Gerald Neil is a successful accountant and qualified stress and relaxation therapist. With experience of care himself, Gerald will lead a session at our Practitioners’ Gathering in Stirling on 30 October.

Here, we talk to Gerald about his background, how to improve the lives of care experienced young people and how we can all do more to reduce stress in our lives.

Can you tell us a little about your background? You’re now a qualified stress and relaxation therapist, how did that come about?

Both my older brother and I experienced a number of very traumatic experiences which lead us into the care system when I was almost seven and my brother ten. As both our coping skills were extreme, we were separated from the offset and placed in different residential units which continued throughout our time in the system. The result of this was that when we left care my brother, being the only close family I had, was a stranger to me.

In the ten years I was “cared for” by the local authorities I lived in six different children’s homes or residential schools, plus two short term temporary placements. As education was not high on the list of priorities when I was being moved around, I attended ten different “outside” schools by primary six – where I was expelled and never returned to outside schools again. I have never been enrolled in a secondary school, ever.

I ran away constantly, usually to go and get my brother and he did the same for me. When I was eight or nine we were away for five days and when I was 13 I was down in London for over three weeks. I ran away constantly. Solvent abuse was a feature from the age of seven and alcohol and drugs were a constant feature from 10 onwards.

As my behaviour was so extreme I was fast-tracked out the homes into a bedsit when I was 16 with a grant for a few hundred quid, fast-tracked to a Panel so I could be discharged from the section I was held under so I could be dealt with through the criminal justice system moving forward. Within months of leaving care I was homeless and sleeping on sofas and nine months after leaving care I was in the Young Offenders Institution.

I learned how to meditate when I was 19 in Dumfries Young Offenders Institute – an organisation called the Phoenix Prison Trust visited the establishment to teach us yoga and meditation and left behind books packed with techniques. This planted a seed in my mind that still grows today.

I decided to learn more about how to manage stress and why trauma is encoded in the brain after I was invited to speak at an event organised by James Docherty at the Violence Reduction Unit in August 2017 and then Staf’s dinner with dialogue in November 2017. At these events I was deeply moved by the stories of the challenges the young people are still facing. To say I was amazed that the challenges and barriers we faced 25 years ago are still happening would be an understatement. It forced me to stand still and look back at the past so I could re-associate the trauma into experience and feedback that can be used beneficially moving forward.

You’re now involved in the Care Review – can  you tell us a bit about your role and what your opinion is on how we further develop the workforce to improve the lives of care experienced young people?

I am not entirely sure what the role with the care review involves. I believe there are upwards of 15 of us and the two co-chairs who will look at evidence, research and statistics as well as hear from frontline workers about training, self-care and what needs to happen to equip the workforce with the practical techniques, processes and training to get their unquestionable intentions to be matched by their behaviours.

I pushed to get into the workers review as after visiting or doing workshops in a number of establishments, including Quarriers, St Mary’s Kenmure, the Good Shepherd and Catch Scotland it’s clear that if young people are to have far better outcomes when they leave care, then the workers around them on a daily basis are key to this process. The level of self-care training is very poor or non-existent and its clear workers are experiencing real challenges which is spilling out into and affecting their health and lives outside of their working roles.

Stress in the workplace is a massive challenge in all professional sectors, however the challenging conditions our care workers are facing as a result of the bad coping habits many of our young people have developed to manage their own stress is clearly having a major impact of the workforce. We are in a situation where the symptoms of our young people’s trauma is becoming the cause of our workers stress, which in turn is producing symptoms that are causing challenges in their lives outside of work.

My belief is that each quarter, as a minimum, workers are given on the job training (paid and compulsory) and exposed to stress management and self-care techniques. All workers will not take to certain techniques and may not feel the need to practice them, however if there is a great need to use these techniques then they at least know how to do them and can apply them to themselves.

We’re all looking forward to hearing you at our Practitioners’ Gathering but for our members that can’t be at the event, what advice would you give on building your techniques into their daily work?

I would advise everyone to take self-care very seriously. Breathing techniques, meditation (whatever form), yoga, exercise and engaging in social activities are a number of methods that can be useful to flush the toxic chemicals and hormones of stress out our system. Self-care can involve three minutes of deep abdominal breathing four times a day.

Finally, we know you agree about the importance of love and relationships in making lives better – can you tell us about one supportive relationship that has led to your success in life?

I firmly believe that better outcomes can only be achieved with strong and consistent relationships between the young people, relatives and workers. This means consistency of placements, consistency of workers, siblings stay together, same schools and stable environments. We need to equip workers with ways of managing stress so that good experienced workers are not burning out and having to leave the sector.

Find out more about Ged and his business, Dynamic Creations, on his website here.