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Children’s Hearings Scotland launches new child-friendly feedback portal

Posted 11.08.23 by Alice Hinds

Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) is making it easier for children and young people to give feedback on their experiences by launching a new online child-friendly portal.

With young people telling CHS they sometimes left hearings feeling  “unable to express their views”, the Government agency has developed and launched the new tool to streamline the feedback procedure, ensuring children can have their voice heard at all points throughout the hearings process.

Now live on the CHS website, the portal will continue to be tested and refined in collaboration with children and young people, while on-going work with the Scottish Children’s Reporter’s Administration (SCRA) (click here for more) will develop a future “single point of entry” for children and families, removing concerns that young people do not have enough information on which organisation are responsible for the different parts of their care and support.

The implementation of the new feedback system is part of a wider programme of activity focused on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (click here for more) under CHS’s Promise Programme, and comes as the Hearings for Children report (click here for more), published in May, recommended finding new ways to receive and respond to observations, comments and concerns about the Children’s Panel system.

Mel McDonald, from the Practice and Standards Team at CHS, said: "It is crucial that we learn from children’s feedback and to do this effectively we need to remove barriers.

"This can mean getting feedback at a time and a place that works for the child and in an environment where they feel comfortable and have the support of trusted adults.”

For more information, click here to visit the Children’s Hearings Scotland website:

A heart with a black outline and segments inside coloured blue pink green and yellow which is a heart within the big heart

New survey launched to help #KeepThePromise

Posted 30.06.23 by Alice Hinds

Charities, organisations and individuals around the country are being encouraged to share their opinions to help shape the next phase of work done by The Promise Scotland.

With less than a year to go before the end of the first phase of the organisation’s work to bring about the change outlined by the Independent Care Review in February 2020, Fiona Duncan, chair of The Promise Scotland (click here for more), has launched a survey to capture thoughts from across the sector.

In an open message, Duncan, also the independent strategic advisor for The Promise, explained that the challenges of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have meant delivering the original aims of Plan 21-24 would not be realistic by next year, but added that the “task is difficult, but deliverable”.

Building upon the methodology designed to deliver the Independent Care Review (click here for more), the next steps will include a rapid review of the past three years’ work and, over the summer, Duncan will consult on how to co-devise Plan 24-30, with the approaches set out in autumn this year.

Input is now needed to inform how to co-devise Plan 24-30, with contributors asked to consider; what they would you like to see in the plan; the barriers and challenges to #KeepingThePromise, and whether a six-year plan would be just as effective as the current three-year approach.

Duncan said: “The work to co-devise Plan 24-30 will be relentlessly focused on keeping The Promise, with the care community actively and meaningfully involved throughout all stages of the work, including in monitoring and governance.

“Co-devising Plan 24-30 ensures it will both meet the needs of the care community and children and their families and give confidence that it will be entirely deliverable by the paid and unpaid workforce.”

Plan 24-30 will be communicated from spring 2024, mapping out the milestones, timelines, roles and responsibilities required to #KeepThePromise, including a midpoint review of progress in 2027.

To have your say, click here to visit The Promise Scotland’s website:

The word "justice" is highlighted in green marker on a page in a book

News: Investment announced for new Bairns’ Hoose test sites across Scotland

Posted 02.06.23 by Alice Hinds

New funding has been announced to establish Bairns’ Hoose test sites across Scotland, providing “coordinated, comprehensive support under one roof” for children and young people in the justice system.

Informed by the Barnahus model, which was first developed in Iceland, local authorities, health boards, the Police and third sector organisations will partner to apply for a share of the new £6 million fund for 2023-24, establishing safe spaces where children, as victims and witnesses, can access a range of trauma-informed support.

Currently, according to Children 1st (click here for more), children involved in a crime may have to relive what has happened to them up to 14 times, speaking with different people in different settings, including police, social workers, doctors and nurses. Sometimes this happens without a family member or loved present, adding to the trauma of being a victim or witness of crime.

Implemented as a key action from The Promise (click here for more), and underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Bairns’ Hoose model ensures therapeutic support, child protection, recovery and justice services are available in one place.

Available support will include Police and social work-led joint investigative interviews, including deployment of the new Scottish Child Interview Model, health and wellbeing assessments, and counselling services for both the child and wider family.

The fund is expected to enable five multi-agency test sites to be created, with learning providing a blueprint for a full pilot of Bairns’ Hoose in 2025.

Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise, Natalie Don said: “The creation of Bairns’ Hoose is a key action in Keeping the Promise and I would like to pay tribute to the determination and resilience to everyone who has contributed their expertise and time to help bring the Barnahus model to Scotland.

“The experiences of the children who will access Bairns’ Hoose are in many cases absolutely appalling and ones which nobody, let alone a child, should have to go through.

“This funding marks a significant step in the development of Bairns’ Hoose in Scotland, and offers us a chance to provide wrap around care, recovery and justice for children in a way which best responds to their trauma, needs and circumstances.”

Last year, Children in Scotland joined a partnership, led by Children 1st, calling for the development of a Barnahus model in Scotland, and our Manifesto for 2021-26 (click here for more) includes a call for political parties to commit to learning from the findings of the Scottish Barnahus pilot.

Two sets of hands hold a wooden sculpture of a home

Foster Care Fortnight: Exploring the essential work of foster carers in Scotland

Posted 25.05.23 by Alice Hinds

Every year, thousands of children in Scotland and around the UK require care because they are not able to live with their birth families, making foster carers essential for providing safe, secure and stable homes.

In Scotland, more than 4,000 children and young people currently use fostering services, yet the number of foster care households continues to decrease, with a 3.5% reduction between 2020 and 2021.

Here, as part of Foster Care Fortnight (15-28 May), which shines a light on the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers, we look at some of the common questions surrounding the role.

Who can become a foster carer?

According to TACT, the UK’s largest fostering charity, most applicants will meet the criteria for becoming a foster carer, and there's no right or wrong background.

“TACT Scotland always needs more foster carers, especially those who can provide teenagers, children and young people with complex needs, as well as sibling groups, with a safe, stable and secure home – where they can build their self-confidence and move on to leading independent lives,” explained the charity. “If a person is over 21, has a spare bedroom and the willingness to provide a caring home to a vulnerable child or young person, TACT will consider their application.”

Sexuality, age, marital status, and whether a person owns their home do not determine suitability as a foster carer, and people from all walks of life are needed to help provide a stable and loving home.

Fostered children come from a diverse range of backgrounds, so having carers with different life experiences is essential, too.

Are siblings fostered together?

Due to Part 13 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, and the Looked After Children (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, since last year, local authorities have a duty to place siblings with the same foster carer, where appropriate and possible. If a suitable home cannot be found for the whole family, siblings must be placed in foster care near to each other, and local authorities must also actively promote direct contact between siblings.

These guidelines are a step towards achieving The Promise, which was laid out by the Independent Care Review to ensure the voices of children and young people in care are heard and that sibling relationships are protected.

TACT explained: “TACT Scotland has more than 20 foster families caring for siblings. What is absolutely vital is the search for more foster carers who can accommodate sibling groups. In most cases, the best outcome for siblings in care is to stay together in the same family unit – but that is not possible without foster carers who have the space and experience.”

Case study: David, TACT foster carer in Scotland since 2018

Fostering is my full-time occupation. While I am the primary foster carer, my wife (Ruth) and I are very much a fostering team. When we applied to foster, our son was a baby, but we knew we could happily share our home and hearts with more children.

The children currently with us are the third set of siblings we have fostered – there is something especially satisfying knowing you are making it possible for siblings to stay together. It is challenging enough for children to go into care, but to then be separated from their brothers and sisters at such a difficult time must be really tough.

Seeing the unconditional love the siblings have for each other, and the special bond and mutual support they share, reinforces my belief that wherever possible, siblings should always be given the chance to stay together.

What ages are looked after by foster carers?

According to The Fostering Network, every 20 minutes another child comes into care and needs a foster family in the UK.

Children can be fostered from birth, right up until their 18th birthday, and legislation now exists to support young people to stay with their former foster carer up until the age of 21. Around two-fifths of children in care are aged 11 to 15 years, so finding foster carers for teenagers is a key priority.

TACT said: “There is a common misconception that teenagers who are in foster care are difficult, that they are in care because of something that they have done – but this is not the case. This myth is not only unfair on young people, but also the reason that many people rule themselves out of fostering teenagers.

“For people considering fostering teenagers, it is important to try to understand the young person’s background, the challenges that they may be experiencing and the impact that may have on their behaviour. They may have issues with trust and may ‘act out’ as a way of hiding fear or insecurity. As a foster carer being supportive is key, helping the young person to understand and manage their feelings, build their self-esteem, and gain their trust.”

What are the different types of fostering?

Foster carers don’t always look after children and young people full-time. Care can be required for a number of reasons, so foster placements vary to meet each specific need. Types of foster care include:

  • Short term fostering provides temporary care for children and young people whose care plan is uncertain. It is different from “short break” fostering, which allows a break for both the main foster carer and the young person.
  • Long term fostering is for children and young people who will not be returning to their birth family. This type of care requires a commitment from the foster carer to provide a safe home for as long as is needed, which may be up to 18 years old and beyond.
  • Specialist foster care is for children with complex needs, including physical disabilities, medical conditions or learning difficulties.
  • Emergency fostering means foster carers do not have the opportunity to meet the child or young person beforehand, and have to be ready to accept the child when they arrive, which may be with a duty social worker or the police.

Every foster carer is given full training to ensure they have the right skills to look after children and young people, and also receive a tax-free fostering allowance.

Click here for more information on Foster Care Fortnight (15-28 May 2023):

A close-up of Holyrood's exterior windows, with grey bricks and wooden decoration and protruding stone features

News: Sturgeon centres children and families in resignation speech

Posted 15 February, 2023 by Nina Joynson

Nicola Sturgeon shared government's past and future focus on children, young people and families in speech as she resigns as Scotland's leader.

After more than eight years as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon resigned this morning in a press conference at Bute House.

The SNP party leader announced her resignation before taking questions from journalists in attendance. 

Children, young people and families were notably central to her speech, both in highlighting the progress made during her tenure and as priorities moving forward.

Stating that she did not plan to leave politics, the First Minister said that “there are many issues I care deeply about and hope to champion in future”, going on to describe two: The Promise, and Scottish independence. 

Sturgeon said:

“One of these is The Promise – the national mission, so close to my heart, to improve the life chances of care experienced young people and ensure that they grow up nurtured and loved.

“My commitment to these young people will be lifelong.”

She also acknowledged changes that the Scottish Government has made since she became First Minister in 2014. Most of the achievements she outlined related to policies for children, young people and families, including:

  • Greater access to university for young people from deprived backgrounds
  • Investments in early learning and childcare
  • Introduction of Scotland's Baby Box
  • Launch of the Scottish Child Payment.

"As the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed last week, the poorest families with children in Scotland are now £2000 better off as a result of our policies.”

Journalists in attendance also centred many of their questions on policies linked to young people.

One asked the First Minister whether she had regrets over areas that had may be considered unsuccessful, including the education attainment gap.

Sturgeon responded by noting investment expansion for early years childcare and education and the attainment gap:

“If you're a young person from a deprived background or a background like the one I come from you’ve got a better chance than you’ve ever had before of going to university.”

In the final question, one journalist asked what issues the First Minister would campaign for upon returning to the backbench. Sturgeon replied with two priorities, one being the rights of care experienced young people: 

“I certainly will continue to champion that cause. It’s one that got under my skin and into my heart in a way that few other issues did over my time as First Minister. Beyond that, we’ll see.”

A children's drawing of a rainbow using crayons on brown paper . The rainbow uses red, yellow, green, blue and purple. The word rainbow is written in the top right corner in children's handwriting, using black crayon.

News: Funding to help transform family support

Posted 12 July, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond. Image: Children's artwork.

The Scottish Government has released funding to help support families and reduce the number of children going into care.

Local authorities are to receive £32 million in Whole Family Wellbeing Funding over the next year (2022-23). The funding will help build services that focus on prevention and early intervention, ensuring families get the support they need to overcome challenges before they reach crisis point.

Keeping the promise

The Whole Family Wellbeing Fund was announced in September 2021 as part of the Programme for Government 2021-22. It commits to investing £500 million over the course of the Parliament to help support families to stay together, with £50m earmarked for 2022-23.

The Fund aims to significantly reduce the number of children and young people in care by 2030 and will provide support on a range of issues, including child and adolescent mental health, child poverty, drug and alcohol misuse and educational attainment.

It forms part of the Scottish Government’s Keeping the Promise implementation plan, responding to the report from the Independent Care Review that called for a “radical overhaul” of Scotland’s care system.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“It is essential that we provide the right kind of support to enable families to thrive so that, ultimately, fewer children and young people go into care.

“Whole Family Wellbeing Funding aims to transform the way support is delivered by ensuring families can access seamless support that meets their individual needs.

“The £50 million committed in 2022-23 will focus on building the capacity for further investment from 2023-24 onwards. This funding is a critical part of how we will keep the Promise by helping families access the support they need, where and when they need it.

Ms Somerville also outlined the ambition that from 2030, at least 5% of all community-based health and social care spending will be invested in preventative whole family support measures.

Spending decisions

Decisions on how to use the £32 million allocated to local authorities will be made by Children’s Services Planning Partnerships.

Arrangements for distributing the remaining £12 million are still being finalised.

'When supporting families, we need to be prepared to deliver on our promises' - SallyAnn Kelly, Chief Executive of Aberlour, responded to the announcement of the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund in Issue 1 of Insight magazine.
Click here to find out how to read her comment piece in full 

25 & Up: After a year of adversity, change is coming – and we know Scotland is more determined than ever to Keep the Promise

9 February 2021

Chair of the Promise Oversight Board Fiona Duncan revisits her original 25 Calls campaign call, updates on the Plan, and hails everyone who has campaigned so hard to keep the Care Review on track

It’s almost four years after the launch of the Independent Care Review, two years on from the start of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign, and a year since The Care Review published its conclusions and a vision for the Scotland that together we could be. Driven by the voices of thousands of care experienced babies, infants, children, adults and families as well as the paid and unpaid workforce, the demand was for a Scotland where every child grows up loved, safe and respected.

When I contributed to the 25 Calls campaign in autumn 2018, the Care Review had been running for 18 months. It had already listened to the experiences of care from more than 1000 infants, children, young people and adults across Scotland. Discovery Stage had concluded with the emergence of 10 thematic areas that required deeper understanding and the Journey stage of the work was underway.

The Care Review had also developed its 12 intentions which included supporting families to stay together; protecting relationships significant to infants, children and young people; aftercare available for as long as needed; children and young people’s rights and voices meaningfully impacting decision-making; understanding the financial and human cost of care, including what happens when people don’t get the help they need;  care services planning and working together; and tackling stigma in all its forms.

When it concluded, just over a year later, the change the Care Review called for was vast and urgently needed. Its challenge was met with equally all-encompassing support and enthusiasm: from the care experienced community, organisations and individuals across sectors and industries, politicians, community leaders and the press.

The Promise was made.

One year on and the world is different in terrible and unexpected ways. Our lives are dominated by restrictions and fear – fear of transmission, fear for loved ones, fear of what comes next. For too many life has become even more difficult.

But Scotland’s commitment to #KeepThePromise has remained. There is much still to be done and hard decisions and actions to be taken. But foundations have been laid and change is underway.

Despite unanticipated adversity, the schedule laid out a year ago in The Promise report called the plan (click to read) hasn’t slipped. Massive effort from organisations, individuals, government, and those who campaigned so hard for the Care Review have kept it on track.

Set up in July of last year, The Promise team has pursued the massive task of engaging and working with everyone who needs to #KeepThePromise and more than 100 organisations have outlined how they will change, including local authorities and community planning partnership, Children’s Hearings Scotland, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, the Care Inspectorate plus NHS trusts, charities and many, many more.

These commitments have shaped the draft of one single, multi-agency, cross-sector, collectively owned three-year Plan for Scotland, detailing what must happen for the promise to be kept. This will be supported by annual rolling Change Programmes detailing how this will happen, by who and when.

The Promise Oversight Board (click to find out more) – a 20 strong assembly, more than half of whom have care experience, and who will hold Scotland to account – has been recruited and met as a group for the first time.

The Promise Design School, which will pilot in the next couple of months, will give people with care experience the training and skills to collaborate and design public services. With the Pinky Promise Design School following closely afterwards to capture children’s ideas on change that can happen now.

The Promise Partnership, a £4m investment from Scottish Government, opened for applications on 1st February.

The care community called for change and Scotland answered the call. There is no place for complacency and some of the bigger, harder and more painful calls are still to come. But I am as full of hope as I was last year and I feel that hope reflected back in the actions of those who have pledged to #KeepThePromise. Hope fuels change – and change is here.

Fiona Duncan is Chair of the Promise Oversight Board

About the author

Fiona Duncan is Chair of the Promise Oversight Board

Click to read more

The Care Review

The Independent Care Review published its conclusions in February 2020

Click to read more

"Support the Review's aims and its work"

Fiona Duncan's original call was part of our 25 Calls campaign

Click to read more

Hope in hard times

The Care Review informs themes and approaches in our 2021-26 Manifesto

Click to read more

"The Care Review lays down a challenge"

Jimmy Paul responded to Fiona Duncan's 25 Calls piece in a 2019 blog

Click to read Jimmy's blog

"Collective support the key to delivery"

Last year we responded to the Review's publication by expressing our total support

Click to read the news

25 and Up: The ‘old normal’ meant acceptance of injustice for too many families. We can’t go back to it

9 October 2020

In a special blog for Challenge Poverty Week, Clare Simpson revisits her 25 Calls contribution, arguing that UNCRC incorporation and the work of the Care Review provide the scaffolding for change Scotland’s families need

Back in 2018 when we made our call for relationship-based whole family support (click to read), addressing the poverty blighting the lives of too many of Scotland’s families, the world was a very different place.

Things felt more hopeful. The Scottish Government had just announced its commitment to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law. The Independent Care Review was at the beginning of its Journey towards its final Promise. The need for better support for families, along with the acknowledgement that this could not be done without tackling poverty, was really gaining traction. And perhaps most importantly, we weren’t living through a pandemic with all its consequent disruption of families’ lives.

Families have been thrust right to the forefront during the pandemic, their essential role suddenly visible and prominent where once it was just background. We thought we no longer had a village to raise our children. But we realised when they were taken away that family and friends, education and other services were that village and that without them families were left horribly exposed.

But families’ troubles were not due solely, or even mostly, due to the impact of the pandemic. Years of austerity had already created a society riven by inequalities. Too many families had been swept away by a rising tide of poverty and many more were teetering on the edge. A forthcoming report by Barnardos and the NSPCC, Challenges from the Frontline Revisited, puts the stark reality of life for too many families under the spotlight. The pandemic has highlighted what was already too many families’ everyday reality.

Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Scotland was already living in poverty. The numbers are predicted to rise. Many families were living in poverty regardless of whether they worked or not. Approximately four in 10 people were experiencing in-work poverty (Poverty in Scotland 2020, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click to read). Insecure employment and zero-hour contracts left many at the mercy of unregulated employers while inadequate social security levels meant that those who were forced to resort to benefits were far from socially secure.

After lockdown, the number of working hours in Scotland fell sharply, with low-paid workers more likely to lose jobs and pay. Universal Credit claims doubled in the six months from March 2020 with areas with higher poverty rates pre-pandemic most significantly affected (JRF, 2020). While many were able to weather the storm and cut back on spending, those living in poverty, especially private renters and younger people, already spent the vast majority of their income on essentials and were unlikely to have savings to fall back on, according to the ONS.

It can’t be fair that some of us can take out a Netflix subscription and buy a comfort takeaway to make life easier during these COVID days, while others can’t afford to keep up rent payments and need to rely on foodbanks to feed themselves and their children.

The call that we made back in 2018 has become more important than ever. Relationship-based whole family support is essential to ensure that every family has the resources to ensure their children can thrive. When families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, to pay bills and put meals on the table, inevitably mental health suffers, stress levels soar and bringing up children becomes so much more difficult. We need to talk about supporting families rather than about family support, working alongside families to make sure they are not cast adrift in a rising tide of poverty.

Article 27 of the UNCRC states “Every child has the right to a standard of living that meets their physical and social needs and supports their development. Governments must support families who cannot provide this.”

It is a beacon of hope and a mark of a civilised society that Scotland has committed to incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law. Properly resourced and used as a framework to support families, incorporation has the potential to be a gamechanger for families who, through no fault of their own, cannot provide an adequate standard of living for their children. Alongside the strong commitment made to supporting families in the Independent Care Review’s the Promise and its Ten Principles of family support, UNCRC incorporation provides the scaffolding for the change that Scotland’s families need.

But effecting that change will require proper resourcing and genuine cross-departmental working at national and local government levels. It will mean help with work and employability, more affordable homes and more income support for families.

It simply isn’t right that we leave so many families unable to provide for their children. We have to get this right for Scotland’s families. Please don’t let the new normal be the same as the old normal.

Clare Simpson is Manager of Parenting across Scotland

About the author

Clare Simpson is Manager of Parenting across Scotland

Click to find out more

Poverty in Scotland 2020

This report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was published in October 2020

Click to find out more

25 Calls, 25 and Up

Find out more about our campaign in partnership with organisations across the sector

Click to find out more

"Whole-family support is needed"

Clare's 25 Calls campaign call focused on the need for meaningful support for families

Click to read

Incorporation 'to the max' welcome

Find out why we back full incorporation and read our consultation response

Click to read