Children in care need to be loved, not processed – Fiona Duncan

Fiona Duncan, chair of the Independent Care Review, says Scotland’s care system often overlooks the need for children to develop loving and trusting relationships in order to feel safe and secure.

Children in care should have the same chance to do fun things as other youngsters, says Fiona Duncan (Picture: John Devlin)
Children in care should have the same chance to do fun things as other youngsters, says Fiona Duncan (Picture: John Devlin)

Scotland’s children should be given the best start in life – that should go without saying. But too many of our young people in care miss out on a childhood their peers take for granted because of a fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling care system.

As chair of the Independent Care Review, I’ve listened over the past three years to more than 5,500 experiences; over half of them were from children and young people with experience of the care system, adults who have lived in care and their families. The rest came from the unpaid and paid workforce.

This has been an emotional journey for all involved and everyone had unique, and sometimes difficult, stories to tell. While there were children and young people who talked about the positive impact a great foster carer or teacher had on their life, too many carried pain with them through the years because of the failings of the current system.

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The Care Review’s examination of the Scottish care system has been unprecedented in scope. From having listened to thousands of voices, we are today demanding urgent changes to be made to how we care for our young people. At the heart of this transformation must be a commitment to 'parenting, not processing' our children. There must be more care and less system.

When I took on the role as chair, I knew the review needed to focus on how the system felt and I can honestly say the Care Review has listened and learned before setting out its vision.

Power must be moved towards children and young people so their needs and wants drive any decisions made about their care. Such a power shift must go hand-in-hand with a move towards parenting, rather than processing to ensure the lives of care-experienced children are no different from any other young people.

They must get the same chances to do the fun things – holidays with friends and sleepovers – which often become tangled up in bureaucracy for children in care. They should never feel stigmatised or ‘different’.

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People of all ages need loving and trusting relationships to develop and to feel safe and secure, but Scotland’s care system often overlooks this. Too often, relationships are broken, and children are moved round a series of ‘strangers’ who, because of policies and procedures, can be discouraged from showing the type of affection many of us take for granted.

Any future approach to care must move from focusing primarily on risk prevention to protecting relationships.

Families must be supported to stay together so children can feel happy and loved in a safe, familiar environment. The paid and unpaid workforce must be properly supported to be able to care. Scotland must hold the hands of those that hold the hand of the child.

As well as delivering conclusions, the Care Review has set out a 10-year implementation plan that needs to involve everyone who is involved in the lives of our children and we are urging Scotland to move quickly to ensure all our children have the best possible start in life.