More than 50 children in the islands are currently within the care system and councillors have signed a pledge to listen to their stories.
At a recent meeting of the Comhairle’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, members were given a presentation by the charity Who Cares? Scotland which included a first hand account of life in care from 25 year old Tony McDonald.
His harrowing story could not have failed to convey the message from the voluntary organisation that Scotland’s children need to be listened to in order to change the care system for the better.
Tony was just a little boy when he stepdad was killed and his mother, unable to cope, turned to heroin.
He told councillors that he felt ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ as the community just wanted to them to leave the area and that other children were forbidden to play with him.
Entering the care system, he said he was given everything he needed, apart from love and affection and regarding himself as worthless, he fell into a path of self destruction.
He undertook his first prison sentence at just 16 and said for the first time, he felt ‘accepted and comfortable’.
“The number one thing was structure,” he said. “When I got out I was so lost and I had nothing left inside me. I was wishing I could go back into care.”
Tony lost his father in a motorbike accident in which he was also severely injured and on his departure from prison he also lost his girlfriend, his brother and two friends in separate tragedies.
Inevitably, he says, he ended up back in prison but this time he asked for help.
“In 2011 I asked for help when I was in prison and I got a key worker and that relationship changed my life.”
Tony is now working for Who Cares? Scotland as a Campaigns and Training Assistant and is a leading part of the charity’s Anti-Stigma campaign which seeks to change attitudes to wards children in care.
Duncan Dunlop, Chief Executive of Who Cares? Scotland told councillors that children in care are more likely to end up in prison than go to university and that in some prison populations, more than 80 per cent of inmates come from a background in care.
They are also 20 per cent more likely to die prematurely and more than 50 per cent suffer with mental health problems.
On their visit to Stornoway, he said he had spoken to a teacher who had never told anyone about their background in care for fear of stigma.
Councillors were asked to sign the charity’s Pledge 2 Listen campaign which is striving to end the discrimination of young people from care.
For more information visit www.whocaresscotland.org/pledge