Children are being let down, claims charity
Campaigners have accused ministers of letting down Scotland's youngsters, after it emerged that a key new children's bill is still years away from becoming reality.
The Scottish Government launched a consultation on the Rights of Children and Young People Bill last Thursday, which will make the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child part of Scots law when it comes into force next spring.
However, a related piece of legislation, the Children's Services Bill, also announced last week to improve youngsters' life chances, is not set to become law until 2013.
Children in Scotland welcomed the programme overall, but criticised the Government for neglecting early-years youngsters by dragging its heels on the services legislation.
The charity's chief executive, Bronwen Cohen, voiced "disappointment" that after making eight manifesto pledges on the development of early-years services, ministers were effectively delaying legislation by two years.
"In the current economic context, a much greater sense of urgency is needed," she said. "While there is much to applaud in the new legislative agenda, we believe the Government has overlooked the connection between its policy on early years and employment. Parents cannot work without childcare.
"The number of under-fives continues to rise, and families with children under five are shown to be at highest risk of poverty."
The charity stressed that Scotland lags far behind Europe on children's educational rights, with some youngsters still unable to access part-time, pre-school places in their local nursery until they are nearly four.
Meanwhile, opposition politicians raised concerns over whether legislation was the right way to tackle such problems, especially in the light of recent riots south of the border.
Outgoing Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie warned of a "parental void" threatening the future of Scotland's children.
She said: "Too many parents don't or can't extend to their children the parenting skills so essential if young people are to have any hope of growing up with guidance, support and boundaries . because they themselves were the children of parents who did not possess these skills."
In 2010-11 the number of children referred to the Children's Reporter on grounds of lack of parental care was more than 13,000.
A Government spokeswoman said the Children's Services Bill was an ambitious programme of reform requiring extensive consultation and such a major piece of work "cannot be rushed".
CHANCE TO LEARN OR TRAIN FOR WORK
All 16 to 19-year-olds in Scotland not already in work, education or apprenticeships will be given a chance to learn or train for work.
That was one of the Scottish Government's headline pledges in the legislative agenda for the new parliamentary year.
Announcing "Opportunities for All", an extension of existing apprenticeships, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "No young person should go through school only to become an unemployment statistic at the age of 16. We will not allow that in Scotland.
"We already have 85 per cent of school leavers going on to a positive outcome - that is, employment, education or training.
"But the strength of Scottish apprenticeships is their linkage to a real job, so expanding beyond that impressive number is dependent on the labour market.
"That's why . every single 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland will be offered a learning or training place if they are not already in a job, a modern apprenticeship or in education."
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said the Government should be "bolder still".
"The First Minister likes to claim he is bold. If he can commit himself to a 100 per cent renewables target everyone says is difficult, then he can commit himself to a 100 per cent employment target for the next generation of Scots."
FUNDING GAPS `TOP OF AGENDA'
Gaps in further and higher education funding are the priorities for investigation by the Scottish Parliament's education committee.
New committee convener Stuart Maxwell said budget scrutiny was top of the agenda, given ongoing issues such as tuition fees.
The committee, which held its first public meeting last week, will also hold an inquiry into how to improve the educational achievement of looked- after children.
Mr Maxwell said: "There is still a huge disparity between the attainment levels for looked-after children versus the average figures for Scottish children and it's not because there hasn't been quite a lot of effort and resources allocated to this area."
Reports on both investigations are due to be completed by the end of the year.