“It’s hard to explain the difference the service has made for us.”

Falkirk Children’s Rights Service helps children and young people to know about their rights and supports them to have their voice heard on matters that are important to them. That’s especially important for young people in the care system.

Taylor, 16 and Grace, 13 (Grace preferred not to have her face photographed) and their Children’s Rights Worker, Suzanne, talk about the service.

Going into care

Eight years ago, after a difficult time for the family, a Children’s Hearing Panel decided Taylor and Grace’s care should be under a compulsory supervision order, meaning the local authority was responsible for them. Care-experienced young people may stay with foster carers, in a residential care home, or with a family member. Taylor and Grace went to live with their nana.

It was a time of trauma and tension for the siblings, with events outside their control changing the path of their upbringing and their family forever.

“I was only in P3 when it all happened. I was young, and I didn’t really understand it all. It was confusing.” Grace, 13

When you speak to Taylor and Grace, what’s clear is their resilience in dealing with the different ways professionals enter and function within their lives.

Taylor says, “We’ve had seven or eight social workers in eight years. And you can’t count the number of meetings we’ve had about so many things.” But what has been constant for them is the support from Falkirk Children’s Rights Service. Suzanne makes sure the siblings have access to all the support they have a right to, and advocates for them whenever needed.

“Suzanne has helped me to apply for a leaving care worker and bursary I didn’t know I was entitled to.” Taylor, 16

Help at hearings

Nowhere is advocacy more important than at Children’s Hearings, where decisions are made by the panel of professionals and volunteers on behalf of young people. These hearings will cover issues that could affect the wellbeing of a young person, like where they will live and who will be responsible for their care, contact arrangements, school attendance and choice of school, issues with the law or police, drug or alcohol issues, mental or physical health.

“In professional meetings, sometimes it is necessary to remind the adults to remember to consider the young people they’re discussing.” Suzanne, Children’s Rights Worker

Like many young people, Taylor and Grace can sometimes find these hearings an emotional and daunting experience. Taylor says, “We used to get asked to leave the meeting so that we don’t find out what was being said or what was going on. So, we’d be there at the beginning, introduce ourselves, say what we want to say, and then leave.”

Suzanne says, “That happens because the panel may want to protect young people from some of the conversations that are happening, but as they have gotten older, Taylor and Grace have wanted to be involved, to not have that experience of leaving a room to allow conversations about you to go on without you. For me, it’s all about young people knowing what their rights are.”

Young people have the right to stay in their hearings if they want to stay. As Taylor and Grace have grown up, Suzanne’s support and advice on their rights has changed their participation in their hearings and what they have gotten out of them.

“It’s good to know you have the right to stay in the hearing. The first one that I’ve really properly stayed in was the last one. It felt really different – I found some stuff out about our situation that I never knew before,” says Taylor.

Support for the future

As Taylor approaches adulthood, having left school to work last year, the empowerment he feels from knowing his rights, making his voice heard and understanding more of his situation is clear. This friendly and focused young man is hopeful of a bright future that will include travel, despite facing setbacks like recently being made redundant.

Whatever happens he and his sister know they will have someone in their corner at the Falkirk Children’s Rights service until they are 26. Suzanne says, “If Taylor didn’t need to speak to us for two years, and then something happened, he could just message me and say he needs advice. No one is ever left without support.

We’re here when we’re needed. The young people are not on their own.”