Remove stigma of looked-after children

6th July 2001 at 01:00
I was disappointed in parts of the article "Looked after with warmth" (TESS, June 22) on the recent HMI and social work services inspectorate report on the educational experiences of looked-after children.

First, it was described as an HMI report when in fact it was the first joint inspection by the two inspectorates - a sign that "joined up" working is beginning to happen at Scottish Executive level.

More importantly, though, the view of children's residential units was simplistic and over-negative. Yes, there are units where young people swear and some where they, with parental permission, can smoke.

But young people do not become "looked after" for no reason - they have often faced abuse or neglect. Their behaviour can be difficult for both themselves and care staff to control. However, this is not the result, as alleged in the article, of young people being told their rights by children's rights officers. The rights which looked-after and other children have are those afforded them by the UN Charter, the Children Scotland Act (1995) and the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act (2000), and it is absolutely appropriate that these are explained and that, where necessary, an adult acts as an advocate.

Far too often lack of basic rights, such as safety or education, has been a contributory factor in their admission to care. Looked-after young people generally modify their behaviour when they feel cared for and valued.

It is demoralising if they are stigmatised and labelled. Teachers and residential workers should work more closely: more joint training and development is needed to improve knowledge and reduce prejudice.

Kirstie Maclean Director, Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care

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