Looked after children are being let down by policy makers and current public policy. How we look after those young people in care and coming out of the care system is borne out from the life outcomes for our young people who have been in care. It is clear we are letting down our most vulnerable young people.
The figures are horrifying. Revealing a systemic failure on the part of Scottish policy makers.
Just over half of looked after children aged 5-10 have a mental health condition compared to 8% of children from the general population. Half of the Scottish prison population have had experience of care and one third of young offenders have a care background. Almost half of looked after young people have not had their educational needs assessed, even though they are entitled in law to additional support.
Looked after young people are 7 times more likely to be excluded from school than their non-looked after peers. Only 40% of looked after young people leave school with one or more qualification at SCQF level 5, compared to 84% of the general population
Formal statistics suggest that at least one in five of care leavers become homeless within five years of leaving care – although there are estimates that the real figure could be as high as 50% .
Only 7% of care experienced young people go on to higher education, compared with 39% of the general population.
Over one in five of care experienced people have tried to hurt, harm or kill themselves.
It isn’t just that we are talking about reduced life chances – but chances of life itself. It has been estimated that care experienced people are 20 times more likely to be dead at the age of 25 than anyone else.
This cannot go on.
It doesn’t have to be like this – young people can leave care and go on to live healthy and happy lives – we’ve seen a good example recently in Ashley Cameron who featured in BBC Scotland’s documentary about Raploch. Our aim should be a system where stories like Ashley’s are the rule not the exception.
Expressions of concern are not enough. We must also assess how we can improve the care experience ensuring that the care experience is richer, more fulfilling and improves the educational outcomes of young people in care.
We also have to ensure that the needs of carers and voices of young people are heard throughout their time in care.
We need a comprehensive package to help young people leaving care but we also need to consider how we can help them when in care. The Scottish Government currently has a review ongoing into looked after children . No one would deny that there is a need to take a strategic look at this failing system, but young people in or leaving care can’t put their life on hold. There are a whole range of measures which could be introduced – or at least considered – right now.
- Priority access for services on the NHS – for example to Mental Health services, dentist appointments etc – after all the NHS are also a corporate parent
- Exemption from Council Tax up until the age of 26 when the state’s official responsibilities as corporate parent ceases to be the case
- Access to concessionary travel
- Free access to sports and leisure cards facilities
- Access to training and modern apprenticeships (guaranteed quota of places across the public sector) and guaranteed an interview when applying for a job in any public authority
- Grants to get active – access to equipment like bikes, musical instruments etc
- Look at introducing a care endowment grant this would be a sum of money giving to young people in care over the period of their care, with a lump sum at the end, which is the equivalent of what “mum and dad” may provide their own kids.
- We should also ensure foster carers receive proper training and support, including access to respite care when needed. This is vital for encouraging not only recruitment but also providing stable, long care term for looked after children.
This list indicates the sort of policies that we should be urgently looking at – it’s not meant to be definitive or exclusive, but rather a call for urgent intervention. In the longer term of course transforming the system will involve working with, empowering and properly resourcing local government who would be a key partner in this. But having longer term goals is no reason for inaction now. We must act now.