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Vonnie Sandlan on Care Day 2019 and the difference it makes in the lives of care experienced people.

Banner image for Who Cares? Scotland and Care Day 2019

It gave me great cheer to hear about our organisation’s commitment to Care Day through the coffee morning as a dedicated fan of baked goods, but also on a personal level as I am care experienced. It has been one of the great delights of my life both personally and professionally to have seen such a step change in attitudes and a step-up in responsibility taken by our colleges, universities and specialist institutions in recent years, which has been wholeheartedly supported by SFC.

Vonnie Sandlan, SFC Assistant Director EU Exit (co-ordination, colleges and skills)It is important to know that children and young people who are in care are in this situation because it has been decided that it was not in their best interests to remain in the living situation that they were in previously. The burden of evidence required before a court orders that a child or young person is removed from their parents is – rightly – high. It seems obvious to state this, however I can recall from my time training as an early years practitioner that the threat of “Maggie Murphy’s” or “the bad boys/girls home” was still unfortunately in use. This kind of negative reinforcement is one which can and must be eliminated from use if care experienced people are to succeed and thrive.

I’ve been proud to have been associated with Who Cares? Scotland for over a decade now, most recently serving on their Board, but their work on the amendments to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was particularly outstanding, ensuring that the age of leaving care was raised in line with the average age of leaving home for non-looked after people. This has particular importance for SFC and for our institutions as we consider our collective responsibility for making Scotland the best place in the world to learn, educate, research and innovate. This ambition makes me proud to work for SFC and to be associated with Scotland’s world class tertiary education sector.

Current statistics show that unfortunately, care experienced people are more likely to see the inside of a prison hall than the inside of a lecture theatre. The first time I heard this I was shocked to my core that a system established to provide better care for vulnerable children and young people could be failing individuals so badly.

In my case, although I had taken a sabbatical from education by the time that the Children and Young People Act was passed into legislation, both my college and my university had achieved the Buttle Quality Mark and had I needed it, robust support was available for me, whether that was a friendly ear and a chat over worries, through to bigger interventions around financial support and housing.

And hope springs eternal. As I mentioned in my first paragraph, there has been a huge step-change in action by institutions since the Children and Young People Act designated them as Corporate Parents. I am particularly excited by the Hub for Success which will officially launch on Tuesday 12 February 2019. The Hub is a collaborative project for care experienced students at Edinburgh institutions to ensure that, if or when it is required, a holistic support network is available to take care of these students’ needs and support them – as any parent would seek to do, to ensure their child’s ultimate success. This is just one example of excellent, considerate and person-centred practice, and there are many other examples in every single one of our colleges and universities.

I didn’t talk publicly about my experience of care until I became involved in the National Union of Students, because I didn’t always feel that it was a safe thing for me to discuss. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Who Cares? Scotland and their membership, that status is changing. In particular, Who Cares? Scotland has built an incredible repertoire of opportunities for care experienced people to come together and have fun. The proceeds of our coffee morning will go towards supporting the Summer Camp which has been co-designed by care experienced young people and which is an environment to simply have fun. The design of the camp also means that siblings who may have been separated in care are able to spend quality time together, facilitated in a way which suits their needs and their interests.

You can read a report from a previous camp attendee here on the Who Cares? Scotland website.

So, from the bottom of my heart: thank you for taking this commitment seriously as an organisation. By coming together for cake we will genuinely make a significant difference in the lives of care experienced people.