Exiling of children needs to end, says Cormac Russell

Caring for vulnerable youngsters by “exiling them to institutions” such as children’s homes needs to end, an expert has said.

Rather than expecting professionals to “raise our most marginalised children”, there is a “need to change how we think and what we do” to help them, according to Cormac Russell, managing director of the Nurture Development organisation.

The community regeneration expert is to raise the issue when he delivers the Children 1st annual lecture to an audience of policy makers, professionals and community volunteers in Glasgow this evening.

At a time when Scotland is looking at its constitutional future in the run-up to the referendum, it is “timely for everyone to stand back and consider what really matters”, Mr Russell argued.

Often vulnerable youngsters are seen as a ” problem to be fixed”, he said.

“We don’t ask them enough how they feel, and when we do the response is often heart-rending. They want to feel safe, wanted and welcomed. Yet, what we do with the most vulnerable children, and Scotland is no exception, is pay professionals to care for them. But care is not a commodity. It can’t be traded, bought or paid for.

“We, that’s individuals, communities and society, have effectively outsourced our responsibility to our children. Yet, those responsibilities to nurture and to love our children are fundamental to a healthy society.

“My message to Scotland tonight is that we need to change how we think and what we do.”

” All children need strong, capable, loving communities. We need to stop exiling them to institutions, expecting professionals to unilaterally raise our most marginalised children. A good childhood cannot be created by professional systems. It is simply not within their gift.

He added: “They can, of course, contribute, support and facilitate but there is no substitution for a caring community. If we invest in communities to be strong, enable people in our communities to grow, then they will develop the capacity to provide the support and care for all our children need.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Just because it’s an old saying doesn’t make it a false one. Instead, we have created ghettoes to deal with people we perceive as problems. Residential institutions for vulnerable members of our society are just wrong.”

Nurture Development, founded by Mr Russell in 1996, aims to “provide an alternative perspective on community building and to redefine how we think about social and economic change”, according to its website.

Children 1st chief executive Anne Houston said that, for some time, the charity has shared Mr Russell’s concern ” that we have effectively left protecting children to the professionals”.

She said: ” We asked Cormac to deliver our lecture for 2013 because we knew he would set us a challenge. It’s vital that we put children first in thinking about how we shape our future. Our organisation was founded as the RSSPCC almost 130 years ago on the principles Cormac expounds and on the belief that we all have to take responsibility to protect children.

“For some time we’ve shared Cormac’s concern that we have effectively left protecting children to the professionals. That’s why we are investing in programmes which engage with individuals and communities to think about what they can do to keep children safe.

” We cannot leave it to someone else to look out for children. We all have a role to play in that. And if we become a more child-centred society which not only considers children’s well-being and welfare but thinks about the environment they need in which to thrive safely then our children will grow up happier, healthier and safer.

“It’s a simple message but a complex one to achieve. But we hope that Cormac’s lecture and activities like ours will give impetus to policy makers and professionals to make a start.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, said: “We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up. Cormac Russell makes a number of points about the way society regards children and we will listen to what he has to say with interest.

“What no one will disagree with is his central point that every child needs love in order to flourish. We all want them, in his words, to feel safe, wanted and welcome. That’s why we have published a parenting strategy, expanded childcare, provided more support for play and developed our overarching approach – Getting It Right For Every Child – placing the child at the centre of services.”