It has been a year since we called on the First Minister to consider what was going wrong with the care system in Scotland. A year after she sat down with young people from Who Cares? Scotland. A year since she decided to call for a Root and Branch Review of the Care System (now known as the Independent Care Review).
One year on, the First Minister has shown she will not wait for the review to conclude but will look to make improvements throughout its journey. Following moves from North Ayrshire Council, who had been calling for an exemption to Council Tax for Care Experienced Young People, the First Minister announced this as a Scotland wide policy. It’s an excellent sign that we are not waiting until the end of the Independent Care Review to take action. Immediate action to fix current inequalities is a great leap forward. However, we hope that at the conclusion of the care review this inequality won’t exist.
Make no mistake, this was an immeasurably powerful commitment from the First Minister. The care system has been in existence for 150 years and there has been change. However, it has always been change within the current construct. We still haven’t solved how to care for young people in Scotland whose own parents aren’t able to.
The current Review of Care in Scotland has the capacity to make a radical change however. A radical change to how people are cared for in Scotland.
Outcomes, at present, for Care Experienced people are shockingly poor. The statistics show that 45% of children in care are diagnosed as having a mental health disorder. In residential units, research shows that 39% of children units have self-harmed. Part of the problem is in how we deliver care and in the language around care. Homes are referred to as units or placements. Those who are meant to love and support you are called staff. Language matters and it’s never neutral.
It’s not just mental health that suffers. Care Experienced people are less likely to achieve high school qualifications, less likely to go to university and more likely to end up in prison. With many children experiencing as many as ten placement moves in their care journey, it’s easy to see why they may struggle at school. Why they struggle then at home and in the communities they find their selves being moved into.
Our members tell us that they feel like they live in a system that takes care of everything for them as a means of managing risk. A system which doesn’t reflect the process of growing up in a traditional family home. A system without love. This can leave them exposed in a world where, when they turn 21, they find their selves having to deal with the harsh realities of life. In many cases, they leave a system which in seeking to stop things happening to them, hasn’t been able to make enough things happen for them.
It is important that we deliver radical change. We need to act now. The average age of leaving care is 16-18 according to the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland but the law says young people have the right to remain in care until they are 21.
Every single month this year, one of our young members has died.
Why, if young people have the right to stay in what they feel is a secure and stable environment, are they leaving five years before they have to? They are swapping five years of safety and stability for uncertainty. So, we hope that the review examines what has made this happen.
It comes back to love and how we care for our young people. They are brought up in a world of risk assessments, of logs that record their every move and behaviour. An environment that is alien to what a family home should feel like.
Young people want to be loved. They want the freedom to love people back. The status quo is presented as though the system is neutral towards the idea of love. It isn’t. It doesn’t talk about it at all, that’s not neutral.
Let’s talk about how we bring young people up in an environment that is stable and secure but also, shows them that we love them. Let’s talk about love.
Duncan Dunlop is CEO of Who Cares? Scotland, member of the Scottish Children's Services Coalition