones or so caught up in their own minds that they wouldn’t even notice I am there. I see people dropping off packages of food for those who are in self isolation. It is just amazing that in a time when we are in such a bad way many of us still decide to go out and make sure those in need and who are most vulnerable are being supported.

Those are just a few things I have noticed during my daily jog, but there is much more. I have seen a massive change in the way we use social media on our phones or laptops. Devices which made people in the same room seem miles apart and which interrupted family time now brings those who are literally miles apart closer than ever. Whilst previously these devices ruined conversations, they now enable us to contact anyone who we are worrying about in just a few clicks.

As a result, my family have never been closer. My elderly father in law has been shown how to use Zoom which helps us contact him daily to make sure he has company, and to avoid isolation. I am spending more quality time with my daughter Lilly, which sounds daft as we live together, but recently I have been aware that when I am playing dolls or teachers with her I don’t have anything in the back of my head worrying me. Before, I would be thinking about an assignment I need to do, what reading I need to do, how to access a journal and so on. Before lockdown Lilly would ask me to play and I would forever say “two minutes Lilly” or “give me 20 minutes to finish writing this paragraph”. Looking back, this is not the way I want to treat my daughter; she is eight and all she wants to do is play with her mum. So, during this lockdown I believe I have got closer to her than ever, by going for walks around the area we live. Previously, we would have just jumped in the car to head to the park.

I have also seen a big change in the way many of us view our services and workers such as food, retail, social workers, transport drivers, prison officers, delivery drivers, postal workers and many more. These undervalued, underpaid workers strive to deliver the best service possible and to help us in so many ways. From restocking essential items like toilet roll and milk, delivering us food or mail, to helping those who need it most –-these workers are the lifelines of those who are most vulnerable. At the same time, I am in awe of the doctors and nurses in the NHS, who as well as praise need proper protection. They are preventing this virus from taking the lives of so many more.

From what I have seen in my area, restrictions on movement seems to have led to a reduction in crime, and I feel safer now.  With people staying at home, I think that people have a better opportunity to bond with family members, which could lead to better relationships over the long term. This – and reduced drink and drug use – has contributed to very few incidents in the area I live. Perhaps a period of time where younger people do not have the temptation of using these will lead to lower use once the lockdown is lifted, and perhaps will prevent addictions from developing.

As well as being inside and bonding more with their family, young people are keeping in touch with friends or meeting new people on apps that are designed to bring people of all backgrounds closer together. They have much more of an opportunity to study, read, learn and think about what they want to do once lockdown is over; meaningful things such as their hobbies they will be missing and passions they made hold or have newly discovered. Time in lockdown can really help a lot of people of any age get in touch with what they want to do with their life and appreciate not only what they miss in sports and friends but appreciate what they have with their own family’s pets and loved ones. These things can all help people to lead a life free from crime.

I have seen a change in the way we view immigrants – people who many claimed were coming here for an ‘easy life’. I truly believe that opinion has been shattered by the fact that so many people in the NHS are from outwith Scotland, and working round the clock to help as many people as possible. Similarly, local shops run by people of Asian or Eastern European descent have been bending over backwards to make sure everyone gets what they need.

These changes in public attitude are silver linings during these dark and bleak times, and which give me so much hope for the future. Once this is all over I hope the appreciation towards those we once took for granted, and the support we now give to each other, will continue. This pandemic has taught me that together we are limitless, together we have hope, together we stand and divided we fall.

About our blogger

Simone is a student social worker and a founding member of the Participation Network. She sits on both the Staf and Life Changes Trust boards. You can hear more from Simone by following her on Twitter here.

If you have views you want to share about any aspect of the youth justice system, or your personal experience of the Coronavirus restrictions, please contact


Autism and offending – a mother’s experience

As we heard from Louise, family members are often affected by their child’s involvement in the justice system. Elizabeth* reflects on what could have helped her son who was not diagnosed with High Functioning Autism until he came into conflict with the law.

Little was known about autism in the eighties when my son was a child. Although concerns were expressed by teachers and health professionals at every stage throughout his childhood, no-one ever mentioned autism or suggested he should be tested.

He was a gentle, quiet and anxious boy who found comfort in routine. Other children avoided him or, psychologically and physically bullied him. During his second year at high school he made a friend who introduced him to hardcore internet pornography. This was to prove a tragic combination with his as-yet-undiagnosed autism.

He went on to perform well in his exams and later worked a 25 hours per week part time job while studying full time at University, graduating with an honours degree and going on to secure a good job in IT. He chose to work permanent night shift as it was a quieter environment, where he was greatly valued by his employers who praised his logical thinking and attention to detail. He was displaying all the classic traits of autism but we didn’t recognise them as such. He was in a relationship and eventually married but it was obvious his mental and physical health were deteriorating.

Our lives fell apart the night the police phoned to say that he had been arrested and charged with downloading indecent images of children. Not producing, sharing or communicating on social media. Solely viewing material on his home computer. His wife threw him out and never spoke to him again.

A therapist assessed him as having an addiction to internet pornography. This made sense to us as from a very early age he developed obsessions about many obscure subjects which had to be researched to a professional level.

As a first time offender his solicitor expected him to receive a community payback order. To our horror the criminal justice social work report stated he showed no empathy towards his victims. It was also noted that he had no mental health problems despite his medical records highlighting his long running battle with anxiety. He may also have made a bad impression due to difficulty in maintaining eye contact and his wrongly perceived “know it all” attitude. All of the above are well known and often misunderstood autistic traits but the social workers did not recognise this.

The Sheriff seemed to ignore all the mitigating factors and focussed on the social work report. He was sentenced to 13 months in prison.

An appeal was lodged and he was eventually released pending the Hearing but the 71 days spent in prison had taken its toll. He received no therapy during that time and due to his protected status he spent all day locked in his cell only allowed out for an hour three times each week when we visited.

It was while we were waiting for his appeal to be heard that his therapist suggested testing for autism, and was diagnosed as having High Functioning Autism.

The following week his sentence was quashed at high court and replaced with a community payback order, but the damage had been done and the job he loved had been lost. His HR Director refused to give any consideration to his long service and dedication to his job or to his diagnosis, despite an appeal being lodged.

Despite his excellent work record, my son’s chance of getting another job when he has a disability and a criminal record is slim. Employers look at the wording of the Civic Government Act which says “takes, or permits to be taken or makes an indecent photograph” and assume it means there has been contact with a child. This is very misleading and is also used in the press to sensationalise articles without offering any explanation as to the true meaning of the offence. The wording on Disclosure Scotland certificates is equally confusing and very damning.

Loss of his job and difficulties finding another have contributed to a further decline in his mental health resulting in his doctor and DWP finding him unfit for work for a while. He was considered by social workers to be unsuitable for group therapy due to his social anxiety and was not offered an alternative, so the very small sum of benefit money he received was spent on continuing his private therapy until we thankfully found Cornerstone, a wonderful charity which supports people with disabilities in his situation.

He applied for a post graduate course at university but there are difficulties associated with that too. Despite university welcoming his application and the desire of police and social workers that my son return to study or work, restrictions on his computer use is a barrier to both. If he is unable to do either his mental health will never improve. A dreadful worry when research shows that the suicide rate among those with high functioning autism is 9 times higher than the general population and they have an average life expectancy of only 58.

My son is a wonderful, kind and gentle human being who has been bullied and taken advantage of throughout his life because of his differences but he has never complained or retaliated. He committed a crime which would not have been possible only a few decades ago and may well have been avoided if his autism had been diagnosed at an early age and he had received the support he needed, including a good sex education tailored specifically for those on the autism spectrum. This would also have avoided the great stress that has been placed on the wider family.

Staying safe on the internet is a challenge for anyone but for those who feel isolated from their world it is a greater challenge. The combination of their naivety and a strong compulsion to collect information, along with clever marketing techniques of the pornography industry can lead someone down a very dark rabbit hole, particularly when they don’t possess the gut instinct which most of us rely on to keep safe.

We need to make sure our young people are diagnosed as early as possible so they can receive the help and understanding they deserve. Once they reach adulthood both are in short supply; the general public and many in the criminal justice system are not trained to recognise the disparity between emotional and logical development which can exist in a person with autism.

If you would like to blog about your experiences of the justice system, please contact via