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‘Grand coalition’ needed to raise Scottish care standards

All Scottish political parties should put aside their differences and form a ‘grand coalition’ to improve outcomes for looked-after children, according to leading children’s charity Aberlour Child Care Trust.

The charity demanded that the Scottish Parliament takes a long-range and cross-party approach to improving outcomes for Scotland’s looked-after children and young people. It made the call after Audit Commission Scotland criticised the failure of the Scottish government and local authorities to approach the issue of residential care in a strategic way.

Aberlour’s head of policy, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said: “If the measure of a civilised society is how the state acts as parent to some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and how it provides them with the support and stability to make the most of their potential, then sadly we are failing that test.

“Outcomes for care leavers in this country are a national shame and despite successive strategies and reviews, we have seen no tangible improvement in employment prospects, engagement in education or reduced likelihood of criminal activity for those who leave the Scottish care system,” he added.

The Audit Commission Scotland report, published on 2 September, called for councils, the Scottish government, National Health Service boards and other bodies to manage residential child care services better to help children and young people achieve their full potential.

The report said that councils are working on becoming better ‘corporate parents’, with support from the Scottish Government. But it warned that there still needs to be a greater emphasis on the long-term outcomes and life chances of children in residential care. Many children’s care plans lack clear action points and long-term goals, it added.

Ruth Stark, BASW’s Scotland manager, said Aberlour was right to highlight the potential of good quality residential child care: “We need to learn from what works in other countries. Charles Arnaud, a key leader in the Foyer movement in France, pointed out in the 1980’s that young people in moving away from families of birth went through a yo-yo period between 18 and 26 – leaving for periods of time and then returning – before finally creating their own homes,” said Ms Stark.

“How much more difficult for children whose families are not there for them through this period. I recently reviewed a book about a community in Russia called Kitezh which takes children from the streets of Moscow and provides that support for rootless children and young people that takes them through university and onto their own homes – if they can achieve that aspiration in far worse economic conditions than we have in the UK then Aberlour’s call for a concerted cross-party initiative in Scotland should be supported by us all in supporting our young people who are most at risk of discrimination and harm.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said that often young people failed to receive the support they need in their communities and so residential care workers struggle to engage with them. He warned that young people leaving care do not receive enough support from local authorities, leaving them vulnerable and more likely to become unemployed or in contact with the criminal justice system.

“It is time to take a unified approach to this issue and to concentrate minds on addressing one of the most significant social problems of our time. This will require some mature decision making on the part of our parliamentarians and an understanding that the kind of support our care leavers require and deserve will cost money. The return on that investment may be a long time coming, but come it will and to the benefit of everyone in our society,” he added.

Audit Scotland Report: http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/docs/local/2010/nr_100902_children_residential.pdf