Children’s coalition urges new councils to focus on children and young people, warning of a ‘lost generation’

Published on April 25, 2022

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of leading providers of specialist children's services, has launched its Manifesto for the council elections.

It is calling on incoming town hall administrations to put the needs of vulnerable children and young people at the very heart of policy and funding commitments. The coalition is also warning that Scotland faces a potential "lost generation" of children and young people with additional support needs (ASN), aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis.

Manifesto proposals include:

  • A plea for the increased funding of services for children and young people with ASN and care experience.
  • Better training of those working work with those with ASN.
  • Substantially increased investment in mental health services.
  • For an elected councillor to be appointed as ‘mental health champion’
  • Greater investment in programmes that support those with ASN and care experience into training and employment.

ASN provision in Scotland is under severe pressure due to increasing demand, against a backdrop of staff shortages and inadequate services. These have been exacerbated by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw many of those with ASN miss out on the care and support they needed, as well as increasing mental health problems and the cost of living crisis.

The SCSC has called on incoming council administrations to renew their focus on services for children and young people with ASN, such as those with dyslexia, autism, mental health problems and care experience, and work with the Scottish Government to increase resourcing of these.

It notes that 232,753 children and young people in Scotland’s publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools* are classed as having ASN, amounting to just under a third (33.0 per cent) of pupils. This represents an almost doubling (97.2 per cent) in the number of those identified with ASN since 2012, when the figure was 118,011 pupils.

However, the provision of services has not kept pace with this unprecedented demand. Since 2012, for example, the number of ASN teachers in council primary, secondary and special schools has fallen by 503, from 3,389 to 2,886 (full-time equivalents)**, equating to a cut of 14.8%.

The SCSC has called for increased resourcing and staffing to deliver a greater provision of ASN teachers and pupil support assistants, as well as educational psychologists, mental health professionals and other support services, supporting the closure of the educational attainment gap.

Key recommendations include:

  • Increased resourcing and staffing: There must be greatly increased resourcing and staffing of services supporting those with ASN and care experience. Councils must work with the Scottish Government to ensure the delivery of these.
  • Better training: There must be better training of teachers, social workers, health professionals and other practitioners, including continuing professional development, so that they can adequately identify and support children and young people with ASN.
  • Supporting mental health and wellbeing: Services must have the resources to identify children and young people with mental health problems, helping them get early support. There must be substantially increased investment in community-level support, ensuring waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are drastically reduced.
  • School-based counsellors: All schools must also have access to a qualified and appropriately experienced counsellor, providing support to troubled and/or distressed children and young people, including those with mental health difficulties.
  • Introducing a local health champion: Councils should elect one member as champion for mental health. Once a councillor becomes a champion, their role will then include raising awareness of mental health problems in the development of council policies and strategies and in public forums, leading discussions on mental health with NHS organisations in their local area, and speaking with schools, businesses and community groups about mental health.
  • Right to independent advocacy: Care experienced children and young people must have access to independent professional advocacy, ensuring that they make informed decisions on matters which affect their lives, and this must be made statutory.
  • Implement The Promise: Ensure that councils work the Scottish Government to deliver on The Promise, which came out of Care Review, ensuring that children and young people who are or become care experienced are loved and supported to fulfill their potential.
  • Training and employment opportunities: there must be greater investment in training and employment programmes by councils to benefit those with ASN and care experience.
  • Increased specialist provision for children and young people: The educational needs of some children and young people with complex or specific needs are often better met in specialist settings. The number of special school/unit places available, on a wider geographic basis, and these places may be provided by the local authority or independent sector.
  • Greater co-ordination and collaboration: There must be greater co-ordination and collaboration between schools, social work, primary care and mental health services,  delivering the best possible care and support to children and young people with ASN, tailored to their individual needs.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:

“The Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis are having a devastating impact on the lives of many of our children and young people, exacerbating already existing staff shortages and inadequate services. That is why it is essential that incoming council administrations put services that benefit the lives of our children and young people at the very heart of policy and funding commitments.

“We are conscious that councils are facing an incredibly challenging financial environment, but they play a critical role in supporting those children and young people with ASN, or we are in danger of facing a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.

“If Scotland is to be one of the best places in the world for vulnerable children and young people to grow up in, we would urge our councils to work with closely the Scottish Government and other agencies, across the public, private and third sectors, to ensure that we can turn this vision into a reality.”


For further information please contact Alex Orr, Policy Adviser to the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, on 0131 603 8996 or [email protected].

*Table 1.5 **Table 6.7

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