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.