Jamie Kinlochan works in campaigns for a national children’s charity and is a former Children’s Panel Member.
Is Scottish Labour ready to be a parent?
That’s a question I’m not sure many people will be asking with Westminster elections looming and Holyrood elections just round the corner. For me, it’s the most important one of all.
In Scotland, just over 16,000 young people (just 0.5% of the population) are growing up in care. Foster care, kinship care, residential care and a range of other settings that come about because the state tells young people that their life isn’t as it should be.
The vast, vast majority of the time, the state gets involved in a young person’s life because they have been the victim of neglect and abuse. Why then, when we take young people into care, are their outcomes so bad?
It isn’t okay that 50% of young people are leaving care in poor mental health. It isn’t okay that they will leave school with few qualifications. And it’s a disaster that a care experienced young person is 20 times more likely to die by the age of 25.
If these were the outcomes for our own children, when we do everything we can as parents to meet their basic needs, there would be national outcry. The lack of mass public noise makes me think that Scotland doesn’t yet see young people in care as their own children.
The care system will be incredible when society takes ownership of young people in care, when communities rally round them. You and I need to make that happen.
Last week, I was talking to my mum (Moira to my friends) about going to Oban. She spoke for 10 minutes about the incredible views all the way up the A82.
She was smiling down the phone when she told me how great Ben Lomond looked in the morning.
What I remembered after the call is that the only reason Moira knew what Loch Lomond looked like in the morning is because when I was 11, she took a third job cleaning lodges. She took on that job at the same time as my primary school announced that the summer trip would be to Disneyland Paris. I wanted to go, my mum wanted me to go. So she set her alarm five hours earlier and travelled 40 minutes on a bus each way. The lodges she cleaned, incidentally, cost the same per night as my entire holiday did.
When I was 22 and decided to go back to education, my mum made similar sacrifices. There was never a discussion that I would move back in with her, it was just a given because I couldn’t afford to live by myself on a student loan.
Now, I’m 29 and still stay over at my mum’s at least one weekend a month because it makes my heart feel good.
Care experienced young people need to know that we will do the same for them. The reality, just now, is that the average age of leaving care is 17. If things don’t work out, young people don’t get to just go back like I did. Their care placement, and often the relationships that they built within it, abruptly end.
Last year, Scottish Labour supported the Children and Young People Act. The whole of the Scottish Parliament was united around the parts of the Act that extended the age of leaving care from 16 to 21 and make 24 public bodies, from Creative Scotland to the Scottish Police Authority, responsible for care experienced young people.
Most pertinent in the run up to Holyrood 2016, however, is that the Act also names Scottish Ministers as Corporate Parents for young people in care.
This means that care experienced young people don’t just elect a Government. They elect their parents. I need all of our prospective parliamentary candidates to know that this is the biggest privilege that they will ever have.
Policies already announced by Jim Murphy show that he is serious about addressing the inequality that young people in care face. A Government can and should make sure that a young person has a job, a roof over their head, a chance at an education and enough money to get by. These are some of the basic needs that we expect for our own children.
There is, however, one basic need that I would like to see Scottish Labour meet. One that is fundamental to our existence but that we never see in manifestos, policy briefings or formal care plans. One that as a parent you give your children without really thinking about it. One that we promote every day when we leave then house or at the end of a phone call but that we never talk about in our political discourse.
I want Scottish Labour to love young people in care. Only when we meet that basic need, surely the most important of all, will we start to see the outcomes for care experienced young people change.
3 thoughts on “Is Scottish Labour ready to be a parent?”
I also work in the funding sector for children’s charities and am a current Children’s Panel member. I don’t think anybody could disagree with the sentiments in your article though I am not sure what you are actually proposing.
The problems with the children being in the care system are at once massively complex and very simple. With the odd exception their entry into the system boils down to poverty and its associated indices: lack of hope & aspiration; mental health issues; crime; alcohol & substance misuse and domestic abuse.
An outcome of these issues of course is poor educational attainment and it is ostensibly a good thing that Mr Murphy is keen to target this area; however, by the time the children are in school their home life has often placed them at a disadvantage that any amount of chartered teachers and assistants won’t overcome.
As such, again massively complex and blindingly simple, the way to prevent the issues that lead to involvement with social services is the availability of proper employment for large swathes of economically decimated communities – and a fair and fit for purpose benefits system for those incapable (the vulnerable that Rachel Reeves says the Labour Party do not represent). These communities are a problem created by UK govt policy and a problem any colour of UK government has shown itself incapable of addressing.
By the time children are in care they are often/usually irrevocably damaged. A solution would potentially be removing them from home at an earlier age which to the layperson seems an obvious answer. As you will know the very ethos of the Panel, in accordance with the UNCRC, is that where possible the best place for a child to be is with their family. This involves exhaustive opportunities for the birth family to show their worth, often to the detriment of the child damaging them over a period of years while decreasing their suitability for adoption or stable, long term foster care. Add into the mix an influx of solicitors (perhaps a development since you left) who are bringing a new confrontational approach as they seek work following legal aid cuts in other areas. They are there to put the rights of the parents first, often to the detriment of the child, and the move into care can be a lengthy and damaging process.
I appreciate that you have not overly politicised this article. And it is an issue that on the whole transcends politics. And I want to respect that. I do want to speak about an incident that occurred only a month ago during a hearing. A panel member, a teacher in a special needs school, was bemoaning her department being shut down due to cuts. I wryly noted that we voted for austerity in Sep and this is the road ahead. Cue a revolt as the other panel member, an English community worker, the reporter and the CPAC rep all stated very clearly that they didn’t. The reporter coined ‘and I know who I’ll be voting for in May’, one panel member informed she was out leafleting for the SNP at the weekend. This chimed with my experiences of conversations initiated last year when I turned up with my YES badge (removed in time for business).
This is exactly the sort of environment that would have been, and should be, a Labour Party stronghold. Working people with experience of poverty and its effects and willing to devote a chunk of their time in a volunteering capacity to mitigate against it. Yet we were all sick to the back teeth of Labour and its move to denigrate the most vulnerable in our society in its efforts to win bigoted votes in key marginals. Sick of the UK’s obsession with austerity and kicking the poor. None of us considered Independence a silver bullet that will cure all ills overnight but the UK is a nasty, brutish place that is irredeemably on the path to US levels of inequality. The Labour party and its assorted millionaires seem “intensely relaxed” about this. How else do you explain Rachel Reeve’s appalling statement? The only way forward for Scotland is to get out – and if we do then maybe a Scottish Labour Party can play a productive role in being a parent.
Next time you decide not to overly politicise a comment, you might want to try harder. Talking of things being complex, your simplification of September’s vote as a vote “for austerity” is both wrong and stupid. We were voting on the constitution, not the economy. And had we voted yes we would have been gearing up for the biggest cuts in public spending Scotland has ever seen. Thank goodness the majority of Scots weren’t so reckless with the lives of vulnerable kids.
Duncan, you are a silly little blinkered man. What happened to your “route to reconciliation”?
Because that was the purpose of my honest post on your often absurd website.
But let’s look at at your reply:
How as I being overly political? I was not indulging in any of your ya-booh politics – but making a point that you should be thanking me for and discussing tonight with your party strategists. The ‘how Labour lost the educated working class of Glasgow’ point. How Labour have managed to lose not only private but public and third sector workers and volunteers. No, as is the Labour way you have come back with some shitty retort implying everyone else – the large majority of the electorate – has the problem.
I think you have (deliberately) missed the word wryly in my sentence about austerity. Check out the meaning. It off course means that I was not being literal or absolute; rendering your rebuke stupid. Do you accept that Duncan?
You carry on voting for the UK state as your contribution to vulnerable kids. I’ll continue to volunteer a chunk of my hard pressed time, often sacrificing a bit of time with my own young children, as mine.
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