GUEST BLOG BY ALASTAIR MINTY, IN CONTROL SCOTLAND
At In Control Scotland, we believe in the power of equality and inclusion. In April of 2018 we received an award from the Life Changes Trust to run a 3 year ‘Rights and Equalities’ project that works with young people with care experience who also have a physical/learning disability. The aim of this project is to work together on improving how to exercise rights and to improve confidence, skills and aspirations. This has focussed on individual opportunities as well as accessibility of groups and other settings.
A range of sessions have been carried out in partnership with various organisations, including with Champions Boards and local groups such as the Care Family Meet in Aberdeenshire. The purpose of these sessions is to develop young people’s capacity to make positive choices and exercise control in their lives. Through this project we also aim to create a network of young people with care experience with a physical/learning disability who feel confident speaking up, and are better connected and included.
Throughout the last two years we have learned a good deal about the sense of identity from young people who have a disability and are also care experienced. We have had interesting feedback from people who moved to adult services for disabilities but are also care experienced. Some people felt that if they went on to be supported by a disability team as an adult there was a lowering of the awareness of their care experience. While neither of those things should define them, they valued the acknowledgement of the impact that having been in care had on their lives, and sometimes that level of understanding wasn’t always there within a disability team.
We need to find ways to support people’s complex identities, making sure that the whole person is heard and understood. I’ve been told I overestimate people, but in practice we usually are able to show that when people are included, listened to and supported in the right way, people achieve more than the system allows them to plan for.
Aaron is a good example of this.
Aaron is friendly and eager to please, and when a colleague was supporting him to decide what new skill he wanted to learn, it could have been easy to present a few options and then run with the first one that garnered any interest. For Aaron, however, taking the time to explore different options was absolutely vital for finding the right fit for him. After a couple months of trying different things, he decided on guitar lessons and has been excelling. For Aaron, the important thing was that people took the time to really hear and understand what he needed to be truly informed and included in decision making in a meaningful way.
It’s not enough, however, to listen and to understand. We also need to act. Professionals and services should be as accountable for what they don’t do as they are for what they do. People often talk about what they can’t do, rather than saying ‘what would it take to do this well?’ That accountability is fundamental.
People who have the confidence and the ability to fight for their rights often feel like they’re starting from scratch. They feel like they’re the first person who’s ever had to challenge the system. We need to continue to gather the individual stories of successes challenging the system, so we can build confidence in better solutions. That way people aren’t starting at the bottom rung of the ladder, having to re-argue challenges that have already been won by others.
Everyone should be entitled to a certain starting level of response. Professionals should not be able to pick and choose what people are entitled to, particularly when it is a matter of national legislation. What we would like to see, therefore, is for all areas in Scotland to have documents outlining what rights and entitlements exist and what that actually means for the people who need these supports. We would like to see a shift from being reactive to being proactive, where groups and organisations start looking around at their setup and figure out how to make it inclusive ahead of time instead of realising after the fact that they have been excluding others without realising it.
With the right supports and understanding – with the ability to listen differently and act with integrity and accountability – we can create services and supports that work for all young people with care experience and include all of their complex identities.
And we will all be better off for it.