Unprecedented review finds Scottish care system is ‘fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling’

A three-year independent review has called for a ‘radical overhaul’ of Scotland’s care system, making more than 80 recommendations to completely reform the system.

Launched by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2016, the Independent Care Review looked at the human and economic cost of the current provision and listened to more than 5,500 experiences.

Over half of those were 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.

The in-depth examination of all aspects of care in Scotland has revealed a system that is fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling for far too many children and families. It also doesn’t adequately value the voices and experiences of those in it.

The Care Review has calculated that services which deliver and surround the ‘care system’ cost £1.2 billion annually – this includes children and families support services; Children’s Panels; Children’s Hearings Scotland; Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration as well as delivery of other universal services like education and mental health to children in care.

The review also calculated the costs of the ‘care system’ letting down children and their families at £1.6 billion; a combination of £875 million in meeting the needs care experienced people have as a result of the ‘care system’ failing them and £732 million in lost income tax and national insurance.

The review has identified five foundations for change, with over 80 specific changes that must be made to transform how Scotland cares for children and families as well as the unpaid and paid workforce. Among these are:

  • The balance of power must be upended so that listening to children and young people is always the basis of all decisions made about their lives.
  • There must be a focus on building and maintaining life-long relationships – that includes a broader understanding of the risk of not having long term, loving relationships.
  • Scotland must parent, not process, children so there is no difference between the lives of children in care and their peers. Care experienced children must not miss out on the kind of childhood that many take for granted and the future that all our young people deserve.
  • Families must be kept together wherever it is safe to do so. Families must get the support that is right for them at the earliest opportunity and it must be flexible, consistent, patient and free from stigma. This will mean that more children can live a safe, happy life at home with their families.

The Care Review has also published The Plan, an approach to implementation plotted out over 10 years whilst demanding urgency is maintained in the pace of change.

Fiona Duncan, Chair of the Independent Care Review (pictured) said: “I have heard countless stories of when the care system gets it wrong; separation, trauma, stigma and pain. Too many childhoods have been lost to a system that serves its own convenience rather than those within it.

“The Care Review has listened to what care experienced people have said needs to change and those voices have driven its work and underpins its conclusions.

“It has sought to understand how the system feels to those who live and work in and around it. And it has produced the what, how, why and when of what needs to happen next.

“This is a radical blueprint for a country that loves, nurtures and cherishes its children. This is Scotland’s chance to care for its children, the way all good parents should.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I would like to extend my thanks to Fiona Duncan and the review members for the work they have put into their final report and supporting documents as well as the individuals who shared their often extremely personal stories with the team.

“In 2016 I accepted a challenge to listen to the experiences of 1,000 looked-after young people because I knew the care system needed a transformation and I wanted to hear first-hand what had to change. These early conversations inspired me to announce an independent root-and-branch review of the care system.

“So for the first time ever the voices of people with experience of the care sector have been, and will continue to be, at the heart of shaping care policy. Over 5,500 people, including care experienced individuals and their families, as well as paid and unpaid care workers, took the time to discuss their thoughts, feelings and experiences to highlight where things are going well and where we need to improve.

“I have had the privilege of meeting many young people with experience of care who are doing extremely well, I have also been given the chance to see the dedication, commitment and passion of those who work in the care sector.

“But I’ve also heard some extremely difficult stories which portray the care sector as bureaucratic and even unfeeling.

“It is clear that despite the efforts of those within the system, the actual experience of too many people in care is not what we want it to be.

“We will keep listening to and working with care experienced people because the case for transformational change is now unarguable and their voice must shape that change. We will work with them and with local authorities, care providers and others to deliver that change as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented: “Victim Support Scotland welcomes the approach taken by the Independent Care Review. Only with unwavering focus on listening to and being guided by the real-life experiences of those who have been through the care system, can meaningful change be made.

“The findings of the Independent Care Review have laid out some major opportunities to strengthen the Children’s Hearings System to ensure the greatest benefit to children and families.

“Alongside people we support, we are working with our partner organisations and the Scottish Government to encourage sustained improvements across the criminal justice system, including having the appropriate protections and support for child victims going through the Children’s Hearings System available.  Victim Support Scotland would seek assurances that a suite of rights for child victims would accompany the incorporation of UNCRC as part of the measures recommended in the review.”

Download the Independent Care Review reports here.

Picture (c) The Care Review / Gold Visuals.