Kevin Browne of Who Cares Scotland says it's time to put experienced people into the driving seat when it comes to care
At primary school, lots of the people in my class dreamt of being astronauts, firefighters, footballers or teachers. I understood why. But I had been seeing the world from a very different lens since I could remember. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the very world in which I was living. For 15 years, I grew up in care.
My school reports during that time always said that I’d do much better, and find myself in a lot less trouble, if I just kept my nose out of other people’s business. I could never do it. When I saw an injustice in the playground, or heard someone in my class be spoken to like they were nothing, I'd be the first to stick my hand up.And the first to shout. And the first to be told to leave the class. Eventually, my refusal to just leave things be would lead to me being excluded from school.
I was taken into care at the age of three and I left at the age of eighteen. The state made a decision to get involved in my life – and then made many more decisions about where I lived, who I lived with, when I could see the people that mattered to me, what information I needed and which of my rights I was entitled to.
In fact, my mother rights were removed from her by the court, so the state was my legal parent & guardian.
In most cases, I never felt like I was an equal in the decision-making process. Other people, none of whom gave me the impression that they understood what it was like to actually live in care, decided things for me. I would lie in bed at night, at the age of 10, feeling strongly that something had to be different but lacking the vocabulary to describe it.
That unknown, unnamed feeling ran through my veins throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Other children my age talked about their dreams. I didn’t have dreams; I had a purpose. My difficulty was that I didn’t have any of the words to go with it.
I never felt like I was an equal in the decision-making process
Who Cares? Scotland, or rather a guy called Ray from Who Cares? Scotland, came into my life at the right time. Working as my advocate at the age of 13, Ray helped me find the words that I had been searching for. He also introduced me to a part of the world that I didn’t imagine existed – a room in Paisley where other Care Experienced people like me talked about changing things.
In April, I will take up my post as the first care experienced member of the senior management team, a historical moment for care experienced people.
The distance travelled in between, for me and Who Cares? Scotland, has been profound. I hope that other people in the third sector and beyond will see that this journey is possible.
It’s now my job to make sure that care experienced people, no matter where they are, have a voice that is heard and a sense of belonging within the care experienced family and the world that exists beyond that.
The young people who interviewed me told me they want to see me lead from the front and connect with Care Experienced people the length and breadth of Scotland. That’s exactly what I intend on doing, whilst supporting the sector to understand our unique lifelong membership offer and the benefits of this.
Kevin Browne is Who Cares Scotland’s director for care experienced membership