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.


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.