Remembering Caitlyn-Scott Lee
Like many of us in settings that work with young people, I have found myself reading about Caitlyn Scott-Lee and wondering what we can learn about her story in order to improve in our support for all young people including those who are neurodiverse.
To provide some background, Caitlyn was a 16-year-old who in April 2023, ended her life at the prestigious Wycombe Abbey School. This was just hours before she was due to have her first ever detention – a 2-hour detention, known as a ‘headmistress’ detention’.
Caitlyn had been feeling suicidal for some time but had been deemed ‘low risk’. In a diary entry she wrote before ending her life, she shared that she had recently run away from a school trip to Eton College and this was …’the best cry out for help I could give and you [Wycombe] responded with ‘we’d normally punish you but you’re already getting punished’.”
Before considering lessons, we can learn about this case, let’s take a moment to read some of the tribute Caitlyn’s parents wrote on a website they set up to celebrate her life:
“Caitlyn was gifted with autism and had an ability to see the world uniquely and thrive at her boarding house. The school community, friends, and family are grieving her loss, but we are comforted in her personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Of course, in reading this, I was struck by the deep grief the family must be feeling and the tangible love that can be felt through this tribute.
However, I was also struck by the wonderful term ‘gifted with autism’. Schools have come such a long way in our understanding of neurodiversity and yet we still have such a long way to go, especially in terms of viewing it as the gift that it is.
In the pursuit of providing a safe and inclusive learning environment, schools have a profound responsibility to understand and celebrate neurodiversity. We also have a responsibility to consider the different approaches needed to encourage the best behaviour and attitude to learning we can draw out from our students. We all know that one child may need a much ‘lighter touch’ in terms of discipline than another and yet too often, our procedures can resemble a ‘blanket rule’ that benefits very few.
It is not clear the assessment processes in place that led the school to consider Caitlyn to be a ‘low risk’ of suicide and indeed, this blogpost is not in any way to be considered a criticism of the school’s processes.
Indeed, we all have a long way to come in understanding how to risk assess for suicide and self-harm, to ensure we are able to consider the potential impact of disciplinary measures, and staff-student relationships for instance. Better training for staff around neurodiverse students and how they may present – including the prevalence of ‘masking’, particularly amongst neurodiverse girls and young women – would enable us to grow in confidence and offer an inclusive and supportive environment.
In reading about this case, I also got thinking about the importance of friendships within safeguarding. Caitlyn clearly had a wonderful group of supportive friends, who understood and celebrated her – indeed, she addressed them in a letter she wrote before her death.
Some of the most significant information we can be given around the risks facing a child can be that which is shared by their friends. I have often used the phrase ‘if the child’s friends are worried, then we should be worried’. In saying this, I refer to the fact that many friendships, particularly amongst young people, will be based upon trust and the sharing of secrets. When a child decides to break their friend’s trust to divulge important information to a staff member, it is usually because they are so worried, to the point of a willingness to risk the friendship ending in order to help keep their friend safe.
In pursuing the ‘culture and ethos of safeguarding’ that we so often refer to, we need to ensure that we provide avenues for young people to share when they are worried about their friend. Ensuring that safeguarding is presented as something that is done WITH students rather than TO students is a great place to start.
Before finishing, may we pass on our condolences to Caitlyn Scott-Lee’s family, friends and school community. Caitlyn’s father, neurodiverse himself, has been courageous in speaking out about the lessons that must be learnt from her life, and death. It is vital that we listen to him and others to consider changes that we can make to prevent this occurring again.