Back from the brink

A young person’s journey through the justice systems does not only affect them alone, with families often experiencing stressful situations.  In this blog, Louise* reflects back on the difficulties that her son Jude* overcame, and the help that they received during that time.

Jude is 23 years old. He is doing well now. He has just completed a year at college on a vocational course and will start a further year in August.  He shares a tenancy with a friend nearby, visits us 2-3 times a week and works with his Dad when he can.

Life has not always been this settled. Jude has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He was diagnosed when he was 15 – after one year on a waiting list to be seen at CAMHs followed by three years of frustrating “revolving doors” visits to various practitioners at CAMHs. The final diagnosis came as a relief in some ways but was also the start of a painful journey.

High School was a nightmare for Jude. He couldn’t cope socially or academically. Assistance from Learning Support made him stand out at an age when teenagers just want to fit in.  He acted the goat in class and invariably was the one who was caught and sent to the Head’s office. We could have papered the walls with the number of letters about Jude’s poor behaviour, and him being bullied. He was suspended several times before we pleaded with the Head to let him leave at the end of fourth year – the Head was only too relieved to have one less “problem” pupil to manage and so ended Jude’s secondary school life.

That was the start of a period of constant challenges. Jude wanted to join the Army but couldn’t because of his ASD diagnosis and allergies and he could see no positive path through life. Looking back now, I can see that Jude felt rejected and immensely frustrated. For two years he sofa-surfed or camped out with people he met in the city centre. He believed that anyone who spoke to him was a good friend and trusted people too easily. Having started drinking heavily and dabbling with drugs he began a long, unhealthy relationship with the Police and we had a criminal defence lawyer on speed dial.  Riotous house parties, drink fuelled incidents, being found drunk and insensible; and then a week in Polmont. None of this curbed his excessive behaviour and Jude looked awful.

His social worker met with him weekly at first. We found the approach of social work frustrating as they had no means to compel Jude to do anything and their attitude to his drinking was that it was his decision to drink so much.

A turning point came when I made contact with Addaction, initially seeking support for ourselves, in terms of living with an alcoholic, uncontrollable son. The worker assigned to us, Shuna, was “cool” but totally got what was going on with Jude and understood the dangers he placed himself in and the vulnerabilities he had.  Shuna came to our house every Friday to meet him and then eventually, when he trusted her, they might go out for a coffee or a walk. Whilst he was still drinking after six months it was dramatically reduced and there was definitely a calmer feel at home.  I don’t know what their chats were about and I didn’t care – I could see her work with Jude having an impact.  She never missed a date with Jude and he never missed a date either which was amazing. Life was improving incrementally and we dared to hope the worst times were in the past.

Shuna did stop working with Jude but kept in touch with me… just in case.   Jude was still at home, still meeting with his social worker who observed a positive change in his demeanour too. He seemed calmer and more settled. We had spoken about Jude starting a course at college.  We knew he would need a lot of encouragement and support as his time at school had been such a negative experience, meaning he had no confidence and felt he couldn’t do anything. I heard about a vocational course at a local college which I thought would be great for Jude as it had a supported course with a small class number and was located somewhere Jude could get to easily. We met the course lead, David, in January 2018. David totally got Jude. He wasn’t fazed by the ripped clothes, the studded leather jacket, the purple hair or the tattooed hands.  Thankfully David gave Jude a place on the course.

The eight months until he started the course seemed so long.  Jude fell off the wagon once and picked up another charge – by now we were almost blasé about another court date – but on the whole he was much more positive and kept talking about starting college. In August, he was super excited but nervous about starting the course but the college was so supportive that he slotted in with minimal difficulty. I never thought this day would come. He was so excited when he was given his locker and kit to wear and he looked after that all year. He never missed a day of college and was always happy to go in for his classes. He was paired with another person with ASD, Jess.  They got on really well and stuck to each other like glue. His success at college hugely boosted his confidence, and the change was amazing to watch. We kept pinching ourselves thinking the bubble would burst, that he would get mad with a tutor and storm out of the class and start drinking on the streets again. Fortunately Jude made it to the end of the year with the offer of a place for another year as he had done so well.

The last seven years should have been so much better for Jude. The phrase “if only…” surfaces again and again.

If only…school had been able to support Jude instead of punishing and excluding him.

If only…there had been support and advice for both Jude and ourselves post-diagnosis.  It seems that post-diagnosis families like us just fall off a cliff and have to scrabble around for help and support alone. There is no onward referral, no connection between CAMHs and other agencies who could help.

If only…alcohol counselling had been compelled within Jude’s court orders. His social worker took the view that, as an adult, Jude was entitled to make his own choices, even if those choices were bad and led to more conflict with the criminal justice system.

Only the input from Addaction made a positive difference, and we found out about them ourselves.

So here we are back to the beginning of the story and Jude is doing well.  I am so relieved and grateful that he was able to step back from the brink.  His life could have gone so very differently, he could so easily have been a statistic; another young man who died on the streets. Life is better, and best of all Jude is so much happier.

If you’re a parent/carer with a child who is entering the justice system, for the first time, Youth and Criminal Justice in Scotland: the young person’s journey is an online resource that might help.

If you’d like to blog about your own lived experience and what helped you, please email


The reality of being homeless

‘The most important thing you can give someone is your time.’ Social work student Michael Tolland reflects on his experiences of supporting people who are homeless, the impact on self esteem and health, and what may help.

Having worked in homeless services, in both the statutory and voluntary sector for 18 years, I have a varied experience of homelessness and what this can mean for people. The term homeless can often conjure up an image of someone sleeping on the streets and having nowhere to go. Whilst this image is often presented in the media, this is not the only version of what the reality of being homeless can be for everyone. Ending up on the streets can occur due to your family network completely breaking down, for a variety of reasons and that’s if you are fortunate enough to have them in the first place.

However, not everyone who is homeless sleeps on the streets. Shelter Scotland define homelessness as a situation where you do not have your own home. This can mean situations where you are staying with friends and family, living in accommodation that is overcrowded or staying in a property that is in poor condition. Other examples such as fleeing domestic violence from a partner/family member of fleeing external harassment from neighbours can also result in you becoming homeless. Sometimes you may end up staying in a hostel or a temporary furnished flat until you are rehoused.

Despite the many factors that can leave you homeless and with nowhere to go, I do not believe that enough attention is paid to the impact of what homelessness can be like and what this can do to your self-esteem and sense of identity. Homelessness is a traumatic event and should never be underestimated, regardless of what age you are or how you got there. I often find (granted, different service providers have their specific agendas) the priority seems to be to simply try and solve the problems that have been identified. This could be a homeless service providing temporary accommodation when you are roofless or a local authority offering you permanent accommodation to resolve your homelessness. I personally do not think there is enough time and support given to help people with their emotional wellbeing given what they are going through, it is more about attaching a solution to a problem.

An individual’s health and wellbeing can affect their life in many ways. Poor health, both physical and mental, can have an impact upon your ability to look after yourself as well as your ability to sustain a tenancy. It can also affect your relationships as well as employment. These factors can influence the security of your accommodation and lead to homelessness. Such situations can further impact your mental health which can lead to depression, anxiety and the feeling of failure and hopelessness. Add into this mix the additional issues such as substance misuse, trauma or history of prison or care and you have a situation where the thought of trying to get through the day could simply be unbearable. Just housing homeless people may seem like an answer but it’s not as simple, everyone’s journey is different.

For people who are homeless and have complex needs, it is no wonder that some people may turn to substances, both legal and illegal, to try and cope. The painful existence just to survive can be so intense, however, for people in the grip of addiction, the substance or substances that are doing all the harm may also be the only factor that seems to take away the pain and reality. This situation can also bring the additional constant demonisation within society, with the stigma of being to blame for your situation and that everyone is the same. This is not true. Despite homeless people having many similar stories and issues which they face, everyone has their own unique story to tell.

Having met and worked with many people in my time whilst employed in homeless services, what I have found is that the most important thing you can offer someone is not found in any material value. Helping people out with accommodation or benefits or signposting them to a service may appear to be what they need to solve a problem; however, the most important thing I feel you can give someone is your time. Having a chat and showing some interest and compassion to vulnerable people is something which can never be underestimated. Calling someone by their first name and showing respect during the simplest forms of contact could well make a massive difference to someone’s day. It is from here that you might be able to create some trust which could lead to an increase of hope and aspiration within them. Despite their circumstances and identity and how they got there, it is essential to never give up with vulnerable people and believe that change is possible.

About our blogger

Michael is a social work student at the University of Strathclyde, having worked in homelessness services for a large number of years.  He also has a particular interest in addiction and recovery.


Let there be love

How do we let love into the system? Rosie Moore shares her thoughts and urges us to start talking about what ‘loving practice’ really looks like.

Love. We all deserve it, we all need it, we all want it. Yet as professionals we tend to peek at it from around a corner, unsure whether to take the plunge and come out and embrace it. Why?

Of course, there are boundaries when it comes to the idea of ‘professional love’, but where did these boundaries come from? I guess that depends on who you ask. Some are uneasy about where boundaries lie, some are concerned about becoming overly attached, some feel unable to love due to ridiculous case loads or vague policies and protocols. But if we look closely at these reasons, they are not barriers caused by us as professionals, as caring human beings, but by a ‘system’ we can all sometimes find difficult to manoeuvre. None of us come in to the field of justice, or care, without first being a caring individual, someone who cares about improving the experiences and lives of others. And nobody wakes up one morning and decides they want to enter the systemic cycle of the care or justice system. What we all need, is a way to show each other care, compassion and love, and for us to be able to receive it.

There is a growing movement of both professionals and young people, highlighting the need for there to be love in the system. Some of us are dubious, unsure of what we mean by love and how we can safely separate the notion of loving practice and unsafe or romantic love. No one is arguing that our young people don’t deserve to be loved, simply that we need to be careful with our definition and expectations of ‘loving practice’.

I wholeheartedly agree. No one can provide a universal definition of love, one that everyone agrees with. Giving and receiving love is something that is unique to us all and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. But let us start talking about it without fear. Let us reflect on the things that we as professionals and the system do, that both allow love to flourish and enables our system to be one which allows young people to feel held, supported and loved.

There has been a fantastic shift from asking young people ‘What did you do?’ to ‘What happened to you?’, giving hope that we are moving in the right direction. Looking beyond a young person’s behaviour or seemingly angry or ‘bad’ attitude can really help us to connect with them on a level where genuine change and help is possible. Allowing a young person the space to merely talk in a safe environment can significantly help their trust and relationship with you. There are so many pockets of good practice across the nation that are struggling to be heard over our tendency to focus on fixing the practice which needs improving. Let us adopt an appreciative enquiry approach, highlighting what we are doing well, and getting right for our young people. Let us talk more with Police Scotland as fellow corporate parents, to learn where we can build on our skills and services with young people at the heart. Let us highlight the participation opportunities our justice colleagues are promoting. We should be showcasing the wonderful work that is going on around us, just beneath the surface. We do not grow and improve by criticising each other or pointing out each other’s faults. We grow and improve by learning from and teaching each other, with the goal that the flawed parts of practice simply become minimal and are replaced with loving, compassionate care.

Let us keep that momentum going. Let us keep being curious. Let us keep asking young people what works. Let us keep learning, evolving and adapting. Let us allow love to become second nature within a system that holds some of the young people who need it the most.

About our blogger

Rosie Moore is a social work student at the University of Strathclyde. She has previously blogged about her lived experience of the care and justice systems for CYCJ – and recently got engaged!

Want to write for us?

We’re looking out for bloggers to write for us, who have lived experience of the justice, care or related systems. Please contact to find out more.