As STARR – Scotland’s only curated space for secure care experienced people – celebrates winning a Young Scot Community Award, the group’s co-founder and chair Beth-Anne Logan reflects on how she’s using care experience to drive change and development in the care system in Scotland, in this guest blog for the Talking Hope project.`
“Never once do I remember someone saying to me ‘what’s going on for you Hannah? How do you feel?” Multiple failures by the systems meant to support her led to Hannah experiencing turmoil and trauma from an early age. Here, she shares how despite these challenges, she’s working on healing herself so that she can be in the best place to give others the helping hand she should have had.
As I sit on the bus to Glasgow to take part in an event that has been a pinnacle point in my life for the last four years, I’m reflecting on the past. Something that has kept me alive gave me the opportunity to heal from trauma from pain, from events that could have been prevented from such an early age. I think to myself, am I still getting failed from a system that is meant to provide equal opportunity for all? Prior to 2017, my life can be explained as multiple accounts of failures from a system that is there to protect and provide. From the first encounter with Social Work at the age of 9 to the last one in 2017, not once did I have the opportunity to heal from the emotional turmoil that occurred through an 11-year period until I sought it myself.
Entering the system at an early age with no explanation as to why this was happening or what I was supposed to gain from meetings with a social worker, just added to the confusion of the picture I called life. Yes, my behaviour had become problematic, yes, I was running away from home, yes, I was displaying violent outbursts. I was also suffering horrific abuse; these acts were not malaise, they were cries from help paralyzed inside from fear and now thrown into a situation that confused me even more. At that point in my life, I was so desperate for someone to listen to me, to hear me see my pain. This was never picked up but what was, was my behaviour, my attitude, my violent outbursts. Never once do I remember someone saying to me “what’s going on for you Hannah? How do you feel?”
This was my life for the next 17 years, from social work interaction to residential care and further on to prison accumulating more trauma, more pain, more feelings of loneliness and confusion. From the period of leaving residential at 16 to the age of 26, I had entered the prison service 28 times including remand and sentencing accumulating around five years of time served. Eighty percent of this time was served as a young offender. Brought to prison at 16, left to navigate my way through prison and the proceedings that went on inside. No support, no help, no social work interaction till days before my court appearance. This was yet another situation in my life that I had to do alone, feel alone whilst pretending I was okay. This went on for multiple years with multiple failures. However, through all my diversity in 2017, I found the start of life where I saw some peace, I saw some hope that life could be different. That I could find some happiness.
This place was a 12-step recovery programme, a programme that saved my life, a place I sought out on my own yet again. This programme gave me the opportunity to start navigating my way through society as a member and not a hindrance. As the substances stopped, so did the court appearances. I became aware of my surroundings for the first time in years and this is where I encountered even more struggles. I now had to learn how to live in a world that I had never quite understood.
Gaining employment came quite quickly to me. I secured a job as a kitchen porter working 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week on minimum wage just to afford my rent. In my life prior to recovery, I had accumulated debt, so not only did I have to pay back debt from periods of my time in supported accommodation where I was not receiving any financial support, I also had to learn for the first time how to pay bills, set up direct debits budget money to buy food, gas, electricity – things that sound so simple were so far removed from me, and here I was doing it alone again.
While working as a kitchen porter, I would cry when I got home, I would think that due to my past record, my life events, that this was all I was worth: cleaning dishes. I had no one to inform me about college, training programmes, employability courses. There I was, just me and my shame of the past 17 years. One morning I woke up and decided I wanted to go to college. I watched a video on YouTube on how to apply for college. I went and I did it. I studied sports for three years because as sad as it is, it’s the only thing I can remember being good at from childhood. During this I maintained working 30 hours a week in the first two years as no one told me about a care bursary. This was yet another gap I had slipped through.
Today I sit writing this, I am halfway through a social care course at college with an interview at the end of this month for my first year in social work. I am hoping to go on and secure my Bachelor’s in social work. In June last year, I secured a job as a support worker and in the past six months, I have sat with those feelings of confusion, anger, sadness after securing a job in a field that I am so passionate about that I had to go through a process of waiting months to start. My Disclosure Scotland took three months to come; alongside this I had to go for a risk assessment interview where I had to explain my convictions. It felt demoralizing and just another hurdle for me to climb.
I am proud to say I started that job this month. Life has been a challenge for me and quite a lot of these challenges could have been prevented if I had not been forgotten about. I am 30 this year and I am now just learning about organisations that can help with issues like home energy saving, debt support, money budgeting. It should not be this way; however, it is, and I just keep climbing the mountains so one day I can sit at the top and pull people up to join me there.
About our blogger
Hannah Snow is currently working as a support worker and is employed by CYCJ. In both roles Hannah’s main purpose is to help individuals thrive within their community and reach their full potential whilst bringing her lived experience to help shape change. Hannah is also studying Social Care to allow her to combine my lived experience and educational teachings into one.
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 email@example.com to discuss how your views can be shared.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll support you and ensure your details are kept anonymous.
‘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.
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.
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 email@example.com, 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.
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 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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to share your own experience to help others? We will keep all your details anonymous. Please contact email@example.com to discuss.
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.