We marched to ask for the right to be loved

A global community of people raised in care took to the streets of Scotland last week, on the 26th of October in a historic rally for “the right to be loved”.

Hundreds of people with experience of the Scottish care system organised the gathering, the first celebration of its kind in the world.

I was among them, and I could not have been prouder.

I am 27 years old. I grew up for a period, in care in Glasgow. For most of my life I felt alone in that experience. I was discriminated against simply for being in care, shunned by my peers and treated with contempt.

Little did I know that all over Scotland and across the world, people growing up in care were as isolated and discriminated against as me.

Scotland is now leading the world for Care Experienced people, all because we finally feel proud enough to speak up. When we speak up, we want the world to listen.

When we marched across Glasgow, to the Royal Concert Hall steps, to ask for the right to be loved, the most basic of human rights, too often not afforded to those in care.

When we held our first Global Care Family Fathering with speakers who have experienced care in Scotland and beyond.

In our solidarity, there is enormous strength.

Right now, the story people tell of Care Experienced people isn’t one of success. It’s that one third of the prison population is Care Experienced, it’s that 45% of us have mental health issues and that less than 10% of us go to university.

When I was 7 my father kicked my Mum, me and my four siblings out of the house. This was the latest in a long-term campaign of violence that my father had waged upon my Mum. For a long time, I had only ever seen my Mum as the victim of this violence. I had no idea that just by witnessing this, living in this home in which my father’s violence and drug use ruled large, that I too was a victim.

For my Mum, the trauma she had suffered as a result of this played out and she struggled to cope. Unfortunately, the very ability to raise five children, single handed became too much. When I was 11, I was taken into care.

I was separated from my two brothers and two sisters. They went somewhere else whilst I was taken to a children’s home. Surrounded by high fences, with barbed wire at the top. I felt like a criminal. There was a particular day when I looked out my window and saw people holding signs. They were protesting the children’s home’s existence, and in turn, my existence. That’s when I realised that people wouldn’t be interested in what led to me being taken into care. They had already made up their minds to treat me like a criminal too.

I have a photo of me from around the time I went into care and you can tell, just looking at me as a gaunt faced, dark eyed, 11-year-old boy that I wasn’t okay. Nobody asked me though. I think the answer would have been too complicated, been too much like hard work to deal with.

Behind those dark eyes though wasn’t the criminal society seen. Behind those eyes was a dream of being loved.

I tried to escape. Unlike some of my peers, this escapism didn’t take a literal form. I escaped through storytelling, I would find scraps of paper to write stories. Stories filled with adventure and friendships. I was creating stories around things I wanted. Nobody wanted to be friends with the smelly kid who lived in a home. The biggest adventure I had was in the lies that I would tell to hide the fact I was in care.

The one thing that was a constant in my life was my dream of turning my talent for storytelling into a career. I remember telling a teacher this and being put down. Laughed at by classmates. Storytelling isn’t a job, they’d tell me. Especially not for the likes of you.

As I got older, I learned I could turn my passion for storytelling into a way to earn a wage and I embarked on a career in PR. My stories turned a page and suddenly I was telling stories for some of Scotland’s biggest brands. But I hated that I was making little impact on the world.

I learned a few years into my career, that there were people just like me, who had experience of care, all over the world and who felt just like me. The trouble was, not many of them knew how to make their story heard. I knew then, that I’d found my home.

I’m proud to say I’m a storyteller. The stories I tell are of Care Experienced people who want to live in a world where they are loved. I want to change the story people hear about Care Experienced people, to do that I need the world to listen.

A version of this article appeared in the Daily Record on Saturday the 27th of October 2018.