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Comment: Caring about care experience

Kenneth Murray - Image credit: Holyrood

Comment: Caring about care experience

There has never been as much momentum to change the lives of care-experienced people in Scotland than there is now.

After a wide-ranging three-year independent review of the care system, The Promise report setting out the need for change has been met with acclaim.

Every political party in Scotland that matters backed The Promise.

Charities across the country have rallied to the calls for transforming the ‘care system’ so that every child growing up in Scotland has the opportunity to thrive.

It’s odd in political discourse today to find an issue in which rival parties are so united.

Everyone agrees that we can and should be doing better for care-experienced people.

For those new to the term, care-experienced means anyone who is currently experiencing or has experience of social work involvement in their lives as a child, experience of foster care, kinship care, residential or secure care.

It’s difficult to say just how many of us Scots are care-experienced, but given we don’t record what happens to people when the system steps out of their lives, or even adequately record what happens during their time in care, it’s something which we might never come to understand.

Despite the billions of pounds pouring into the system, the results aren’t Scotland at its best.

Academics have the stats to prove it: Scotland is not delivering for care-experienced people and, with some exceptions, hasn’t ever delivered.

Yet with the right supports and foundations, everyone can thrive, but that takes time.

The Promise, the organisation set up after the conclusion of the independent care review, is responsible for driving the work of change demanded by the findings.

It works with all kinds of organisations to support shifts in policy, practice and culture so Scotland can ensure the commitments are kept.

They recently announced Plan 21-24, which outlines the five key areas and the fundamental areas that their work will focus on, and it’s brave, intersectional and well researched in its approach.

If this is the beginning, I’m excited to see what they deliver by the end of their ten-year programme.

Whilst I’m excited by this, it’s clear that the political parties running for office don’t believe that we can wait for change and that change must be made along the way.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted as much when she committed to policies in her programme for government in September 2019.

Issues faced by care-experienced people such as myself, including decades of inadequate dental care, were promised to be resolved. She committed to these changes as a down payment, with more to follow.

Two years later, the dental care announcement has made it into a manifesto for what the SNP proposes they’d do in government.

COVID has obviously delayed progress in so many areas, but when it comes to issues like health, the science is solid, we cannot wait.

They’ve also promised a £200-a-year grant to those that meet the specific criteria of ‘care leaver’ between the ages of 16-26.

Critics argue that with many young people being removed from their supervision orders just before they turn sixteen, causing them to miss out on this official status, that it doesn’t go far enough.

Labour councillor Robert Foster was scathing in his criticism of the issue on Twitter.

He said: “I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact 4 years ago the FM stood up and gave the care review permission to rip up the system and start again and we’re now talking about a grant of 54p a day. Utterly depressing.”

At the same time, it’s unclear what Scottish Labour will do to level the playing field with a non-specific ‘care endowment’, with much of their focus being on foster carers, including considering giving them employment rights, moving towards a system of paid annual leave and holiday allowances from the children they’re meant to care for.

The Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats don’t go much further than committing to The Promise.

With that, it leaves the Scottish Conservatives as the only other serious contender going beyond committing to The Promise.

They commit to reviewing barriers to adoption, providing real ongoing support for adoptive families, support kinship care as a primary placement option and wish to roll out a US-created programme entitled Mockingbird to provide support hubs around children in care.

Troublingly, some of those commitments potentially clash.

With a review of adoption barriers, something former prime minister David Cameron passionately supported, will adoptions move more quickly than traumatised families can to keep their children?

How they manage to square that with keeping families together, I’m unsure.

If I was to vote based on which party was offering the best change for care-experienced people immediately, I’d be stumped.

Manifestos are typically a place of challenge and excitement. It’s a place where political parties have permission to be brave and go beyond the status quo.

Meanwhile, people across Scotland are leaving care well before we should, carry the emotional weight of the trauma of our lives without any real signs of support and in many cases, do so robbed of a smile because of poor dental care.

We need change now and in the future to ensure we never have to have this conversation again.

If someone can commit to that, they’ve got my vote.

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