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Developments in the field of Child and Youth Care

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Cared-for young people 'falling through the cracks' in system

Young people who have been in care are "falling through the cracks", according to a new report from Scottish Labour.

MSP Kezia Dugdale said figures showed at least 84 young people who at some stage had been in secure care died in the last 10 years. She also found only a small number of young people requested or were offered continuing care, which allows them to be looked after until the age of 21.

Ministers said they would study the findings of the report "with interest".

Previous research has underlined the difficulties facing young people who have been in care, with studies suggesting they are far more likely to have a mental health condition and to die before the age of 25, compared with peers who have not been in care.

Ms Dugdale spent a year working on her report, submitting freedom of information requests to all of Scotland's councils. She said the lack of information actually recorded about young people in care "should make all of us angry", describing the results which did come back as "startling and deeply worrying".

Only 20 out of 32 councils responded to requests about young people dying in care, with Glasgow – the local authority with by far the largest number of looked-after children in the country - among those not responding.

The councils which did provide figures said that 84 young people aged up to 24, who at some stage had been in secure care, died in the last 10 years. No cause of death was provided for 29 of these cases, either being logged as "unknown", "unreported" or "refused to comment".

Ms Dugdale said it was "a scandal that we don't know exactly how many care experienced young people die before their 25th birthday", adding that "we do know it's far too many".

Continuing Care

The report also examines how many young people continue in care after the age of 18. The Scottish government introduced a policy in 2014 that councils should provide care for young people up to the age of 21, in the same type of accommodation that they have been in previously.

Continuing care places a duty on councils to care for young people up to the age of 21, in the same type of accommodation that they have been in until 18. At the 20 councils that responded to Ms Dugdale's freedom of information requests, 3,117 young people were eligible for continuing care in July 2017 – but only 177 were offered, or had requested, the option.

However Glasgow City Council, which had by far the highest number of eligible young people, did not provide figures for the number of those who received continuing care "due to apparent costs attached to collating the data".

Ms Dugdale said: "For too long, care-experienced young people have been abandoned at the age of 18, and are more likely to end up in a prison than a university lecture theatre.

"The introduction of continuing care was designed to address this, but our report reveals a patchwork of provision across Scotland, with only a small number of young people being offered the option to remain in care.

"Care-experienced children are our children: the state is the parent and we're all responsible for their care. Our taxes pay for it and we also all pay the price of their lives being diminished by poor health and opportunities. Too many care-experienced youngsters are falling through the cracks, and we require urgent action to improve their life chances."

Charity the Fostering Network in Scotland welcomed the report, saying the findings of its own surveys "echo the message of this report, that nowhere near enough eligible young people are being supported to take up a continuing care placement".

Director Sara Lurie urged the Scottish government to "increase the amount of money they are giving to local authorities to make continuing care work", saying that "there is a huge gap between introducing a policy and making it work in practice".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to undertake an independent "root and branch review" of Scotland's children in care system in 2016.

Minister for young people Maree Todd said the report was "an important contribution to an area we are already very focused on".

She said: "We recognise that there are real challenges and real problems in the system. We are absolutely alert and are listening to children and young people who have come through the care system, and we are working hard with them to improve it.

"We are absolutely determined to improve this situation, and in fact one of the most positive things that's come from all of this is that the voice of care-experienced young children and young people is very, very loud in all of this improvement that we're doing.

"One of the authors of the report today is one of the co-chairs of the independent care inquiry. We are absolutely determined to et the bottom of this, to improve things, to close these gaps, to find out where the cracks are and to fix them. We will improve the situation for these children."

Read the new report on children in care here.

30 July 2018 


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