By Julieann Arthur, Alex Horne, Alastair Jamieson, Murray Mckinnon and Jeremy Millar
Date Posted: June 15th, 2013
Julieann, Alex, Alastair and Murray are members of the group – a Voice of Reason, the Debate Project and Who Cares? Scotland. Jeremy teaches residential child care and social work at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.
“During my time in Denmark I went to two residential homes. I was totally blown away by the surroundings and atmosphere. From walking in the front door the sense of a family setting was very obvious, the warmth and the Love that I felt was overwhelming. Walking round the homes I never once got the sense that it was a children’s home. Every child’s room was decorated to their taste and was full of toys etc. We got shown the loft and the loft was packed with different things. We were told everything in the loft belonged to the children who stay there and who stayed there in the past. The whole motive for this was when a child lives at home, when they leave they leave some of their things still with their parents, why should children’s homes be any different?“
“Ok so here we go. The first place we went to was Himmelblå. Himmelblå is a youth house where young people can go and partake in various activities and get a lovely meal basically just like a family home with televisions and computers and books and pictures. There is a beautiful upstairs chill-out room with sofas and beanbags and the young people are free to smoke up there.”
Himmelblå, the first care leavers house that we visited. The communal meal was cooked by a care leaver in his 30’s who is a chef and had volunteered to come back and cook as the numbers were greater with our visit. We found that many older care leavers continued to be involved as mentors and staff. One voluntary organization insists that the manager/leader of the project is a formerly looked after person. The staff cook the weekly communal meal for the young people. The focus is on nurturing loving relationships between staff and young people. It was at times hard to work out who were the staff and the young people. Please note the lit candles that were a feature in all the projects visited including the secure facility!
“Whilst in Denmark everyone is welcomed with open arms rather than the “waiting till I know you” period is over like here in Scotland. In the units/youth groups we visited they focused on what the young person wanted and designed their care package around them not the unit. The units have a family setting in terms of when you go in the first thing you see are candles lit and they are everywhere and not fake I might add.”
“Baglandet home is rented as a private let in a lovely part of town. It was the second place I went to and like Himmeblå the outlay of the house was practically the same (as Himmelblå) except there was a bed which if care leavers felt tired they could sleep in for a while but Baglandet is a house where as Himmeblå is a flat so the house was bigger and I felt there was more space for the care leavers to explore and enjoy.”
“In my opinion Danish care overtakes the UK on so many levels because of the family approach to care, whereas here the local authority can’t be a parent to the young people.”
Here is an example of the children’s corner, in addition there is Internet access, a library, games and activity materials. There is access to a quiet room for one to one conversations. There are no locks on doors, signage on the walls or any evidence of a health and safety culture. The kitchen was open to all and the state of the art coffee machine made all types of coffees. The Danes like their coffee.
This is an example of the ‘snack’ awaiting the young people as they came to the house in the afternoon. Variety and quality being the standard set in all the homes that we visited. There is no evidence of deserving and undeserving judgments being made about care leavers. There is a sense that these young people truly are regarded as equal citizens deserving of the highest standards of support.
“Within the homes there were photos on the walls of the children who stayed there but also of the children’s families. When speaking with the staff members who were working the question about Christmas came up. It blew me away that sometimes at Christmas if there are any children in the homes the staff take them to their own homes to celebrate Christmas with their family. I found this totally amazing!!”
“In Denmark the approach to Care for young people is different to Scotland because they have a different approach to “early intervention”. Their take on early intervention is act before the problem can escalate to a worse or more serious situation than before, and properly rather than it dragging over several years.”
A social pedagogue and young person playing at a nature playground. The trailers all sit unchained at the entrance to the park. They enable families to pull their smallest children around. When finished they are returned to the entrance. Our social pedagogue guides spontaneously went into play mode on entering the playground. Our young people responded instinctively. The playground has no signage but a variety of wood sculptures related the Danish folk tales. The emphasis is on self-created play with parents and elders telling folk tales and encouraging imaginative play. The pedagogues said that when they came with toddlers to the playground the children quickly left the climbing structures and went off to explore the woods. I noted the variety of mushrooms growing around the paths and asked about this ‘hazard’, I was told that they explained to the children about getting a sore tummy if they ate them and this seldom happened!
Folk dancing at a private school. There is a strong emphasis on folk culture and we were encouraged to bring some Scottish dances to teach the pupils. They all engaged heartily in the activity. There is evidence of a great pride in Danish culture and knowledge of their history. Flags fly everywhere but you don’t get a sense of nationalistic jingoism, just quiet pride. The Danes we met were also very articulate about their country’s shortcomings including supporting illegal wars and adopting neo-liberal policies in the recent past.
This is part of the Ungdommens Hus, a youth centre run by young people along with social pedagogue workers. The young person who showed us round had been in care and voiced how she felt that the sanctuary she found in this Hus saved her life. The project utilises an old station shunting yard and has been kitted out with arts spaces, recording studios and is a venue for music including a number of music festivals that help fund the project. The local authority is supportive of the centre and respects the autonomy of the management group.
This is the fire console box for the youth house. The house is covered in graffiti and there are codes amongst the youth as to which walls can be covered and as to whether other people’s art can be painted over. Local businesses donate paint for the graffiti projects and the youth also fundraise for their artistic expression. There is also a skate park and a camping ground. Whilst the entry age to the house is 16 the guide told us of a 14 year old boy who worked in the bike repair shop with the understanding of the school that he was struggling to attend. He is very skilled in bike repair and even the local police bring their bikes to be serviced.
These are the young researchers, left to right; Murray, Alex, Julieann and AJ. The mural behind them is in the local university were they undertook some teaching. Public art is everywhere in Denmark and in many ways it symbolizes the ownership of space by the Danish people. Denmark has a law forbidding cctv and I can testify to feeling a little disconcerted when walking round the town centre until I worked out that it was the absence of surveillance that I was reacting to!
A write-up of this study visit by the Scottish care leavers will be included in a future edition of the SIRCC journal. They are also presenting their findings at the SIRCC conference in June 2013.