Child advocacy campaigners have called for a overhaul of the care system to focus on love not resources.
A new report pulling together decades of statistics on the issues facing children in care has been published.
‘We Don’t Have to Wait’ is being presented to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today by Who Cares? Scotland.
The charity says young people are fighting for their rights to see their brothers and sisters, staying in the same home for longer than a year and being heard in legal processes about their own lives.
Who Cares? Scotland provides independent advocacy for care experienced people. They warn planned changes to care will be harder to achieve if young people do not have a meaningful say. The Children’s Society has explained that the situation is ‘similar’ in England.
The startling report reveals less than 7% of young people in care have access to independent advocates. The majority rely on advocates provided by statutory authorities or the organisations already working with them. Who Cares? suggests these bodies can never act in a truly independent way and that children’s rights are at risk.
One thing we are calling for is a Care Experience Minister
Recorded issues tied to spending time with parents and siblings have more than doubled since 2014. The number of recorded instances of children looking for support to be heard in legal processes about their own lives has increased every year for the last four years.
Who Cares? Scotland chief Duncan Dunlop said: “We would love to be in a situation where independent advocacy was not needed, because children’s views and desires are respected. This data shows we are a long way from that.
“We have welcomed, at every turn, the commitment and determination of those responsible for young people in care to make things better. These statistics tell us that there is now a need to speed up and deepen those efforts. It would be completely unacceptable for Who Cares? Scotland to release a report in ten years that identified the same issues.
“If we do, it will be evident that society has forgotten a generation of Care Experienced people. We cannot miss this opportunity for change.”
The charity’s Kenny Murray was just 11 when he went into care with his two brothers and two sisters.
He said: “Generations of families have been split up because the care system is based on resource, not love.
“It’s obvious that if you’re asking a child to go into a complex legal system you need someone independent of it. They need to be financially and psychologically independent to get rid of any conflict of interest.
“We can’t wait until the care report comes out, or until the care report is read and implemented. We’re asking for independent scrutiny across the board. One thing we are calling for is a Care Experience Minister.
“Kids don’t know their rights or how to navigate them. Children are having to become experts on their rights just to see their own brothers and sisters.”
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Youth worker Tam Baillie, who served as Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People for eight years, was at today’s Who Cares? Scotland meeting with Nicola Sturgeon.
He said: “I thought Nicola Sturgeon gave a deep-felt commitment. She really wants to change things. I think she sees this as part of her legacy.
“Advocacy is a really crucial element in ensuring kids have their rights. It can guide them through a quite arduous process.”
Mr Baillie, a former director of policy for children’s charity Barnado’s, added he was ‘very supportive’ of measures to improve access to advocacy.
I thought Nicola Sturgeon gave a deep felt commitment. She really wants to change things. I think she sees this as part of her legacy.
Iryna Pona, policy and research Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “Sadly the situation is very similar in England. The Children’s Society is particularly concerned about children placed outside their home areas and away from their usual networks of support, family and friends.
“We want a system where children’s needs and their voices are heard when decisions made about their placements and the support they receive.
“We would also want to see independent advocates supporting children to have a say in the important decisions made about their lives.”
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Who Cares? Scotland hosted a meeting with the First Minister of Scotland. Care experienced members of the organisation had the opportunity to speak to her about rights
infringements they suffered.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All children and young people in Scotland should be able to grow up loved, safe and respected, and succeed in life.
“It is clearly unacceptable that some of our most vulnerable children and young people living in, or leaving, the care system face barriers to achieving this, which is why we set up the Independent Care Review which has the voice of children and young people with experience of care at its heart.
“We thank Who Cares? Scotland and The Collective for their work on this report and we will explore together with the Care Review how we can address these concerns.”