Care experienced children mustn't be ignored

Published on August 28, 2019

Writing in The Scotsman, Niall Kelly from coalition member Young Foundations highlights the work of the Justice for Children project and the ongoing work being done to ensure that no child should be left behind, especially those with care experience.

In July the Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection (CELCIS), based at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, launched a call to action at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. CELCIS works in partnership with a number of other leading international organisations to improve justice for all children around the world.

This Justice for Children project is working alongside the UN to help the international community to achieve one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as agreed by all nations in 2015. SDG 16 focuses on how peaceful and inclusive societies provide access to justice for all, and therefore the Justice for Children project is leading the work on ensuring no child is left behind.

The call to action identified ten challenges which require responses and changes of policy at international, national and local levels. They are sub-divided into three areas: promote justice as an enabler of children’s development, accelerate action to respond to the urgent and critical challenges, and establish and sustain the foundations for change. 

The call to action is comprehensive and speaks to correcting the injustice that children face in many countries around the world. I think it is a great credit to Scotland that the quality and reputation of CELCIS and the leadership team who work there is recognised at an international level. I am proud to be working in a country that is promoting the rights of children on a global stage.

I am the Managing Director of Young Foundations, a small company which provides specialist residential services and specialist day schools for children with additional needs, both here and in England. I am also a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, which is an important voice in advocating for the needs of children in Scotland and influencing government policy in relation to this.

In both these roles I come into contact with many children whose potential for happy and successful lives is limited by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as trauma, bereavement, parental neglect, abusive experiences, exclusion from education and poor mental health. Not all children who have ACEs are looked after by their local authority but those with the most challenging of circumstances usually are. After reading the Justice for Children Project’s call for action, I wondered, “What was the experience of these children with the Scottish criminal justice system?”

Who Cares? Scotland is a national voluntary organisation, working with care experienced people across Scotland. These are children who have an experience of being looked after by their local authority or who have been placed on the child protection register but remained with their family. The most recent statistics available on their website relate to the national picture on 31st July 2018. There were 14,738 children who were looked after on this date, and this represents 2 per cent of the total population of children in Scotland. Encouragingly this number has been steadily decreasing for the last six years.

Of the 14,738 looked after children, 54 per cent are looked after by their own family with support or through extended family, which is called ‘kinship care’. A further 34 per cent are placed with a foster family, with another 1 per cent placed with prospective adopters. The remaining 10 per cent, approximately 1,500 children live in residential care which is either run by or commissioned by their local authority. Totalling 99 per cent, I can only presume that the figures used include partial percentages which when aggregated add up to the missing 1 per cent.

A Scottish Prison Service survey published in 2016 states that a third of all young offenders and almost a third of all adult prisoners self-identify as care experienced. Some commentators have criticised the method for gathering the data and have questioned the reliability of a self-identifying statistic. As a comparison an earlier report in 2009 by HM Inspector of Prisons for Scotland estimated that around 50 per cent of the adult population may have care experience. Whatever the methodology it is clear that there are a disproportionate number of care experienced people who are imprisoned in Scotland. It is difficult to ignore that 2 per cent of the child population make up between 30-50 per cent of all prisoners in Scotland.

There is much good work being done in Scotland to support care experienced children and through the Justice for Children project Scotland is playing its part in tackling global issues. However, there is still a long way to go in the work to create a society where all children have an equal chance.

Niall Kelly, Managing Director of Young Foundations, which is a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition. The article first appeared in The Scotsman on 16th August 2019.

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