Jamie Dalgouette grew up in care - now he wants to change the system for good
Jamie went into care at six months old. For the next four years he moved between fourteen different foster homes and two residential houses; by the age of five, he'd already experienced abuse in a foster placement.
Talking to The Glasgow Guardian, Jamie discussed how the repercussions of growing up in care or in abusive situations can resonate throughout later life: "If you experience trauma or the lack of a proper upbringing before five years old then the implications are going to be there for the rest of your life. And some people never address them."
Now 24, Jamie is studying Community Development at the University of Glasgow. As one of the University's World Changers, he's using his story to start a conversation about the undiscussed issues in Scotland's care system.
Having just finished a modern apprenticeship at the age of 19, Jamie first considered a university degree out of sheer necessity:
"When I was in care if you were 21 and you weren't at university that was your support from the local authority finished. If I stayed in my degree I would have support until I was 24 because I was doing higher education. So I had no choice. If I didn't go to uni I would be potentially homeless. I resented the whole time I was at university because it didn't feel like something I wanted to do."
Having worked at North Ayrshire Council, Jamie was drawn to Glasgow University by the prospect of a degree in Community Development, which his colleagues encouraged him to pursue. Glasgow University had also been the choice of his predecessors in his role with the council. Now, Jamie is using his studies as a platform to create real change:
"My degree teaches us about radical change: you need to put the facts and voices in front of the eyes and ears of society and decision makers - and nobody's doing that when it comes to care. There's an ongoing conversation about love in the care system, but there is something much darker and deeper happening that people aren't willing to talk about. To get real change I have to hit them with some of the dark things but nobody wants to hear it. To get the change that kids in care need conversations have to happen about abuse - but people want to avoid these conversations.”
Jamie pointed to financial constraints as the main obstacle preventing care-leavers from attending higher education. While care-leavers under the age of 26 are entitled to a full bursary from the Scottish Government to make university accessible, Jamie argued that this only constituted a very small minority of care leavers in further education. Jamie indicated that while the majority of care-leavers who attend university are over 26, they receive no financial support at all.
"I think they're totally unrepresented right now," Jamie told The Glasgow Guardian.
The University of Glasgow acts as a Corporate Parent to care-leavers as part of the wider initiative in Scotland, under which universities are responsible for providing support and the best care for care-leavers. Again, however, these aims are only put in place to support the under-26 bracket.
When asked how university can become a more accessible place for care-leavers, Jamie emphasised the importance of community among students:
"Students need to care for each other. University can be one of the hardest times of your life - there's the pressure to juggle your degree with your home life, and people can't do it themselves."
Jamie's story has resonated with other care leavers at the University, who he urges to take advantage of the support available to them:
"I recognise that if I hadn't taken the support I would have a really hard time at university. People don't want the university or their lecturers to know that they've been in care. People shy away from their story.
"People don't understand how powerful their voice is. There are so many people who don't want to accept their story that they grew up in care, because there is so much stigma. But it comes back to this tick box which offers you support throughout your whole degree."
While systematic change is essential to improve Scotland's care system, Jamie urged the importance of what we can do in an individual capacity: "Adults need to have the belief in themselves that they can go to uni or they can get that job, but kids in care need to have someone else to have that belief in them too. So teachers and college lecturers need to have that belief."
Moving forward, addressing the wider problem of abuse in the care system remains a priority for Jamie: "Organisations and people are doing a lot but it's as if people aren't listening. I think to get change people need to listen."
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, contact [email protected]
For information on the support available to care-leavers, contact [email protected]