A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Until very recently I believed that hard work had all but stamped out stigma associated with care experienced people. I couldn't have been more wrong. Within the bubble of social care, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have created a safe environment for care experienced people. But, if you step out of that bubble, stigma and discrimination is still rife, and is being driven by ignorance. Most people simply do not understand the troubles faced by care experienced people, which has created a culture of negativity, hostility and judgment.
Is it still okay to assume that people with care experience were looked after by the state because of something bad the person did when they were younger? Is it still okay to believe that the only way to control children is to put them in specialist homes where they are removed from society
Of course not. But these views are the reality that many care experienced people face.
If we think for a moment about groups with protected characteristics such as disability, race or sexual orientation, society is less tolerant of the stigma or discrimination aimed at those who fall into these categories. We live in a world where care experienced people, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, are not afforded this same protection. This, for me is a fundamental flaw and one that must be addressed - when care experienced people are protected, I believe this will help to overcome the stereotypes and judgments they are met with on a regular basis.
Society must realise that, like those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, being care experienced is not a choice, it is not a lifestyle people have chosen, and it is not something they should be judged on. It is a part of their identity, but it does not define them in their entirety.
Most people with care experience were brought into care for their own safety and protection, possibly because of neglect, abuse or being orphaned. In fact, 85% of the 13,240 children and young people referred to the Scottish Children's Reporter in 2017/18 were referred for care and protection (non-offence) related issues, meaning that 11,268 children and young people were brought into some form of care through no fault of their own. So why are they often perceived as bad kids?
These children have faced trauma due to neglect, abuse and a number of other issues in the familial home. Being 'looked after' should afford them the same opportunities as all other young people and, while under the care of the state, they should be protected and supported. While not all receive the same level of support, for most, when they reach adulthood the support stops altogether and there is no protection. Instead, society resorts to blame and judgement. I cannot understand this. Why are they seen as bad kids when they have not chosen to be in this situation?
It is the statement, 'bad kids' that can make a journey through care a negative one. It is said that 'if you tell a lie often enough people will begin to believe it, even you will come to believe it as truth'. So if you continue to tell looked after children and young people that they are bad, that they will not amount to anything, or that they will more than likely end up in prison, before too long they will begin to believe that of themselves and give up trying. After all, why try when you have been told what lies ahead? This negative view is ill-informed and based on a very narrow, judgemental view. Overcoming prejudice and stigma will eradicate this 'bad kid' image and will help care experienced people walk a positive path and achieve success.
So, is there a clear answer to ending this stigma?
Sadly, I don't know, but I do believe that we must all be aware of our own biases and how these impact on our views of other people, particularly those with care experience. We must unite against the negative views that society has and help people to reach a more positive, better-informed view of care experienced people. A place of equality, fairness and, most of all, compassion.
Now more than ever we must step out of the comfortable bubble that we have created and truly stand with and for care experienced people against the stigmas we face in society.
Let's 'Stamp Stigma Out For Care Experienced' once and for all.
You can read more about experiences of stigma and discrimination and thoughts on how to address this in REACH.