The needs of the care experienced are universal

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Following the recent Care Day organised by Who Cares? Scotland, Dr Rachel Happer writes about the importance of a secure, nurturing experience in care

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22nd February 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

It’s important for all of us – even those who have no connection with institutional care in Scotland – to consider why a secure, nurturing experience in care and afterwards is so important.

For all children, early experiences matter in shaping their lives and building their future life chances.

Self-confidence and self-esteem, the ability to manage relationships, trusting others and developing life skills are all rooted in the care and protection that surrounds children from birth.

A strong early start helps provide a sense of self and identity, an understanding of who you are as a person and how you get on with others.

It is therefore vital that institutional care is a healthy environment where those strengths can develop in a positive way.

Dr Rachel Happer

Dr Rachel Happer

We need to play, learn and have all of the life experiences that are so important to childhood

It must be a place where adults are trustworthy, children are valued, and the culture is nurturing.

Care needs to equip children with the skills to overcome future challenges, but it also needs to help young people understand how any previous traumatic experience may have affected them.

We know that trauma shapes development just as much as love does. Anger, depression, eating disorders and self-harm can all be outward signs of internalised trauma. For many children, however, the biggest challenges they face are not related to physical injury.

They are the result of chronic stress, especially in relationships: loss of loved ones, instability in the home, and fear of those who should be protecting them.

Children exposed to these extreme stressors need a caring environment where there is understanding of how their development has been affected.

They need caregivers who recognise how those experiences may be shaping the way they think, feel and behave. Most of all, they need to feel recognised, valued and that they matter.

All of us, whether we are care-experienced or not, have the same developmental needs.

We need to play, learn and have all of the life experiences that are so important to childhood.

We need to grow up in an emotional environment, wherever it is, that guides us and allows us to develop to our full potential.

Dr Rachel Happer is head of the National Confidential Forum.