Following the Independent Care Review, a Promise was made to children and families by the Scottish Government in February 2020.
The Promise was that:
Expectations of the Review were high. There would be no more institutional failing of the poorest and most vulnerable children. Families would be supported and not broken. The unpalatable truths about the realities of public care which have emerged through public inquiries would be a thing of the past. Children would be loved and cherished.
“We grow up loved, safe,
and respected so that we
realise our full potential.”
The STV documentary (‘Shameful’ Failure to improve lives since The Promise…) on Tuesday 1 February exposed the truth: that things have not improved at all, that things have indeed probably got worse. Not for the first time, the state has proven itself to be a lousy parent. Nothing has changed.
Children paid the price
Could it have been different? Did Covid prevent progress? Certainly, Covid created problems but it also offered many opportunities to do things differently, to show that lessons were learned, that they could put care and kindness at the heart of what they did. Instead, the system looked after itself, children paid the price.
Parents Advocacy and Rights (PAR) believes that the Care Review was undermined by the usual failure of attempts at reform of care – failing to put the families and communities who suffer the most from the failings of the state to care at the heart of their work.
Three years ago PAR, a parent-led charity, asked the Independent Care Review to involve with the families of children in or at risk of care. We said that decisions made that exclude the people affected by them are bad decisions. And that families and how they work had a lot to teach government about how to care. PAR was told we could be heard from a distance but not be part of any working groups as some children and young people participating had been abused by their families and so including families’ perspectives would be just wrong. Families were not “stakeholders” but outsiders.
So parents watched as councils and charities, who were at the same time being indicted by the Care Abuse Inquiry as responsible for decades of child abuse, were invited to lead working groups, co-chairing with care experienced young people. They were respectable “stakeholders” while families were a problem that had to be kept at arms-length.
Put families and communities at the centre
The failure to deliver on the Promise was inevitable – families were outside the tent, no status quo was upturned, no institutional power challenged, no radical, practical plan emerged. Just a Promise to do better.
Instead, when Covid struck, decisions were made to protect the system, not the children and their families at the heart of it. For instance, many parents and children were forbidden contact, despite the restrictions allowing children of separated parents to move between households. Why were children in care different? Why was their need for love and continuity of relationships less important? While councils and children’s hearings and other organisations equipped staff for remote working, parents and children were left without the vital equipment and support to remain in contact and to take part in meetings that were about them.
There is still time for families and communities to be put at the centre. The Promise could start by holding meetings for families in the communities where most of the children are drawn from – the parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, relatives of children in care or at risk of care. Why not ask them what is needed? Ask them what helps? Ask them to help design alternatives to pumping money into feeding the care system and instead pump that money into supporting families.
Further reading: Janice McGhee and Lorraine Waterhouse, Sceptical Scot October 2020