National Parenting Strategy: Making a positive difference to children and young people through parenting

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Section 7: Looked after children

The National Parenting Strategy is a strategy for all parents, corporate parents included.

Children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after properly by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language. UNCRC, article 20

There are over 16,000 children and young people in Scotland who have a corporate parent because they are looked after ('in care'), some of whom live with their parents under 'supervision' while others live with foster carers, in residential units or with close family or friends – often called kinship carers.

Just as all parents need support in meeting their child's needs and aspirations, so too do the parents of looked after children and the Scottish Government is committed to making this happen.

Already, we have introduced the concept of corporate parenting into Scotland's public sector with an early focus on local authorities and the education sector. We are just about to complete a three-year national training course aimed at local councillors on their responsibilities and how to hold their executive teams to account, and are now looking to develop a second phase to help train officials in the wider public sector. Those in the police for example, the health services and the voluntary agencies that work with looked after young people.

We have also invested in the development of a national service offering expert training and advice to corporate parents through the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) – part of a £3 million investment per year to support the care sector and key partners who promote better care for our looked after children and young people.

All of our work is designed to ensure that the children and young people looked after by corporate parents are treated the same as any other child or young person and can enjoy the same outcomes.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will develop a second phase of our Corporate Parenting National Training Programme during 2012–2013
  • With key voluntary sector partners like Who Cares? Scotland, we will look at ways to further shift attitudes amongst the general public so there is broad understanding that the overwhelming majority of those in care are there for care and protection, rather than offending as is often assumed.

The Children and Young People Bill

  • We will make the majority of Scottish public bodies corporate parents – requiring them to make a conscious effort to provide more and better support, access to services and development opportunities (e.g. work experience, volunteering) for looked after children and young people.

Foster carers

Children have the right to care and protection if they are adopted or in foster care. UNCRC, article 21

We regard foster care as the backbone of the care system and on listening to the views and experiences of foster carers and commissioners of foster care, we believe the system must modernise to keep apace with the ever-changing needs of the children requiring foster care.

Throughout 2012–2013 we will be conducting a review of the foster care system looking at where we could improve care for looked after children and young people. This includes the training offered, the introduction of qualifications and a national register of foster carers, along with looking at allowances and fees.

As part of the exercise we'll also be inviting foster carers, parents, young people and members of the public to have an input before the proposed changes are decided upon.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will review foster care to improve the quality of care to our looked after children and young people. We will consider and act on the findings of the review during 2013.

Kinship carers

We heard from kinship carers about the practical difficulties that come with taking on a parenting role. Difficulties such as not knowing which service to turn to, coping with the financial costs that come with caring for a growing child, the scarcity of respite care services to enable kinship carers to get some 'me-time' – particularly but by no means exclusively, for grandparents – and the lack of back-up support should the kinship carer themselves fall ill.

Some of the things that kinship carers told us would help included:

'Support dealing with the psychological issues associated with children in kinship care.'

'Financial support of some kind.'

The Scottish Government recognises the invaluable role kinship carers perform and we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure they get the specialist help and support they need.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • Through the Children and Young People Bill we want to create a more stable environment for kinship carers. We intend to do this by introducing a new legal order for kinship carers – many of whom don't have parental responsibilities and rights and can face daily difficulties taking decisions on behalf of the children in their care – enabling those who apply for it to achieve greater legal status. We will also create more specialist support for kinship carers
  • We have funded national advice services for kinship carers on legal, financial and non-financial issues
  • In addition, we have reissued a definitive guide on kinship care for all kinship carers.

Parents of looked after children

We understand that it's not just the corporate parents of looked after children that need targeted help and support, but the birth parents too. Early intervention is crucial if their children, whether remaining at home, away from home or with kinship carers, are to go on to achieve the same outcomes as their community peers who have not been looked after.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Better continuity of support between child services and adult services.'

'It's good to know that you're not alone.'

For support to be effective, it requires strong communication and partnership across organisations and between services. Perhaps nowhere more so than for children looked after at home under supervision orders who often receive less support than those looked after away from home, even though their level of need is just as great.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will hold a Ministerial summit in 2012–2013 to bring together key leaders across the care sector to help inform our policy on how best to support children looked after at home and their parents
  • In addition, the Scottish Government has asked the Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group to formulate proposals for a possible new type of support for children looked after at home. This will be based around providing each child and young person with a volunteer life mentor – a positive, trusted, interested adult role model. This will be someone who will be accessible to the child and who can help promote the child's views
  • From April 2012, the Scottish Government is also providing £1.5 million per year to local authorities to provide additional early learning and childcare for Scotland's looked after 2 year olds, and work with their parents or carers
  • From 2014, an entitlement to 600 hours per year of early learning and childcare and work with parents and carers for looked after 2 year olds will be introduced through the Children and Young People Bill.

Getting Our Priorities Right

Problematic drug and alcohol use affects a large number of looked after children and their parents, and the revised Getting Our Priorities Right acknowledges the need for specific support for families where there is problematic drug and alcohol use. Included in this is the need to remove the stigma associated with asking for help in order to provide more joined up support between adult and children's services.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will ensure that looked after and vulnerable children and their parents are recognised in the updated Getting Our Priorities Right.

Adoptive parents

For children whose needs are best met by being adopted, it can mean a safe, stable, nurturing and permanent home. For the adoptive parents involved however, it can be a stressful and emotional experience, and we want to ensure that consistent, meaningful support is on offer to them throughout the process and after adoption occurs.

The reasons why people choose to adopt or not and why adoptions sometimes breakdown are varied and complex. Yet, practice-based evidence has shown what can be done to improve confidence in the adoption system with only minor changes to procedures and a focus on shaping services around prospective adopters. These include issues like keeping applicants proactively informed and removing parts of the process that add no value or cause delay.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will develop a looked after children strategy which will draw together the Scottish Government's expectations for the whole of the care sector in one place. We will complement this with a radical consolidation and simplification of our guidance to corporate parents around care planning, permanence and adoption. This work will begin shortly
  • We will develop good practice in providing support to adoptive parents, recognising the need for ongoing support before and after a child is placed with them.