MSPs condemn 'care shame'

21st January 2000 at 00:00
MEMBERS from all parties united to condemn the arrangements made for children looked after by local authorities or in foster care, the subject of a parliamentary debate last week.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, announced a package of financial support and research, which was widely welcomed, and criticised the quality of care experienced at the hands of "corporate mums and dads".

Mr Galbraith highlighted "with some shame" the fact that 80 per cent of those who look after children in residential homes are unqualified. The Executive has given pound;3 million to a consortium led by Strathclyde University to develop training programmes for residential workers, but some MSPs said a better career structure was just as important.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's education spokesperson, called for training and inspection of foster carers and agencies to be under the control of the commission for the regulation of care.

The SNP, while welcoming the Executive's moves, is opposed to the planned switch in benefit for 16 and 17-year-old care leavers from the Department for Social Security to local authorities.

Ms Sturgeon was also concerned that the transfer of resources could lad to care leavers slipping through the safety net, given many of them are "estranged from local authorities and suspicious of social workers". Donald Gorrie, for the Liberal Democrats, described the fate of young people leaving council care as "a serious blot on our society".

Peter Peacock, Deputy Children and Education Minister, said he believed in improved co-ordination of support but concerns about the new arrangements would be taken up by a working group.

Commenting on the relationships young people in care have with local authorities, Mr Peacock said: "We have no desire to create any impediment to young people accessing better services."

Brian Monteith, the Tories' education spokesman who also extended a welcome for the new plans, suggested the problem lay with the structures rather than the people who staff them. "I do not think that we should bash social workers or those who care for children," Mr Monteith said.

Cathy Jamieson, a Labour backbencher and formerly chief officer of Who Cares? Scotland, said: "Through care and after care are nothing like as good as they should be, but local authorities in many areas have attempted to work along the right lines."

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