Caitlin’s story: “Nobody clicked on to it. Nobody offered me help.”
Caitlin was just 12 when she experienced a traumatic bereavement. Within a few years she was drinking heavily and regularly coming into conflict with the law, yet the support she so badly needed was not made available to her.
Caitlin’s story is not uncommon. In fact, numerous studies have shown the link between young people experiencing a bereavement and going on to offend.
Here she tells her story.
"I've been through it all, I've been through the wars. I can tell it all, tell people what's what.
“My mum was murdered in front of me when I was 12. But it was like it didn't affect me for ages. It wasn't ‘til I was 14 that it hit me, that I went off the rails. I started drinking and picking up charges. Nobody clicked onto it, nobody offered me help when I was that age."
"I wasn't trying to be a bad person but the whole thing made me feel like a bad person."
Despite Caitlin’s behaviour, she was not offered any support or intervention until she ended up spending the night in the cells.
“One night I got 12 charges. It was a black out; I woke up and found myself in a cell and found out what I’d done. After that I was sent to a group counselling thing, just once. There were other people I knew there. I was quite embarrassed. I knew it wasn't me, it was only ‘cause I was drinking. I’m a totally different person when I drink, that was the only time I picked up charges.”
As Caitlin’s mental health continued to decline, the number of charges she was picking up was increasing.
"It made me feel really low. It wasn't just charges I was picking up, I tried to take my own life like seven times. I wasn't trying to be a bad person but the whole thing made me feel like a bad person. It was just the state of mind I was in.
“My dad encouraged me to go to the doctors and they got me in for an assessment with a psychologist. I was 17 or 18 then and I was worse five years after my mum’s death than at the time. I couldn’t even understand it myself. They diagnosed me with PTSD, but I’m still waiting on treatment and it’s been well over a year. I’ve been referred by my CAT addiction worker as well and I’ve still not seen them. It was really frustrating at the time ‘cause my family were down at the doctors all the time asking what was wrong with me.”
At 18 years old, Caitlin was referred to Includem for support, which she says has helped her to deal with her emotions.
"I couldn't turn to my family sometimes. I think my family has a negative outlook on everything because of what we’ve been through. They’ve been through enough. It’s good you can go to Includem with anything. We talk a lot, about what I’ve overcome and what I want to achieve.”
Despite Caitlin’s behaviour and coming into conflict with the law, she was not given a Compulsory Supervision Order (CSO) and was only referred to the children's panel, but no further action was taken. She believes that earlier support and guidance could have helped her, and other young people in similar situations.
"I think if you commit a crime at that age, you're obviously not old enough to understand, your brain isn't old enough. Maybe we shouldn't be punished, maybe we should be taught and supported. Not everyone knows what’s right and wrong at that age. I know people who were punished at that age who then turned out really bad, and maybe they woudn't have if they hadn’t been punished like that.
“I am now dealing with the offences through the adult system from when I was 16yrs old. A CSO would have steered me in the right direction… all I wanted to do when adults told me what to do is rebel against them. I didn't realise that they were trying to help me. At 14, 15 I didn't understand but its only now that I’m starting to understand my actions having consequences and I'm starting to sort myself out.”
Fortunately, additional support from Includem and an understanding employer have helped Caitiln to start working towards a future that she wants.
"We talk a lot, about what I’ve overcome and what I want to achieve. I was working as a joiner and I was doing pure well at it, but I just wasn't in the right frame of mind, I was turning up drunk and hungover. So, [my employer] told me to get my head sorted, given me space to sort myself out. They've been really supportive.
“I’m feeling better about the future, and I’m looking at going back to college when they start back again.”
Caitlin will be taking part in an online event hosted by Red Harbour, looking at how Scotland can take a rights-based approach to youth justice and the next Youth Justice Strategy.
Find out about our role as National Childhood Bereavement Coordinator.