A shared vision of what success would look like for children in care must be established, and resources and processes should be built around that vision.
That’s one of the key recommendations from a report issued today (23 September 2013) by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee.
The Committee has also reported that too many of Scotland’s most vulnerable young people have been left in unsuitable home environments when they should have been taken into care.
Committee Convener Stewart Maxwell MSP said:
“The evidence we heard from a range of witnesses, particularly from young people who have been in care, was often shocking. We were told about a ‘merry-go-round of placements’, where many children come into care but go home again only to suffer further abuse and neglect. This is simply appalling.
“There’s no doubt that deciding whether or not to remove a child from the family home and into care is one of the hardest decisions to make. However, we believe current decision-making processes do not always deliver the best outcomes for children and families. We must make sure that existing resources, in terms of staff and finance, are used more effectively.
“This report is not about criticising those who work tirelessly to help our most vulnerable children. It is about making sure that the vision, leadership and resources are in place to ensure that all of Scotland’s children have a future free from fear, abuse and neglect.
“We welcome the huge amount of work underway to deliver improvements but need to see tangible evidence that these efforts are fully coordinated and will actually deliver better outcomes for looked after children."
The Committee heard from a wide range of expert witnesses and undertook a series of visits to hear first-hand about how decisions to take children into care are made and the impact they have. The Committee has made a commitment to monitor progress in this area, and to invite the views of children and young people.
Other recommendations contained within the report include:
- The Scottish Government should state whether early interventions will lead to fewer children becoming looked after. If so, it should explain what the implications would be for service providers.
- The complementary skills of staff in universal services and in social work must be used more effectively.
- The Scottish Government should provide detailed information on the impact of the local government settlement on social workers’ post-qualification training and career development, and their ability to support children and families.
- The Scottish Government and local government must take all necessary measures to improve staff retention in children’s social work.
- Further research is needed on claims that parents with learning disabilities are discriminated against.
- Work on establishing a “better, more rounded picture of a looked-after child’s wellbeing” should be progressed as a matter of priority.
- The Scottish Government should provide assurances that current alcohol and drugs policy takes children’s rights fully into account.
Launched in June 2012, the Committee’s inquiry took an in-depth look at the decision making process involved in deciding whether to take a child into care. The remit of the inquiry was to understand:
- the decision-making processes involved in determining whether a child should be removed from the family home and taken into care;
- whether these decision-making processes are delivering the best outcomes for children and their families.
A copy of the Committee’s final report can be found here
According to Scottish Government figures, there are over 16,000 children looked after by local authorities with more than a third of these being looked after by foster carers.
Statistics have also shown that 63% of looked after children have one placement, around a quarter have 2 or 3 placements and 11% have more than 3 placements.
In March 2013 the Committee published an interim report on its inquiry. The report asked the Scottish Government to:
- explain how current decision-making processes could be simplified;
- set out how the total sum of money spent on protecting children could be calculated;
- confirm whether the balance between children’s and parents’ rights in the Children’s Hearings system is correct.
A copy of the interim report can be found here