Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better

Listen

05 / Feeling Safe and Nurtured in a Home Setting

Our Vision

Scotland's looked after children and young people will live somewhere they feel safe and nurtured; a place that they can call home, a place free from abuse and harm, a place where they feel safe and confident to express their views to develop into well-rounded, successful and responsible adults.

Where we are now:

Scotland's looked after children and young people live in a wide variety of home settings, broadly speaking they fall into the following groups:

  • At home with their birth parent(s)
  • With friends and relatives of their family
  • In foster care
  • In a residential unit/children's unit
  • In a residential school
  • In secure accommodation

Extraordinary Lives noted that in relation to creating a safe environment, "Children and young people's esteem and behaviour can be enhanced by good quality surroundings, furniture and decoration."

Extraordinary Lives also highlights how some young people have felt abandoned when their placement came to an end. A report by Dixon and Stein found, that of young people leaving care in Scotland, nearly half felt they had no choice about when they left care.
(Dixon and Stein 2001)

The living environment does appear to have a direct bearing on the educational outcomes of Scotland's looked after children and young people. Based on the information gathered for the Children's Social Work Statistics and Scottish Executive National Statistics Publications in relation to educational outcomes, when compared to other looked after children and young people:

  • Children and young people who are looked after at home with their parents do least well, as a group, in terms of attendance and achievement when compared to other groups of looked after children and young people.
  • Children and young people who are looked after and accommodated in foster care do best, as a group, in terms of attendance and achievement when compared to other groups of looked after children and young people.
  • Children and young people who are looked after and accommodated in residential units do least well, as a group, when compared to other groups of looked after and accommodated children and young people.

A group of children who face particular risks are those who live in substance-misusing households. We have published Hidden Harm - Next Steps, a comprehensive action plan designed to tackle this complex and challenging area. Ministers have also made clear that chaotic substance misuse is incompatible with parenting and have set out a number of areas that need further action in order to protect this vulnerable group of children. These include a more interventionist approach by professionals and an emphasis on better communication, sharing of information and clear care plans and timetables that reflect the needs of children.

Over recent years there have been a number of inquiries, and significant developments in the legal and policy frameworks in relation to the protection of children and young people; including those who are looked after. The outcome of this has been significant advances in the training and knowledge of social workers, teachers, foster carers and residential workers in relation to various aspects of safe care; including child protection, safer recruitment, and professional boundaries.

A number of the local authority pilot initiatives aimed at improving the educational outcomes of looked after children and young people which we are currently funding are looking at the creation of a safe and nurturing home setting. Irrespective of looked after status, children and young people need to be able to experience the same opportunities and experiences as all other children, such as hobbies, outdoor activities and overnight stays.

Guidance on overnight stays for looked after and accommodated children and young people will be published in due course.

In relation to residential care, we are currently funding the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care ( SIRCC), the aim of which is to ensure that residential child care staff throughout Scotland have access to the skills and knowledge they require to meet the needs of the children and young people in their care.

The development, and subsequent inspection, of the Care Standards in relation to residential and foster care aims to ensure that children and young people who are looked after and accommodated live in safe and nurturing placements. Similarly, the development, as part of the Learning With Care materials, of the self-evaluation tool How Good Is Our School? in relation to a child or young person's placement also aims to provide a practical toolkit to create an educationally rich environment within the placement.

In addition to the various initiatives aimed specifically at looked after children and young people, there are numerous policies and initiatives targeted at improving the educational outcomes and experiences of all Scotland's children and young people. For example:

  • We offer funding to the voluntary organisations which support families in transition - Family Mediation Scotland, Relate, Scottish Marriage Care and Stepfamilies Scotland.
  • We provide targeted support for vulnerable families with very young children (0-3 years) through Sure Start Scotland. The objectives of Sure Start Scotland are to improve children's health; to improve children's ability to learn; and to strengthen families and communities.
  • We are providing Working for Families funding to several local authorities to pilot young parent projects which provide holistic, key worker support to help clients boost their self-esteem and confidence and take steps towards education, training and employment. Looked after young people are one of the key groups included in these pilots.
  • We are also providing £2 million over 2 years to provide intensive supervision and intervention to turn around the lives of troubled and troublesome families in Perth and Kinross, South Lanarkshire and Falkirk. Each of these schemes will be rigorously evaluated.
  • We have introduced legislation (The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004) which sets standards that temporary accommodation provided for homeless households with children or pregnant women must meet (unless exceptional circumstances as defined in the Order apply). These standards include the requirement that temporary accommodation must be suitable for children, must meet physical standards and must have accessible health and education services nearby.
  • We are issuing statutory guidance to help local authorities carry out their duty to have regard to the "best interests of children" (as required by the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, as amended) to ensure when providing permanent accommodation to homeless households with children that the accommodation is suitable for children. This guidance will help agencies work together to meet the needs of the individual child.
  • We are introducing a new permanence order in the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill to give children who cannot return to their birth family stability and security. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7th December 2006. We will provide guidance to support the introduction of the permanence order in due course.

What the group said:

The group were emphatic that all children have a right to live somewhere they feel safe and nurtured and where they can call home. For many looked after children and young people this will be the parental home, albeit subject to supervision by the local authority; for others this will mean moving to a new home whether on a temporary or permanent basis.

The group acknowledged that there can be tension between deciding whether to provide family support or to remove the child and place in foster care or residential setting at an early stage; such decisions are never easy. The long-term objective of fostering and residential care should be that each and every looked after child or young person goes on to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life, regardless of their initial experiences. The group felt that depending on the young person's care plan, resource(s) may need to be invested into the family where the child has come from as well as into where the child is placed. It should not always be the case that the resource solely follows the child.

This led the group to ask:

  • Do local policies and procedures proactively support minimising the number of placement moves experienced by looked after children and young people?

The group felt very strongly that stability is key to looked after children and young people feeling safe in their home setting, and further, that the impact of frequent moves by those children and young people looked after at home may have a significant impact on their lives and potential outcomes. It recognised the need to break the cycle of frequent house and school moves which many young people experience as a result of their parents' chaotic lifestyle prior to becoming looked after. This was important in terms of providing a safe and secure setting in which the young person can develop and prosper.

The group felt that more needs to be done to limit the number of moves experienced by looked after children and young people once they are in the care system, whilst recognising that unsuitable placements should not be maintained, and to ensure appropriate placements are secured at as early a stage in the young person's life as possible.

The group heard anecdotal information about cases where young people, residential staff, or foster carers would like an established care placement to continue for longer than the system currently allows.

Of particular concern to the group was the experience of some young people, foster carers and residential workers, where young people are moved - sometimes from a long-term placement - because they had reached the "cut-off" age of 16. This led the group to ask:

  • What do we do for our sons and daughters as they turn 16?
  • How can we make sure that looked after children and young people are afforded the same treatment?

In developing this point, the group considered how they supported their own children as they reached the 16-18 age range. They reflected that they do not ask them to leave home and they do not change their schools.

Rather they:

  • encouraged their children to consider career options
  • supported them in making their career choices
  • assisted them in learning how to drive
  • advised them on gap year possibilities
  • offered advice, guidance and assistance when their children did move on
  • reinforced the message, that if moving on did not work out, then their children would be welcome back at home.

The group was also emphatic on the need for young people to be able to remain in care for longer and for more supported accommodation to be available when a young person does decide to move on.

What Scotland's looked after children and young people have said:

Having Your Say touched on this issue in their response to transitions. They commented on their need for extra support when moving to either a new home and/ or community, "You get stuck with a family you don't know in a new town." They emphasised how big a barrier it was to always have to try and "fit in". Regarding the transition to independence, one of the young people reported that he "thought a lot about being alone".

The Debate Project also outlined a strong list of recommendations regarding this issue of feeling safe and nurtured in the home setting. When in care, young people should be able to "get in touch with social services much easier." They also felt that "young people shouldn't get moved about so often" and were keen to see more family work being done. They wanted to see restraint "used in residential only as a last resort." They emphasised that "young people need to be ready to leave care" and that the moving on point of their 16th birthday should be extended. Indeed, the children and young people questioned felt that there "shouldn't be an age limit when support should stop" and that they should be allowed to return to care "if things did go wrong."

Accommodation appeared to be a critical concern for these young care leavers. The young people were concerned that upon leaving care, they would find that they would be offered poor housing in deprived or disadvantaged areas, given little support and have no-one to turn to if things went wrong. Some of the actions the young people recommended are:

Bed and breakfast accommodation should be stopped; more supported accommodation and more half-way houses between care and own tenancy; and young people should have longer to live where they want.
(The Debate Project)

Overall, these young people wanted to see more support from local authorities and voluntary organisations up until the age of 25.

Common themes:

  • A stable, safe and nurturing home setting is essential for looked after children and young people to feel both safe and nurtured and to realise their potential.
  • A supportive home setting which promotes education is essential for looked after children and young people to improve their educational outcomes.
  • Young people require good quality accommodation; accommodation that meets their various needs, both when in care and also when living independently.
  • Young people need to be better supported during the transition to independent living.

The way ahead - our pledge to Scotland's looked after children and young people:

It is acknowledged that the provision of good quality accommodation is essential to meeting the needs of looked after children and young people.

Action 17:
We will provide £5 million of additional funding in the current financial year to local authority and voluntary providers of children's homes and units in residential schools to improve their physical environment and to create an educationally rich environment for the children and young people who live there.

Next steps required:

a) We will write to all local authorities and voluntary providers to advise them of the funding arrangements, allocations and information regarding recent research in this area which may inform expenditure.

b) All local authorities and voluntary providers will be required to produce a report detailing how their allocation was used and the envisaged improved outcomes for their children and young people.

The practice of moving our young people out of a stable and secure care placement as they approach adulthood has a serious and negative impact on educational outcomes and future lives.

Action 18:
We will clarify the duty on local authorities to ensure that they provide safe, secure and appropriate accommodation to looked after young people until at least 18. The accommodation must appropriately support their longer-term outcomes in terms of education, employment and training.

Next steps required:

a) We will write to local authorities to remind them of the principle that, where required, young people should continue to be looked after and accommodated until they are 18.

b) We will encourage local authorities to ensure that children and young people remain in their established care/school placement around the time of examinations, and are given adequate support.

c) We will encourage local authorities to ensure that young people are able to remain in their established foster placement beyond their 18th birthday where the young person, their foster carer and their social worker agree that this is in the best interests of the young person. We understand that in some instances local authorities have interpreted the Fostering of Children (Scotland) Regulations 1996 to mean that they must remove the young person at 18 when there is another unrelated foster child in the household and a foster carer of the same sex. We will be amending these regulations and will consider what amendments might be required to address this issue.

d) We will introduce a new permanence order in the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill to give children who cannot return to their birth family stability and security. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7th December 2006. We will provide guidance to support the introduction of the permanence order in due course.

Action 19:
We will clarify the duty on local authorities to provide appropriate support to their care leavers up to the age of 21.

Next steps required:

a) We will write to local authorities to remind them of their duties in relation to supporting care leavers until they are 21.

b) We are considering how to prevent homeless care leavers up to the age of 21 from being housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation.

c) We will work with relevant stakeholders, to improve the provision of dedicated supported accommodation for young care leavers.

d) We will commission a review of existing research relating to the transition of young people from a care setting to independent living. The review will consider evidence about the models of assessment and support that enable successful transitions to independent living and the factors which impact on the approach needed to enable young people to make and sustain that transition.

e) We will ask SWIA, the Care Commission and HMIE to report on the age at which young people are leaving their care placements and the quality and range of their destinations as part of the inspection process.