William Lindsay: Outrage and shame are not enough.

Yesterday, it was three years since William Lindsay died, at just 16 years old in Polmont Young Offenders Institution.  William had experienced Scotland’s ‘care system’ and been let down, time after time, by the ‘system’ that was supposed to love, care and look after him.


At the time, there was outrage that something so awful could happen to a child, and cries of ‘never again’.  Outrage and shame were the right response – but alone they are not nearly enough. 


William died eighteen months into the Independent Care Review. I still think of the young people I met whilst chairing the review, who are not here anymore, of the brothers, sisters, parents, friends that are gone.  Of their friends and family who told me about their losses.  Some ask me to shout on behalf of their loved one, others ask for my silence.  I always respect their wishes. 


But I have heard and felt their grief and anger and I carry it with me, always.  And I also grieve – and rage.  Every time someone with care experience dies, often too young, often in despair, it reignites that sadness and anger.


Last February, Scotland made a promise when it committed to implement the Independent Care Review in full.  It made a promise to every one of its children, and especially and most profoundly the children who live or have lived in and around the ‘care system’. This promise was made by government, national and local, by quangos and charities, the police and inspectors – organisations, the country over, with responsibilities, all committing to change.


One of these promises was that children would no longer be held in young offender institutions, and yet today, eighteen months after the Care Review concluded, there are almost twenty children in Scotland’s young offenders institutions.


That could change right now. And every day it doesn’t, that promise is being broken to those children.


It is another day that a child is being deprived of their liberty, of a day of childhood.


Plan 21-24 – Scotland’s plan for change, which carefully sequences the Care Review conclusions – includes this promise and others that could be kept right now. One of the five priority areas it focuses on is ‘A Good Childhood’.  In addition to the cessation of holding children in prison, it states plainly what must be done by 2024 to begin to give children with care experience, in the ‘care system’ or on the edges of care, the childhood that every child should have.


The childhood William should have had.


Plan 21-24 is explicit, not vague or ambiguous, it clearly states what must change, who must do it and by when.


This came too late for William, who will never see the Scotland ‘the promise’ envisioned. The Scotland that William needed. A country that cares, made up of services that work; of a country that cherishes its children, that does all it can to make sure they grow up ‘loved, safe and respected.’ That country did not exist for William.


And yet since the conclusions of the Care Review, there continue to be children to whom the promise has been broken.


Because of this, especially this, my dedication to drive the change demanded to #KeepThePromise continues with urgency and impatience. 


Very deliberately, the Independent Care Review’s report ‘the promise’ did not seek to lay blame for the past. I have always sought and will continue to seek to bring people and organisations together on the journey of change and have seen that so much more can be achieved with support, than public berating. 


But I will not remain silent about broken promises, nor be complicit with those who broke them.


Scotland must face up to the hard truth that those with responsibility for William and so many others, failed. There can be no passive standing by on the side-lines observing organisations pass the buck, relying on shared responsibility to shirk accountability.


My responsibility is to persevere, to challenge, to disrupt – and call out. This will make me unpopular at times and difficult. But I made a promise too; and I intend to keep it.