Councils told to do more for looked-after children

Local authorities have been challenged to "think like a parent" and constantly ask the question: "Is this good enough for my child?" in their support for looked-after children.

New guidance on the "corporate parenting" of children in council care, launched this week by Adam Ingram, the Minister for Children and Early Years, is the latest in a series of salvoes launched by successive education ministers, exhorting councils to do more for looked-after children.

Mr Ingram acknowledged that, over the years and despite good intentions and investment, local and national agencies had "collectively failed the children and young people who have been entrusted to us".

He said: "We must improve educational achievement and attainment, achieving sustained positive post-school destinations; reduce looked-after children and young people and care leavers' involvement in the criminal justice system; cut back on their levels of homelessness and help them to live full and healthy lives."

The theme of multi-agency working also dominated a Scottish parliamentary debate last week on the Scottish Government's policy of "Getting It Right For Every Child", or GIRFEC as it is described.

Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, pointed to emerging good practice for multi-agency working piloted in "pathfinder" projects in Highland, Falkirk, Clydebank, Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway. This is based on electronic data-sharing necessary for protecting vulnerable children.

While Ms Hyslop won widespread backing for the principles of the policy - which originated under the previous Scottish Executive - Opposition MSPs attacked the SNP administration for not resourcing it.

Rhona Brankin, Labour's education spokeswoman, said: "The Government is in danger of getting it right for every child on paper but not delivering change on the ground. With cutbacks and instability in jobs and service delivery, it has failed to prioritise spending on education, children and families."

Labour's motion, which was defeated, voiced concern at the "impact on vulnerable children of rising class sizes, cuts in the number of health visitors and cuts in the number of teachers of children with additional support needs. "It also called on the Scottish Government to honour its pledge to pay kinship carers' allowance to grandparents".

Hugh O'Donnell, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Central Scotland, said: "It will simply not be good enough for such a progressive step to be damaged by the Government, which has already shown, in other areas of activity, its willingness to pass the buck, but not necessarily the bucks, to local authorities."

If the GIRFEC vision was to become reality, legislation would be needed, argued Mr O'Donnell.

Mr Ingram did not rule out legislation at a later stage but argued that it would be "a big mistake to legislate too early" as "we have made some mistakes in the Parliament in previous legislation".

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