Four years ago, a young and very angry woman called Ashley Cameron walked into my office in the Scottish Parliament.

She sat down, crossed her arms and told me that politicians had commissioned 18 different reports into the lives of people like her and nothing had ever changed.

“How will you be any different?” she demanded.

Every year in Scotland, about 17,000 kids grow up in care, and Ashley was one of them.

Last night her life and her progress was televised as the latest chapter in Raploch Stories aired on BBC 2.

The BBC followed a number of characters from the notorious council estate in Stirling for years, meeting Ashley in primary school.

Now 27, Ashley is in her final year of university. She’s conscientious, determined, deeply political and confident.

She’s changed laws in the Scottish Parliament and championed the rights of looked-after young people with every waking breath.

She’s exceptional in the most literal sense.

She’s the exception to the rule because far too many young people who grow up in care don’t go on to fulfil their potential.

And do you know what? It’s our fault. Each and every one of us.

When a child gets taken into care, for whatever reason, in whatever circumstances, the State becomes mum and dad. “Corporate parents”, for want of a phrase, with a bit of love in it. And as a parent, we’re rubbish.

Imagine a childhood filled with only the bare necessities, where every act is looked on with suspicion, where expectations of you are so low, not getting expelled is considered a success.

Then, at the age of 16, you’re considered old enough to look after yourself so you’re given a flat with a rent you can’t possibly make and bills you’ve never seen before. While it’s easy to blame the council or the Government – or anyone else – the bottom line is that for as long as we as a country ignore the plight of these young people, many will fail and we’ll all pay the price.

But if we suddenly treated them like our nation’s children, loved these young people that we’re all responsible for, we could transform their life chances and we’d all reap the benefits.

For years, people like Ashley used to hide the fact they’d been in care – now they wear it as a badge of pride. Of survival and resilience.

But what if we used that badge to actively improve their lot?

That’s what North Ayrshire Council have started to do this week.

With plans to exempt people who have been in care from council tax, they accept they have a duty to remove some of the barriers that stop these young people from succeeding.

It’s nothing more or less than mum and dad helping you with the bills.

I’ve long argued for full bursaries for looked-after children who make it to uni because the bank of mum and dad weren’t there to buy the books at the start of term.

The SNP, to their credit, adopted that policy and delivered it.

The Parliament now has powers to create new benefits.

Could we use them to help looked-after young people make that move off of benefits in to college or university?

Anything is possible if we take our jobs as parents seriously.

 

This article first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 19th of September 2017

Share This