Children in Scotland’s care system are routinely let down by the services that are supposed to support them. This is not new information to anyone who works with these children – but it is something that too few people have said out loud.
Many small changes can be made to improve the support that these children and young people receive, but it’s the system that doesn’t work. Systemic change is needed to make long-lasting improvements for a group that has historically had incredibly poor outcomes.
School can be a challenging place, but also a place of security for care-experienced children. Helping them to build positive relationships with teachers, staff and other pupils can often be a much-needed source of stability and reassurance.
For too many, however, the way the system works at the moment can have a serious detrimental impact on their educational experience. They may refer to themselves as “LAC” (looked-after children), or talk about their “unit” rather than their home. They may say “I have sibling contact this weekend” instead of “I’m going to have fun with my brother/sister”. The professional language of social work and other services can lead to bullying and a sense of isolation because young people have been taught to use jargon that singles them out as different.
The danger of bullying
In North Ayrshire, professionals who work with these children will now change the language and behaviours they use, so that it is more suited to a family setting.
Care-experienced children and young people are routinely removed from education to attend children’s panels and other meetings. As Fiona Duncan, the chair of the independent review into Scotland’s care system, said: “If a social worker wanders in with a lanyard and pulls you out of a class, other young people ask where you are going. It definitely leads to bullying.”
Taking care-experienced children and young people out of education also has a negative impact on attainment, relationship-building and, again, singles them out as different from their peers. All our services, including social work, need to be more flexible to meets the needs of these young people and must stop being available only during normal working hours. Our council is working towards ceasing the practice of removing these children from the classroom to suit the diaries of professionals.
These changes will not happen overnight, they will be difficult to implement and I am sure that parts of the system will rail against them. But if we are to be serious about our duty as corporate parents, more of us need to use our voice to challenge the failings that we see – and let care-experienced children know that we will not only listen, we will also act.
Robert Foster is a Labour councillor in North Ayrshire