The Scottish Parliament has provided a platform for care experienced people in Scotland to share real life stories directly with elected members and drive important changes in legislation.
The Care Review’s Fiona Duncan, Thomas Carlton, Laura Beveridge, and Rosie Moore reflect on their personal and professional experiences of Holyrood.
People-Powered Politics is a chapter from The Scottish Parliament At Twenty from Luath Press, edited by James Mitchell & Jim Johnston.
Care Review Chair, Fiona Duncan
In 1998 a Consultative Steering Group report, ‘Shaping Scotland’s Parliament’, acknowledged the people of Scotland’s ‘high hopes’ for the Scottish Parliament, and the opportunity to put in place a new sort of democracy in Scotland, closer to the Scottish people and more in tune with Scottish needs.
I was delighted to be asked to contribute to this book and in doing so, I called upon the help and wisdom of three inspirational young people with whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with in my role as Chair of the Independent Care Review.
The Independent Care Review only exists because children and young people with experience of what is referred to as the ‘care system’ challenged people in power about the care they had received for many years and how it hadn’t met their needs. Worst of all, it had put them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives in numerous ways.
Families, children and young people who have experience of the ‘care system’ are some of Scottish society’s most marginalised citizens and are disproportionately affected by a wide range of Scotland’s most challenging issues such as poverty, low educational attainment, unemployment, homelessness and poor physical and mental health.
Back in 2012, with incredible support from the charity, Who Cares? Scotland, a group of children and young people campaigned for change.
They told their own stories about what it feels like to grow up away from their birth family, not to feel accepted or loved or to know their personal history; they described the frustration felt when day-to-day and life-changing decisions are taken about you that you are not able to influence or control.
These children and young people spoke to elected members in their local area, to their MSPs and to party leaders and gave evidence to the Education and Culture Committee.
One of those voices belonged to Thomas Carlton, who has been part of the Independent Care Review since it embarked on its Discovery stage in May 2017, and who prior to this, was integral in making sure a review happened.
Contribution from Thomas Carlton
2019 marks 20 years of devolution in Scotland. I remember being informed in my latter stages of primary school that our new, or reinstated, parliament would enable Scottish responses to Scottish need. It would not be until I was a few years older that I would understand what that meant in reality.
As someone with experience of care and of youth homelessness, I was intrigued to learn of divergent policy development in relation to responding to homelessness in Scotland, compared to solutions being forwarded elsewhere in the uk.
Our internationally commended policy developments in relation to homelessness demonstrated a capability of the Scottish Parliament to bring elected representatives together to collaboratively work on constructing the Scottish solution to a particular need.
Despite a change in administration, the shaping of the legislation was instigated by one government and then finalised by the next. This demonstrated to me that the Parliament could focus on the need of the electorate rather than the need to adhere to party ideology.
In 2012, I became aware of a courageous group of 21 care leavers who were utilising their own experiences of being parented by the state to influence the Parliament’s thinking in constructing a new way forward.
The young people’s strength, and the elected members’ flexibility in ensuring they were accessible, led to the passing of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill 2014.
I sat in Parliament in February 2014 as the bill was passed and was shown that Scotland’s Parliament was accessible to all of its citizens, including its most disenfranchised: children brought up in care who face indescribable challenges. Children like me.
This legislation was underpinned by lived experience and extended the offer of support to this group of Scottish society. Even today it seems unbelievable to me what was achieved.
The courage demonstrated by those with lived experience, by sharing their stories, shaped the legislation and gave me permission to utilise my own lived experience of receiving care, and professional experience of working in the sector in driving more change for the care experienced population.
I provided evidence to the Education and Culture Committee in August 2014.
This was the first time that I had spoken openly of my time in care. Prior to this, I had tried to conceal it in fear of the discrimination that I’d possibly experience in my early social work career.
The work of the Parliament legitimised our experiences and made it harder for others to use those experiences in a way that might hinder my career.
The passing of the Children and Young People (Scotland) 2014 Act defined corporate parenting in Scotland.
All those identified as corporate parents within the legislation, had to be mindful of their day-to-day working and ensure it did not impede upon the wellbeing of those with experience of care.
Scottish Ministers were listed as corporate parents. At this time, I was a policy officer at a children’s charity. We, with others in the sector and most importantly with people with lived experience, spoke of those seeking to govern as also seeking to become the most senior corporate parents in the nation.
In order for those prospective senior corporate partners to be adequately prepared for their new, or continued role, there was no protocol.
In preparation for the 2016 Scottish elections, we lobbied those seeking to govern so that they would commit to listening to the people for whom they would have corporate parenting responsibilities.
We asked, and evidenced the need, for them to commit to listening to a representative group of the care experienced population, prior to forwarding policies or legislative change that could impact on the lives of those affected.
The need for this was demonstrated by the fact that on an annual basis, since the establishment of the new Parliament, policy or legislative changes despite lacking improvements for the outcomes of those with experience of care.
This group of people continued to have some of the worst life outcomes in our society, in spite of the Scottish state having significant involvement in their day-to-day care. If this was to be different in any way, policy-makers would require greater reference points to understand what they could actually influence.
So, with the backing of the 1000 Voices campaign led by Who Cares? Scotland, care-experienced people were successful in securing manifesto commitments from all of the main political parties seeking to govern in Scotland 2016.
These parties committed to ensuring they listened to the voice of lived experience when they assumed the highest offices in the land.
This commitment was further realised in October 2016 when the re-elected First Minister of Scotland announced the commission of a ‘root and branch review’ of the care system.
Traditionalists might refer to what Thomas has described as grassroots activism or ‘bottom-up’ legislative change, but these expressions reinforce the hierarchy and position of decision-makers sitting at the ‘top’ and looking ‘down’. Just as considering someone or a group as ‘hard to reach’ both ‘others’ the person or group and shifts responsibility towards them to be more reachable.
Instead of using language that insults the very people who public services are intended to serve, this different type of policy-making should be seen as in keeping with that 20-year-old ‘hope’ for our parliament. In creating legislation and policy, Scottish parliamentarians have an obligation to truly engage and listen.
Participating in a meaningful way in any legislative or policy consultation requires dedicated resources, such as time to review and settle on a response, and skills to craft this and ensure it is ‘submitted’ on time.
This process lends itself to well-organised and resourced groups. Typically, these groups also hold power through their size, reach and often their brand, and therefore the policy consultation process lends itself towards a ruling class of those with the most members and the loudest voices.
Over the coming 20 years, our Parliament has a responsibility to organise itself in ways that ensures it is able to listen carefully to the voice of the Scottish people whilst inuring itself against powerful lobbyists.
Better still, within the coming 20 years, and ideally sooner, the Scottish Parliament could aspire to reflect the people of Scotland in all their beautiful diversity, and not rely on process to achieve representative voice.
That would be a huge step towards a truer version of democracy and the diffusion of power.
Despite the inherent power imbalance in how legislation has been made for decades, a group of children and young people who are, or had been, cared for by the state called for – and got – the Independent Care Review.
They challenged the First Minister, who listened and responded directly.
Nicola Sturgeon made a promise to the children and young people seated in the front rows of the SNP party conference in autumn 2016, and more than this, she stated that the Independent Care Review would be ‘driven by those who have experience of care’.
That day, children and young people knew that they had been heard and received a promise that they would continue to be heard.
One of the people who has dedicated her life to change and was there at that very moment was Laura Beveridge. I knew Laura only from her TEDx Talk and from the coverage of the day of the First Minister’s announcement.
I then met Laura on my first day as Chair and have since had the immense privilege of working with her in her role as a Co-Chair.
Her wisdom, compassion and determination give me confidence and inspiration.
Contribution from Laura Beveridge
I knew injustice as a child but didn’t have the language to express how I felt. I lived in a system that was designed to contain and control.
As a homeless 16-year-old I had a choice to make – give up or try to change the system as a worker. However, as a worker, I felt as oppressed by the system as I did as a child.
It broke my heart to see 16-year-olds facing homelessness after leaving care, seeing children face isolation in their communities because children in care were labelled as ‘bad’.
I could see the continuing struggle children and young people had in accessing simple experiences like sleepovers with friends or keeping in touch with brothers and sisters and maintaining these vital relationships, because there wasn’t enough staff to facilitate ‘contact’.
I had to speak out.
I found my care family through Who Cares? Scotland. A family of powerful campaigners who had already changed the law-making the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 happen.
But we all knew that it would take much more than law to change the system.
We needed Scotland to understand.
Being welcomed into the Scottish Parliament by all political parties as a result of the 1000 Voices campaign was an unforgettable experience.
I, alongside many others with experience of care, asked MSPs to not only listen, but pledge that they would do all they could to transform the care system into a place to call home, a place full of love and hope.
The campaign manifesto was subsequently signed and supported by all party leaders. Care is something that not only cuts across all political parties, care is part of being human.
We all deserve a place to call home and to be loved.
On two occasions, political leaders gave us much more than their allocated time, they listened with care, and they signed with love.
I believe they will act on the Independent Care Review recommendations because they know it has been driven by care experienced people and they know this is about the rights and needs of Scotland’s children.
I firmly believe that the Scottish Parliament is a place for all of us and I am proud to be part of this movement that includes all who care.
When a ‘root and branch review’ of the care system was announced, it filled my heart with hope because I knew that it would be our voices that would drive the change needed and that Scotland was finally brave enough to do things differently.
To be part of the Independent Care Review is a privilege.
The fact that it is independent and driven by voice of the care-experienced community feels meaningful and liberating.
To be in a space where we are working alongside infants, children, young people and adults who have experience of care is an honour.
We are listening, designing and learning in a new, exciting way that is so full of possibility.
What gives me hope is that a precedent has now been set.
Finally, we do this together and, crucially, the voice of lived experience will continue to be heard.
As Laura so eloquently describes, the Scottish Parliament, as the seat of the Scottish Government, is the place for those in power to listen.
It is a place that young people and future generations should have a role within and a place with an open door.
Many of the children and young people involved in the Independent Care Review, due to their age, don’t recall any of the controversy over the Enric Miralles design and the subsequent build costs.
However, they often do appreciate its architecture and talk about the change from light to dark and back to light again as they navigate through what can feel like a warren.
There is also an appreciation of the openness of the space immediately outside the building, and how it makes it easy to arrange to meet each other before going in, with some saying it is also the perfect place for a political protest.
And I know now first-hand that the Parliament Café inside provides a good spot to sit and settle any nerves in advance of what might be to come.
It is interesting to reflect on the principal comparator that children and young people have – mainly television news coverage from the Houses of Parliament.
This often shows Members of Parliament boorishly shouting at each other and rolling their eyes as they are seated directly opposite one another in the Commons Chamber.
The Scottish Parliament’s Debating Chamber elicits praise as it is not obvious from the semi-circle formation who is ‘against who’.
Everyone faces in the same direction, towards the Presiding Officer, making parliamentary business appear less adversarial – Miralles’ architecture encourages consensus and compromise.
Robust debate does require airing and hearing of a range of opposing views, but what is important in any argument is behaviour.
The people of Scotland have elected Members of the Scottish Parliament to argue for us and can expect them to do so in a way that models good behaviour, that avoids an oppositional style and avoids the emergence of an antagonistic culture of political discussion.
Clearly this aspiration remains a work in progress, but ideally one that will not take 20 years to achieve.
So, the design of the Scottish Parliament alongside the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament are in keeping with the aspirations of the Scottish Constitutional Convention (1995) that the coming of a Scottish Parliament will usher in a way of politics that is radically different from the rituals of Westminster: more participative, more creative, less needlessly confrontational.
This aspiration continues to feel very relevant for how we should tackle big issues over the coming two decades.
In terms of the Independent Care Review specifically, this approach should inform how important decisions are made about what sort of Scotland we want all our children and young people to grow up in.
If Scotland is going to deliver against the National Performance Framework ‘petal’ that states ‘We grow up loved, safe and respected so that we realise our full potential’, Members of the Scottish Parliament have an obligation to embody characteristics that demonstrate love, safety and respect.
And today in Scotland, there are conversations about putting kindness into public policy, so it is incumbent on our Scottish Parliament to create space that encourages consideration of others, openness of mind, generosity of spirit and empathy.
The findings and recommendations of the Independent Care Review are more likely to deliver what is needed, if our politicians are willing to support any changes to legislation based on the needs of the children and young people, and not political doctrine.
There is growing appreciation that by working together, policy-makers and citizens will make better policy, and approaches to making this happen are evolving.
We have become very familiar with buzzwords like empowerment, collaboration, co-design and co-production.
However, there are also real challenges with this, starting with the need to make absolutely sure that this is truly authentic and not a tokenistic exercise, or a passing fad.
There are numerous examples of co-design and co-production being led by groups of expert people that have already formed their view on what any output should be.
They unconsciously filter what is being heard, biasing any outcome and leaving those who thought they were being heard feeling used and with even less power.
This is clearly related to the earlier point about inherent power imbalances and vested interests. For the Independent Care Review, that includes some of the many custodians of the complex ‘care system’ with its multiple rule makers and decision-takers comprising of the state, charities and independent providers who deliver care right across Scotland.
There is an argument that the proliferation of reviews, inquiries, commissions and task forces etc. coming from the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government could be seen as an indication of government absenting their responsibility for tackling the more complex challenges and passing the buck to another.
When I raised this with a senior Member of the Scottish Parliament, she gave a challenging response to this, questioning the role of the voluntary sector as an active and vocal lobbying group that frequently demanded change for beneficiaries.
She also rightly challenged how charities use their power, suggesting that many of the changes demanded would benefit the organisations as much as the individuals they represent.
Although there is some truth in this, there are many charities that clearly state their obsolescence as the marker of greatest success.
It is no secret that the Independent Care Review’s position is in support of the trend of the experts in policy-making being those who have lived experience.
In the world of care, how it feels to be cared for must be a more important factor than the components of the system that is ‘delivering’ care.
It will be the clear and brave voices of infants, children and young people (and increasingly adults) with experience of the care system who will inform the Independent Care Review’s understanding of what has to change.
The Independent Care Review has met with many infants, children and young people across Scotland.
They have shared their stories about their experiences of care with a view to making things better now, and for future generations.
Listening to the voices of its citizens is a critical part of any democracy; we listen to children in our families and so we must keep listening to children in care.
Every single day, the Independent Care Review strives to ensure the voices heard in every single discussion and debate reflect the people that best understand the ‘care system’ – those who have lived in it.
This very deliberately goes beyond the First Minister’s promise of ‘driven by’ with every conversation chaired by someone with lived experience and all significant outputs peer-reviewed by people with care experience.
A part of the Independent Care Review’s remit is to ‘look at the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos’.
At the last count, the ‘care system’ comprised of 44 pieces of legislation, 19 pieces of secondary legislation and three international conventions.
So, in terms of accountability and responsibility, as much of that labyrinth of legislation (not mentioning the associated policies and practice guidelines) sits with the Scottish Parliament, and all the associated committees that are organised to reflect the bureaucratic framework.
A truly ground-breaking approach to recalibrating how the Scottish Parliament works over the coming 20 years would be to create an environment that actually reflects how people live; that supports legislative reform that prioritises the population; and a move away from the current silos and systems riddled with bureaucracy – that would be transformational.
Meantime let’s not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead for the Independent Care Review.
The current complex legislative landscape that makes up the ‘care system’ comprises of multiple decision-makers, each with their own set of rules, languages and timescales.
Each part of this ‘system’ relies on data, evidence and analysis, all of which is intended to measure that aspect’s success or failure. More often than not, none of this takes any account of the experience of life in the ‘system’.
Regulators, inspectors and auditors look at compliance, efficiencies and costs of delivery and not how it feels to have ‘a sense of family. Of belonging. Of love. A childhood’ – the aspiration of the Independent Care Review.
Everyone involved in the Independent Care Review cherishes its independence and it is this that will enable the First Minister’s promise to be kept.
Any outcome will need to be understood and respected across all political parties in order that the change that is so desperately needed can happen, without systemising, monetising or politicising our children and young people.
Because the Scottish Parliament is unicameral and there is no revising chamber the parliamentary committees, those groups that reflect the balance of all parties, to do their job, to take evidence and to scrutinise, have a really important job to do.
On 14 March 2018, Kevin Browne-MacLeod, Rosie Moore and I represented the Independent Care Review and gave evidence to the Education and Skills Committee.
That nerve calming café came in very handy beforehand.
At the end of the session, Johann Lamont MSP said:
“For those of us who are a bit more hard-bitten about stuff, there have been a million reviews on a million issues in this parliament, but you have given us huge confidence that this is taken forward really, really seriously. And I think across whatever party people come from they will be hugely encouraged by what you have said.”
That felt like an enormously positive outcome after what had felt like a grilling in a formal room.
Many young people in care spend far too much of their young lives in austere rooms being talked about or at by ‘experts’ but as Rosie explains below – giving evidence to the Committee was a very different experience to what she had expected.
Contribution from Rosie Moore
Although I was pleased to be asked to represent the Independent Care Review at the Education and Skills Committee, I was very nervous at the prospect.
I didn’t know what to expect as I had never been to the Parliament building before and I thought it would be very formal.
We entered the room just as the previous session was ending, to get a feel for what it would be like. I initially felt very intimidated as there was a very large table and everyone around it seemed to be very formal and professional.
However, as soon as the previous session ended, I was pleasantly surprised that everybody immediately relaxed and were very friendly towards each other.
The Committee members came over to us and introduced themselves to us and immediately put me at ease, explaining exactly what would happen next.
When our session started, I felt aware that I was the least professionally experienced person at the table.
I was worried that I might feel embarrassed by not being spoken to as much as everyone else or would not know the answers to any high-level questions.
However, in actual fact I was spoken to with equal respect and interest throughout the entire session.
The committee members made me feel at ease and felt that I was genuinely being listened to. It was very empowering.
In looking forward to the next 20 years, the Scottish Parliament will need to make sure it is equipped for Scotland’s huge socio-economic challenges.
Therefore, it must continue to think and act in innovative and authentic ways to ensure that as a modern parliament it enables its elected members to truly serve their constituents.
In deciding what the big issues are for Scotland, the Parliament must look to the views of the people it represents today – and in the future – and encourage respectful debate and protest.
Tackling those big issues and making Scotland the best place to grow up will require the Scottish Parliament to work harder to represent the diversity of the people of Scotland.
The Independent Care Review knows that people who face the most disadvantage are also among those whose voices are least heard, who feel excluded and forgotten.
So, the Scottish Parliament must place greater value on lived experience and ensure that those with the least power have their voices heard.
In addition to an open-door policy, a truly accessible and inclusive parliament has a duty to reach out to listen.
Those who may be socially or geographically excluded from taking part must be given routes to contribute to or influence Scottish policy and legislation.
An aspect of this must be investment in innovative digital platforms that are engaging, while ensuring that individuals are supported to take part in a safe way.
The recent strike that Scottish children led in order to challenge leaders to take action on climate change is a brilliant example of this, and I was encouraged to see political and public support of those young people taking a stand on an issue that really matters to them.
Members should strive to be role models for our young people and seek to work across parties to enact solutions and positive change for Scotland.
This can only be done by really listening to people and being steadfast in the fight for the people – too often we see politicians caught up in the fight against each other.
Young people are more informed and have more potential for influence and activism than ever before. This should be nurtured, stimulated and appreciated. Trust is fragile and once lost is very difficult to earn back.
So, politicians should seek to authentically interact with the people they are representing and avoid exploitative and tokenistic methods of engagement.
Members who strive to be true to the people whose votes gave them the mandate to serve must do justice to that position of power and should never take the trust invested in them for granted, instead continually earning and maintaining it through conduct that merits it.
The Scottish Parliament has a track record of endeavouring to lead in terms of not tolerating the poor conduct of its members in relation to racism, sexism and matters of integrity. The bar for accountability must be set high so that those who fail to reach it need to seek careers elsewhere.
Government has a role to play in challenging traditional models of power and encourage meaningful participation as it alone cannot make the changes required.
As Thomas, Rosie and Laura have described, the Scottish Parliament has listened and given them their rightful place in Scotland’s highest political forum.
Their expectations for what the Parliament does next are appropriately very high.
So, I conclude by inviting all Members of the Scottish Parliament to commit to working with the Independent Care Review to ensure that the transformational change that is needed can be supported and implemented effectively.
In doing so, my hope is that 20 years from now the voices of lived experience who have bravely led the Independent Care Review, will be honoured by a brave new Scotland that truly knows how to care.
People-Powered Politics is a chapter from The Scottish Parliament At Twenty from Luath Press, edited by James Mitchell & Jim Johnston.