Glasgow & West Scotland

Separated in care: 'I needed to protect my brother'

Ryan McShane Image copyright Ryan McShane
Image caption Ryan McShane was separated from his younger brother for weeks at a time in care

Ryan McShane is only able to recall certain times in his life by consulting social work files.

Portions of his childhood in Glasgow remain a mystery, but by leafing through reams of paperwork he is able to say for certain where he stayed and when significant events occurred.

An "event" is the 17-year-old's preferred terminology when it comes to his mother's addiction. He occasionally calls it "going off on one". Such spells were often exacerbated when arguments erupted and Ryan's father would disappear from the family home.

"For me that's the best way to put it because if I delve into it too much I'll get upset," he says.

"There were events that happened to me and my brother that were in the files but I don't remember. There was always police involvement."

Image caption Ryan, now 17, has used his story to call for change for young people in care

Despite the blanks, Ryan is candid and perceptive when discussing how he and his younger brother, who the BBC is not going to name, were often shuttled to and from emergency care placements and respite homes during their early years.

The two were often separated, sometimes for eight or nine weeks at a time. But while at home, Ryan felt an overwhelming need to shield his brother from family outbursts before he had started primary school.

'I couldn't be upset to him'

On one holiday to a caravan in Saltcoats, Ryan remembers how at the age of four he took the toddler to play football while his parents and extended family raged at one another indoors.

"There was a lot of conflict because of how people parented," he explained. "There was a small bit of me that thought I had to take care of myself but also maintaining my brother's life as well - being his parent and making sure his safety was the main priority.

"We could hear it, he was aware it was happening but because he was so young he was just sort of going with it. It was the first time I realised all the adults were not good for each other.

"I was upset but I couldn't be upset to him because it would send him off."

Internally, Ryan knew he had to make the best of chaotic situations - but outwardly signs of stress were showing. At school he was often taken out of class for being disruptive and admits he would often spent time on his own.

But he and his brother were given a taste of what a stable family life would feel like during one care placement together, which stretched over eight months.

Ryan said: "I remember it vividly because it was the first placement that felt ok. In other places we would struggle to fit in.

"There was another boy who had been there for years and he was nurtured and loved by the carer. He was a role model for us in a way - other guys in our lives like our cousins were horrendous people to look up to."

Family life worsens

When the eight months were over and the boys moved back home to their mother, Ryan says his behaviour spiralled.

Having been excluded in P6, his school work was months behind his classmates which only added to his frustrations.

Then at the age of nine, another run-in with police moved the boys away from their mother permanently.

Image copyright Ryan McShane

Ryan said: "Mum and dad had an argument and dad went off back to his own house.

"I came back from football and my mum was asleep - there was drugs and alcohol everywhere. The place was a mess. No-one was in, the front door was lying open, lights on everywhere and the microwave had been turned on for 10 minutes and the shower was on.

"I went to the shops with my mum but she couldn't find bank cards and my brother had wandered out the shop with stuff in his hands. So the shopkeeper phoned the police.

"It was one big calamity so I ran away again, it was the only thing I could do. Two of them [police officers] came running after us. I burst out crying and I just knew it was the end.

"I had lost all power and knowing there was a way out. I sat on the kerb, the two of them had come over and put their arms round us - it was the first time in a long time someone had given us a hug."

Using his story for good

After staying with an aunt briefly, Ryan and his brother were granted the stability they had yearned for. A couple in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, heard of their case and agreed to foster them - the two have lived together ever since.

Ryan, now on the cusp of leaving high school, has excelled at Maths, Geography and Modern Studies at St Ambrose and is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

He has also worked with Who Cares? Scotland, a charity which supports and represents young people in care.

Using his story to effect positive change, Ryan was among a group that met Nicola Sturgeon last week to push for more advocacy for children in care to reduce separation between siblings.

It came as the charity published a report, which found that 7.2% of young people in care had been able to access independent advocacy from Who Cares? Scotland.

Chief executive Duncan Dunlop said: "The number of issues our advocates partner with children and young people on has shown that the most common issues have more than doubled in recorded number since 2014.

"We would love to be in a situation where independent advocacy was not needed, because children's views and desires are respected. This data shows we are a long way from that.

"We have welcomed, at every turn, the commitment and determination of those responsible for young people in care to make things better. We cannot miss this opportunity for change."