Dana's story

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Arriving in the grounds of Blairvadach Residential Home, three miles west of Dumbarton, the taxi driver points to the large Victorian mansion at the top of the hill and tells me: "That's where 'the little darlings' used to stay. But the building's now council offices."

We turn right and drive a short distance, pulling up in front of a large mobile hut unit. From the outside it is not dissimilar to the temporary classrooms in many of Scotland's playgrounds.

"They moved 'the little darlings' here a few years ago," says the driver. The sarcasm of the repeated phrase, and the self-satisfied smirk, betray a familiar attitude to looked-after young people - that they are "in care" because they have done something wrong; whatever the cause, they are somehow to blame for their situation.

It is an attitude which the young person I have come to see has had to live with all of her life. She is Dana Royle, aged 17, and she's been a looked-after young person at Blairvadach for the last seven years.

I meet her the day before she leaves for Newcastle College to study for an HND in business and marketing. An independent, confident young woman, she wants to go into advertising.

Entering the home - or "The Bungalows", as the mobile huts are grandly termed - the atmosphere is relaxed, warm and informal. Dana comes from her room immediately to greet me. The living room is cluttered with her packed-up belongings, so we sit in her key-worker Jenny's office. Jenny brings us coffee and leaves us to chat. This is Dana's story.

II've been in care since I was three years old. It was to do with family problems. I don't see my parents through my choice. I've no brothers or sisters. I've never had the family atmosphere.

I was fostered at three and moved around. I don't even know how much. I was never jealous of kids with family homes, even though some snobs looked down on me a bit.

I came here when I was 10. I was more excited than scared. It was like coming to a holiday camp and that feeling has lasted. When we were at the big house up on the hill there, before we were moved down to the bungalows, it was madness.

There's only room for eight of us here. In the big house there were 30 all the time but it seemed hundreds came in and out in a year. There was a lot of trouble.

I went to Hermitage Primary and then Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh. It felt pretty normal going to secondary, because I had friends from primary.

I never felt disadvantaged at school. My key worker Jenny went to all my parents' evenings. But you were treated differently by the school. I was suspended all the time and I overheard a teacher say it was because I was from 'that children's home'.

I was aggressive, cheeky to the teachers and fighting. By third year I'd calmeddown, though I was never what you'd call a model pupil. Whenever I was suspended, Jenny pleaded with the headteacher to keep me in the school. I never thought I'd get my Standard grades but now I've got three Highers and I've been told I'm the only person in the last 17 years to go on to higher education from Blairvadach.

My English teacher was really good. She encouraged me to go on with English but I didn't see the point. I didn't want to end up as a journalist or a teacher. I like business and I'm ambitious to make money. I'd like to complete my degree in advertising after the HND and go into advertising.

Going tomorrow to Newcastle scares me in as much as it would anyone else going 300 miles from home. But I want a change. There's nothing for me in Helensburgh. I have a good relationship with the staff and I have their home phone numbers. I know they'll help me at university. I'm quite independent and it'll maybe be easier for me than somebody leaving a family home for the first time. I'm going into halls of residence.

I'll always keep in touch here and come back and visit. Jenny is the nearest thing I've got to a parent and that relationship came quite easily. Quite a few staff here can help you here in different ways. I'm closer to some than others but I've been lucky in having more than two parents. That's how I look at it.

I've definitely been happy here. I've felt secure and safe and always felt valued. There are worse places than here I know. But I've outgrown it now and I hate the new people coming in and out. It's coming into our home. Like a boy came in punching holes in the walls! This is my home!

I'm happy to leave but somebody will move into my room. I don't even let anybody talk about it. It'll no longer be my room.

This is where I grew up. People think children's homes are for kids who've done something wrong. My friend used to think I got locked in my room at night. They can't distinguish between a secure unit and a home. This is my foster home - or it's more of that than a jail! We're either seen as criminals or Orphan Annie types.

I think the system could be improved. It needs more money. Also, if you're under certain orders or sections, your wishes aren't always respected. My social workers have changed more times than I can remember. You should have one social worker or as few as possible to maintain a relationship. You don't get to know them very well.

I always felt patronised by social workers. They'd phone the staff to see how I was. They didn't speak to me. But the main problem is people's ignorance about children's homes. They either want to save you or they think you're a criminal. But that's mainly an adult thing. Young people don't discriminate in the same way. Young people are more open.

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