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SASW responds to proposed changes to cross border placements

The Scottish Government is proposing the removal of legal hurdles for cross-border placements of children by English councils.

SASW believes that cross border placements are not in any way an ideal situation for children, their families, friends or the professionals supporting them to be able to live safely and healthily.  Being distanced from families and support networks affects relationships and the capacity to develop and maintain the long-term friendships and family relationships that all of us need to thrive. Any experience of moving into care can be experienced as traumatic and being moved perhaps hundreds of miles from where you live can only exacerbate this.  At such distances, responsive professional relationships are more difficult to sustain.  The planning and work necessary to achieve the goals of safe return to the child’s community will be more complex and entail more barriers.

As Scotland’s Promise states:

“Scotland must recognise that placing children in highly restricted environments must be used only when necessary and not simply as an escalation when other interventions have failed.” However, given that young people are still coming to Scottish residential and secure care homes from other UK countries, it is imperative that the legal status of any order is clear and understood.  Deprivation of liberty Safeguards orders do not exist in Scottish law.  Ensuring that placements and interventions are legally correct in a way that is not overly burdensome or complex for all parties is generally to be welcomed.  Young people have rights that must be upheld and complex legal systems may present barriers to this.

The proposals include convening a children’s hearing that can appoint a Safeguarder and can ensure advocacy provision.  These are important tools in achieving the best interests of children in cross border placements.

Whilst SASW does not support cross-border placements as a standard practice, the measures proposed by Scottish Government are a short-term interim step in a problem that needs a longer-term solution.

Clearly the key element is that there are not enough placements available for children in their countries of origin.  We understand that around 20 children were placed in Scottish secure accommodation last year.  Whilst this doesn’t appear a big number, it is a significant number of the placements available in Scotland and so has a knock-on effect for children from Scotland, leaving them vulnerable to either not getting the support they need or being placed further away from their communities.

We need to look at the reasons that providers need to consistently operate at full capacity.  Is it sustainable to operate at that level and be able to respond to a demand for placements which will ebb and flow?   Where services operate at 100%, there is no emergency capacity. We see this as a problem across sectors, including the NHS.  Providers maintain they need to operate at 100% to break even.  If we need flex, we need to commission for it. The proposed National Care Service in Scotland will revise current commissioning arrangements in adults’ services and The Independent Review of Adult Social Care recommended national commissioning for some specialist service in relation to adults.  We await Scottish Government confirmation as to whether children’s services will be in the scope of the NCS. 

However, our preferred response to the situation is to deliver better early intervention and support for children and families to reduce the need for secure and residential placements far away from home.  More intensive, responsive, community-based support could reduce the numbers of children experiencing the ordeal of being deprived of their liberty.

Meantime, the proposed changes can be read in full here.