There is little doubt that the Independent Care Review, currently underway in Scotland, has put care experienced young people at the heart of their deliberations. The commissioning of the review is an important first step in achieving positive change, and shows that Scotland are ahead of England, where so far calls for a similar review have gone unheeded.
As the Care Review reaches its final stage, with its' report and recommendations due to be published later this year, it is vital that it addresses the real issues facing our care system.
This should include looking at whether families receive enough support and intervention in the early stages to avoid young people unnecessarily coming into care. Children and young people should not be accommodated because of matters such as relationship difficulties between parent and child; we need to live in a society where relationships can be repaired and healed and support is provided to achieve this. Separation in these circumstances only compounds problems, but sadly, as an inspector I saw many children who were accommodated before any real work had been done with families to resolve difficulties. Reception into care should only be for those children at risk of abuse or neglect.
Once children are accommodated, there should be a clear plan established for their care journey. We need an end to young people going through multiple placements, which in my view is predicated on a view that foster care is always the best option for children. While foster care can be a very positive destination for some young people, many I have worked with prefer the stability of residential care rather than the risk of moving to a number of different temporary carers. One local authority recently advised me that, because of resource issues, frequent moves for very young children were common. This is very poor practice, given what we know about the need for young children to attach to a reliable significant care giver.
We need to listen to young people and what they want from the care system. Issues such as remaining living with siblings (recent research indicated over 70% of care experienced young people did not) and maintaining contact with those involved in their care into adulthood needs to be addressed with clear policy statements on these issues. No more should the default position be to split up siblings, or raise eyebrows and mention "professional boundaries" if a young person wants to maintain contact with a worker.
This is a watershed moment in the development of the care system in Scotland. We either listen and make real change, or tinker round the edges and miss a real opportunity to make things so much better.