Membership Spotlight -Who Cares? Scotland

Membership Spotlight highlights the work of our member organisations and outline how other individuals and NGOs can support them. On the run up to Human Rights Day, Who Cares? Scotland challenges us to think about how to ensure a lifetime of equality, respect and love for Care Experienced people with Scotland’s new Human Rights Bill.

Care Experience must be at the heart of Scotland’s new human rights framework  

With the UNCRC Bill and the Promise, Scotland is recognising the inequality young people who are Care Experienced face and taking action to create a different future. Following consultation with our members in 2020 and for our new Strategic Plan, Who Cares? Scotland is keen to explore what more can be done to strengthen the rights of Care Experienced people of all ages, looking at equality and human rights law and policy developments in Scotland.

Who Cares? Scotland is Scotland’s national membership organisation for Care Experienced people. The UNCRC preamble is clear that all children need to grow up in an atmosphere of love, happiness and understanding in order to thrive. Our work delivering independent advocacy for Care Experienced people and campaigning for change with our members for over 40 years tells us that Care Experienced people encounter significant barriers in accessing their rights in childhood and throughout their lives.

The transition to adulthood is a turbulent time for any teenager, navigating relationships, exam pressures, emotions and living alone for the first time. Most are supported through this by their family. Giving advice, practical and financial support is widely recognised in society as the role our parents play as we become adults, providing a safe haven to return to if things go wrong, including in parenthood.

For some Care Experienced adults, this safety net can be non-existent. We know that many struggle to access Continuing Care (see CELCIS’ study from March 2022 and Clan Child Law’s blog here). People who ‘leave care’ before their 16th birthday are not included in the legal definition of ‘care leaver’ and are therefore not eligible for continuing care and aftercare.

Scotland has an ambition to be the best place in the world to grow up, but the people the state has assumed parental responsibility for still face immense barriers to equality of opportunity, and often enter adulthood at a great disadvantage. We know that when given adequate support all young people have the ability to do well, but the Independent Care Review found that currently Care Experienced people are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness, one and a half times more likely to experience financial difficulties, over three times as likely to not have had a full-time job by the age of 26.

“There just needs to be an appreciation that these are the people that need those emergency services, need the back-up plans, it needs to be in place and it can’t just be done on a when they need it scenario, cause when they need it – it’s too late.” (‘Somewhere to call home’ report by Megan Sutherland, 2019).

We have engaged on the topics of parenthood and mental health with Care Experienced people, heard about the inequalities, stigma and discrimination they face from employers and other professionals when they share that they were in care as a child.

‘I’m Care Experienced…I work alongside social work, children’s rights and Who Cares? Scotland, but if I get pregnant, I will STILL get a referral to social work because I was in care, even although I have no social work for my first child.’ (‘Believe in Us’ report by Who Cares? Scotland, 2022).

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is taking evidence right up to 2014, and has been required to extend its timescales by 4 years to date due to the number of survivors coming forward to give evidence. We have an ethical duty to these adults that were harmed by our social care system to ensure their rights are protected and they are able to access any and all support required to build their desired future.

“Support should be there regardless of age … These (complexities) do not go away when someone turns 21 and has an impact on a person’s whole life.” (‘Somewhere to call home’ report by Megan Sutherland, 2019).

These barriers to economic and social rights are preventable, and that’s why Who Cares? Scotland is campaigning for Care Experienced people’s lifelong rights and equality. We are supporting our member Jasmin to petition the Scottish Parliament to extend aftercare for ‘previously looked after young people’, to extend support throughout Care Experienced people’s lives, on the basis of individual need; and to ensure Care Experienced people are able to enjoy lifelong rights and achieve equality on an equal basis to non-Care Experienced people.

How can we strengthen Care Experienced people’s rights and equality with the new Human Rights Bill in Scotland?

Not long ago we were campaigning for care for be recognised as a societal issue. Now we have cross-parliamentary support in Scotland to implement the Promise, the English care review said that, ‘the disadvantage faced by the Care Experienced community should be the civil rights issue of our time’, and has called for Care Experience to become a protected characteristic. The pandemic exacerbated the inequalities across society and with the ongoing cost of living crisis, the gulf between the most privileged and marginalised further widens.

The Human Rights Bill presents a huge opportunity to strengthen the recognition of this marginalised group and the support available to them – where Care Experience is a lifelong identity, not just an eligibility. In 2021, the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership called for further thought on a right to participation in the Bill, for better access to independent advocacy, and for statutory guidance for Care Experienced people who experience barriers to accessing their rights.

We think that the Scottish Government can go further in taking a human rights-based approach to upholding the Promise, by ensuring Care Experienced people are protected as a distinct group of rights-holders that face particular barriers to realising their rights across their lifespan.

‘A lot of people might not realise that, for me, there was the same amount of stigma, the same damaging stereotypes, and the same fear surrounding the exposure of the Care Experienced part of my identity, as the LGBTQI part. (Blog by WC?S member, 2018).

We want to see Care Experience named in the Bill, in particular the equality clause, to encourage equal opportunities for Care Experienced people to access their rights, alongside other groups at risk.  We want to discuss what this could look like, alongside a stronger right to advocacy, in the Bill. If you’d like to support our work in shaping the Bill, including our members on the Lived Experience Board and our representation on the Advisory Board, please get in touch – as we want to explore allyship too!

We invite you to join us in campaigning for the Human Rights Bill to protect Care Experienced people of all ages. Together, we can create a more equitable and rights-respecting society where everyone has what they need to thrive.

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