Back up to Scotland for the national conference, organised by the NAAPS Scotland team, Anne and Else, along with the Scotland Committee. Great to see Andrew Lowe, next year’s Association of Directors of Social Work singing along to a verse of “Consider yourself part of the family”, led by Jean, who discovered her singing voice and much more besides through a relationship with her Shared Lives carer Helena, which was self-evidently what Shared Lives is all about. Helena decided that the best way to help Jean lose weight was to join her in a diet – just one of the ways in which Helena was putting heart and soul into supporting Jean to build the self-care skills she needed to move towards living in her own place. Or as Helena put it, we support each other. The conference was well-supported: not only did Andrew give a thoughtful and impressive keynote (I’m grateful to him for the phrase, “the dignity of risk” amongst others), Jean MacLellan, Deputy Director, Adult Care and Support Division in the Primary and Community Care Directorate of the Scottish Government, chaired the event brilliantly.
Jamie talked to us about his experience of the Fife Council Supported Lodgings scheme, which provides Shared Lives-registered support to young people who are leaving care. In Scotland, the average age for care leavers to leave home is under 17, compared to 25 for the general population. When you consider that young people leaving care already face considerable challenges, it is perhaps no wonder that whilst 1% of Scottish children have been in care, 50% of Scottish prisoners – and 80% of those convicted of violence – have been in care. The situation in England is a little better in terms of average care leaving age, but outcomes for care leavers are, of course, still shaming UK-wide. Those who have had the worst experiences of care are most likely to leave the minute they turn 16, whether or not they are ready for living alone. The Supported Lodgings workers talked of young people they knew who deliberately chose the relative security of jail over the uncertainty of life outside. This is an area of public policy in all the home nations in which personalisation, choice, control have clearly failed to penetrate: few of us would choose to be given two weeks to leave the family home aged 16, with our worldly possessions in a bin bag.
Jamie delivered his talk wearing his army uniform, alongside Naomi who began supporting people in her own home at just 24 years of age herself. In contrast to many care leavers, Jamie found work at an early stage: “It was either a job or she had me doing jobs round the house, so I went for a job. She helped me find that through some family connections, so even when I was at work she had someone keeping an eye on me!” The warmth and continuing relationship between both of them was moving to see – Jamie knew that even when he was, possibly quite soon, in a war zone a long way from home, there was someone back home who would be thinking about him and waiting for his return.