Nicola Sturgeon: why I announced a review of the care system
The voices of young care-experienced people will be at the heart of the government’s care review, writes First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon with care-experienced young people - credit PA
Inclusion must be the guiding principle for everything we do.
That is particularly true for those most in need, whatever their need, like the 15,000 children in Scotland living in care today.
The vast majority of these children are in care because – through no fault of their own – their families cannot provide for them. They can be looked after by foster carers, friends and relatives or live in residential accommodation. And like any other child, each one needs our protection, encouragement and our love.
So I was pleased to accept the challenge that Who Cares? Scotland set to all party leaders during the election campaign, to listen to the experience of 1,000 looked-after young people and use that experience to make meaningful, lasting change.
The young people I’ve already met have impressed me with their commitment and optimism. They have related to me harrowing, but also deeply uplifting, experiences of care.
I see how their ambitions and dreams mirror those of the children in my family, probably all our families.
Regrettably, too, many of the stories I hear highlight stressful delays, decisions being taken on their behalf without their views being considered, the needs of bureaucracy being put before their needs as young people and unnecessary barriers to the kinds of support the rest of us take for granted.
Despite some very real personal challenges, many of the young people I meet have achieved, or are on a path to achieving, great things. They own their care identity and want to make sure that their experiences count towards making improvements to the future care system and to the daily lives of those who will come after them.
I am immensely grateful to them for the brave honesty they have shared with me. This has absolutely helped evolve my thinking on what we must do to review our care system.
I want us to learn from these young people – I want them to challenge us and to use what they tell me to drive change.
Culture change of this kind is only possible when everyone in the sector pulls out all the stops to make things better. In many cases, even when their experience has not been as good as we would like, young people talk about those who made a difference for them. They appreciate that it is people, not systems, who make the difference. It is a foster carer who made them feel safe, a social worker who listened when no one else understood, an advocate or mentor who supported them to have their say or meet a milestone.
I know that carers and professionals all want the best for the children in their care. I know they feel that to make things better, we need to prevent ‘the process’ from getting in the way whenever we realistically can. Everyone’s perspective needs to be respected and just as we need the voice of the young people, we need to hear our carers and professionals too.
The impact of the kind of disruption which brings a child into the care system affects a child’s emotional development. This can lead to risk taking and getting into unhealthy relationships. A child rehomed needs to be with someone who will emotionally connect, nurture and care for a child in the role of a parent. This is why we must all recognise the importance of positive relationships for children and when a child can’t go home reparenting happens.
By supporting positive relationships between our children and carers, birth families, social workers, siblings and corporate parents we ultimately support positive and lasting change.
However, young people often say the system feels like it is designed only to stop things happening. Any system must have safeguards, but children need a system that makes things happen for them.
So the question is – how do we achieve this against the backdrop of unacceptable outcomes for young people in care and heartbreaking everyday realities for some of our most vulnerable children? Quite simply, we must all strive to do better, whatever our role.
The independent root-and-branch review of the care system I have announced will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, taken forward in partnership with young people.
I have no doubt that, if we come together as a country and put young people at the heart, we can do something really special.
My view is simple – every young person deserves to be safe, feel loved and reach for their dreams. That’s what inclusion means in practice and that is what I intend to deliver.
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