I was unable to recognise the abuse I suffered

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Issue: 
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As a newly qualified social worker and young person who has experienced the care system, the recent revelations in Rotherham have shocked me.

It would be naive to believe similar issues do not exist elsewhere. It would be ignorant to believe that the perpetrators of abuse come from one class, race, religion or gender.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997-2013) highlights the fact that today there is not a universal understanding of what abuse is. How abuse is defined has developed as political discourse has changed.

If we want to understand and safeguard the vulnerable young people we support it is absolutely imperative that practitioners strive to build a trusting relationship with them.

We have to ensure those looked after by the state are empowered to have a voice. It is also imperative that we are aware that young people in care can, at times, find it difficult to identify the immoral, even criminal, behaviour meted out against them.

My own experience of being looked after by my local authority was not a positive one.

From birth I was used to moving backwards and forwards, from a formal care placement to back home with my birth parents. I never questioned it because it was my reality.

My reality was also that of social workers coming in and out of the family home, where issues of neglect and abuse were rife.

My longest foster placement lasted for around three years from the age of three until just before I was seven. In 2013 I was required to give evidence in court against my foster mother, who was found guilty of abusing me and other young people.

The sheriff stated that the conditions we described matched a Dickensian picture of the life of deprived Victorian children.

The care system and everyone involved in it had told me that life with my birth parents was wrong, so I had assumed that where I was being put would be right.

I was unable to recognise that the placement was abusive until I turned up to give evidence. I remember being interviewed by police and telling them my foster parents were good people who made us go to church every Sunday.

They had instilled in me the belief that the way they treated me was a response to my own actions and behaviour. That belief was completely wrong.

A forever family — a permanent adopter — was eventually identified for me and some of my siblings. When I was 16 the adoption broke down. My younger sister was accommodated again; my twin and I were told we were no longer entitled to any services. Spells of homelessness and extreme vulnerability followed.

I now work as a policy development officer with Who Cares? Scotland. As an organisation we are campaigning for young people who are, or who have been, in care to be given a universal right to access relationship-based, professional independent advocacy.

We believe that providing this entitlement will better enable the voices of those supported to be properly heard, enhancing service provision.

We are also calling on all of Scottish society to take ownership of our care-experienced population and stand alongside them in holding the care system to account.

If more of the population gains an understanding of the experiences of the looked-after population, communities will be more supportive and a greater number of appropriate foster and adoptive families will become available.

Thomas Timlin is Policy Development Officer at Who Cares? Scotland. Go to www.whocaresscotland.org