Blog: putting love into the care system


Following the publication of the Independent Care Review conclusions last week, John Ryan, Aberlour’s Assistant Director for residential care services blogs his thoughts on the Review, why he’s proud of the changes already implemented, and what lies ahead.

Scotland is at a pivotal time in its social history.  In 2016 Scotland’s First Minister launched the Care Review. It was to be a review like no other, led by and informed by people who had first-hand experience of being in care.

no love in the care system?

There was a strong narrative that there was no love in the care system.  This was extremely difficult for us to hear as we looked in to the experience of those who lived in our six children’s houses which was telling us clearly that they felt loved – be it having someone to celebrate their many achievements, someone to console them when life was tough or to have someone believe in them for the first time in their lives – all loving acts that so many in society take for granted but when they are absent can make for a sad and lonely existence.

Since 2017 Aberlour has been examining what love in the context of care looks like as part of a project with Includem, CELCIS and the Care Inspectorate. The project might conclude that what is there already is strong, or design some new ways for how those involved in looking after children in the ‘system’ can show love.  This project is exciting; like the Review, it prioritises the voices of those in care to have a say.

rethinking restraint

We know that the Review has heard challenging testimonies from children and adults about the use of restraint.  In July 2017, Aberlour decided that it was time to rethink restraint – our children did not like being or seeing restraint and the adults working with children declared that they do not like restraining children – it has been part of the contemporary discourse about helping children regulate their distress and used as a risk-managed intervention; this was and still is difficult to write or think about, but we knew that change was needed and we were driven to act to achieve an end to restraint.

This is a complex, emotionally charged and highly contentious issue.  Jim Wallace, Director of Children’s Services at Aberlour hypothecated that Scotland would reflect in some 25 years about why on earth was restraint ever considered as a justifiable intervention in our work with those we love!

Our efforts to date have been impactful and the adults working with our children have shown great willingness to move away from restraint.

Our approach is now seeing us take far greater account of the gaps in a child’s early development so that we can help them regain composure when they face anxiety and uncertainty without having to display fear.

In 2018 Aberlour made a decision to engage a Clinical Psychologist to support our children’s houses by building the capacity of our teams to really understand who the children are,  identify gaps in our children’s development and use their relationships to help repair the gaps.

The Care Review, through its Workforce Development strand, understands that working in residential child-care is complex, challenging and highly rewarding work.

intervening earlier

We are encouraged that the Care Review has recommended more must be done to intervene early to prevent children entering care, but for those who do, it is because it is a last resort. This means that those placing children into care need to be hopeful and optimistic that residential child care will fulfil its potential and provide a positive, loving and caring experience for those children who cannot live in a family – none of us would leave our children in a place that was considered to be a place of failure!

There continues to be a strong and powerful narrative that the ‘system’ is failing. There is certainly much that in the wider system must be done better and place the child at the centre of decisions making. We have been encouraged and motivated by the Care Review’s approach and messaging – it sets a powerful and achievable vision that will enable those of us who are committed to bringing about much needed change to succeed.  Change is really coming!

the power of residential care

Samantha, one of our children, recently wrote a letter to us, where she talks about how living with us has given opportunities that she may never had otherwise had including being actively involved in the recruitment of staff.  Samantha’s words beautifully illustrate the power of residential childcare.

Dear John Ryan, Andy Finlay and Debbie

I can’t begin to put into words how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to have interviewed 5 people alongside you there. Almost 2 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to sit and make eye contact never mind ask questions but with all the help and support Aberlour have given me to being able to socialise at school and transfer that skill into real life interviews makes me proud to be part of the Aberlour family.  I really enjoyed getting to do the interviews as I wouldn’t have ever thought I would have got this opportunity.  I am so proud of what Aberlour can achieve in such a small period of time.

Yours sincerely



















As the ink dries on the recommendations in the report Aberlour is extremely proud of the changes we have made – our values of respect, integrity, innovation and challenge position us well as to take the changes forward – we can see the positive impact on children like Samantha and we are ready to do more.

We will move into that space in the knowledge that we have remained positive contributors to the care of children and young people in Scotland.  Like the Care Review, we have listened carefully to our children and the adults who work with them to make changes where they were needed, even when these may have seemed impossible.

John Ryan
Assistant Director, Aberlour


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