This review has been a revolution, as young people and their families have been integral to shaping the future of the care system and have been given the opportunity to set the plan for their own destinies. It has been their voices, and the messages from the stories they have conveyed, which are powerful.
Thanks are due to the Scottish Government and chair Fiona Duncan for carrying out a root and branch review of the care system and for not only hearing, but even more importantly listening to what will make a difference in the future.
It has been a privilege and a pleasure over the last 37 years to be working in the field of residential care. I have never faltered to drive for change, and hopefully along the way have made a real difference to the lives of some young people whose journeys and circumstances would be a challenge to adults, never mind children.
As I reflect back over the decades, we in the field have made many well-meaning attempts at putting our children at the centre of our practice. I can recall, for example, reports such as Home or Away in 1985 and the Skinner Report, Another Kind of Home, in 1992.
These have their place in history, and for the first time they outlined the purpose and focus for becoming a member of a professional and trained workforce, moving away from being institutional towards a family model of care.
The Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 followed on which gave us a set of National Care Standards and regulation through the Care Inspectorate, monitoring the quality of the care provided from a young person’s perspective. This was closely followed in 2006 by Getting It Right for Every Child, an approach which remains 14 years later. Over the years I have become friends with care charity Who Cares? Scotland, pledged my support to continuing care, and signed up to the Scottish Care leavers covenant.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 gave us permission to become corporate parents, to ensure that we could truly claim and become good parents to our young people.
I am excited about the future and the recommendations set out in the Care Review. What is different and why? Scotland has made a promise to “fix” the care system and adequately support those in care. For me, that is the fundamental difference, a promise is something that has duty and calls for honour.
We have always been a courageous workforce, which has contributed to influencing change and involving our young people. The review strengthens a call to become nurturing parents, who will form attachments and stick with our children through thick and thin. Add to this the formation of relationships that are connected through both our hearts and minds, that have emotional capacity and intelligence, that understand trauma and that work with our young people and their families.
One thing that resonated with me is the impact of language used by adults around children like “community time”, “contact” and “independence”. The plethora of words that describe meetings are wide and varied. This is a quick fix and should cease by directive from each chief social worker.
A key finding from the review is the need to address mental health and ensure access to services which are ready to respond to need, linking behaviour to well-being as a strategy and not as separate issues. There is an over-reliance on child and adolescent mental health services to provide for young people. This support needs to widen to include family therapy work.
A review of the Care Inspectorate that focuses on the quality of relationships, that are loving and giving and go beyond just care, protection and risk is vital. I have always been proud that Scotland has embraced welfare principles that stem from the Kilbrandon Report 1964. However, in 2020 we need to look at volunteers, their training and understanding about trauma and attachment and decision making. This needs to place families at the very heart, signposting them towards help when required.
We also need to consider hearing rooms as warm and welcoming environments. They are in the main less than welcoming and certainly often fail to be a place of sanctuary for children and their families. We owe it to our wonderful and talented young people who shared their journeys in the Care Review, and I promise to work with them to get it right.
Shirley Cairney, head of children’s services at Spark of Genius, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition