Our journey to provide residential services in the Highlands – a blog from our CEO SallyAnn Kelly

5
Jun
2017
Aberlou CEO SallyAnn Kelly

Buying a house is, experts agree, the single most stressful thing any of us will ever do.

Finding and securing the perfect property is, we are told, more fraught than getting married, having a baby, getting divorced, losing a job or becoming bankrupt. It is, in short, no fun.

If stress levels rocket when searching for one ideal home, they would, we feared, become stratospheric while searching for Aberlour’s first properties in the Highlands. We were looking for three perfect houses for 15 of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.

However, we must have been very lucky. After successfully finding and buying the right houses, we are not stressed at all. We are delighted.

The road was not always smooth and there were a few bumps and a couple of potholes, but our new houses – beautiful, high-quality properties in Inverness, Fort William and Tain – are now ready. Two are already home to children, aged eight to 18. Children will begin moving into the third property in the coming weeks and we could not be happier. Or prouder.

It is easy to talk about providing the best possible residential care for children but it costs money and takes time. It is hard, challenging work. Our belief in the benefits of the residential care we can provide is measured in far more than warm words. It is measured in the hard cash we spend on bricks, mortar and expert, dedicated staff.

our historic commitment

That belief is revealed in our investment, commitment and a passion to give children a happy, safe, loving home. That investment is evident in the properties we have purchased. That commitment steers our daily work and shapes our strategic mission. That passion is in our DNA. Providing safe, stable care for children is quite simply what we do. It is what we have done for more than 140 years since the Aberlour orphanage first sheltered “mitherless bairns” in 1875.

A lot has changed since then, not least in the kind of structured, therapeutic care we provide today, but one thing, above all, has remained constant: our absolute belief that children, no matter what they have endured in their young lives so far, deserve stability and safety, care and encouragement, love and understanding.

We are committed to delivering the most welcome, caring homes for children, who, for whatever reason, desperately need one. Every child deserves the chance to flourish however difficult their lives have been and, at Aberlour, we are absolutely committed to ensuring they get that chance. The new Highland houses are part of our Sycamore service, which includes five houses in Fife. Every one of them offers a safe, loving place to live for children, who have endured abuse and trauma.

the perfect properties

Our search for perfect properties in the Highlands was extensive and exacting. It had to be because we were looking for ideal homes for children who could not deserve one more. They may have suffered abuse, witnessed violence, or watched as parents struggled with addiction. Their yesterdays have been harder than they should have been and they deserve the opportunity of a happier today and a brighter tomorrow. We are determined to give them that opportunity.

Some of our children will live with us for a short, planned period before returning to their families when the time is right. Those children will find a warm welcome and nurturing place to live with us, until they can be supported to return home. Others will live with us until they are adults, and ready to live independently.

not a ‘last resort’

We do not believe residential care should always be a last resort. The search for stable, consistent foster care for children can sometimes become increasingly frenetic with each failure and only add to the child’s feelings of rejection and isolation. For some children, residential care has to be the first option when they are removed from their parents. For some children settling into a small family unit away from their parents is just too difficult. We have welcomed children after 20 different placements have broken down, for example, and finding a home with us, as part of our broader Aberlour ‘family’ – safe, cared for and encouraged is exactly what those children needed.

support for families

However, we recognise that children should, wherever possible, remain with their own families and that they should receive the best possible love and care there. That is why we have launched Sustain, alongside our Highland homes, a support service in Ross-shire helping families with children on the “edge of care.” We work with families to ease the pressures that are propelling them into crisis. We strive to keep parents and their children together. If we can, fantastic, if we cannot, we are able to provide the consistent care those children need.

We don’t do jargon at Aberlour. Our houses are not community-based care units. We do not manage residential institutions. Rather, we create family homes for children, that are, of course, structurally sound but built on even stronger foundations. They are built on nurture, care, belief and love and we are not afraid of saying so. We believe in and love the children living there. Why wouldn’t we when they are part of our Aberlour family?

Our new houses in the Highlands, like our others around Scotland, are bright and spacious with lots of windows. They let the light in and, when we are lucky enough to get some, the sunshine. That is no accident. The children living there have had enough darkness in their lives. They will grow in these bright, happy houses, make friends there, and find a family there. We will encourage them to think about their future there and to begin hoping for the best because they deserve the best.

the future

These are houses at the heart of their communities. The children living with us can easily walk to the shops, their schools and the parks. They can chat to their neighbours, meet their friends. They are connected, at the centre of things and, for many, that is a new experience. Many of them have lived in increasing isolation, drawing into themselves and away from whatever has been going on around them. To feel they are a valued part of something, of a family, of a community, can only improve their self-confidence and brighten their futures.

Yes, of course, our house hunting in the Highlands was, on occasion, a little fraught. Finding perfect houses for some fantastic children was sometimes arduous and often stressful. It has been worth it, however, and will always be worth it. At Aberlour, it’s what we do.