Edinburgh children's homes scandal: Kids in secure care need love and security, not bruises and abuse – Susan Dalgety
Even the name of the council department with responsibility for looking after the city’s most damaged children is chilling.
Edinburgh Secure Services (ESS) conjures up images of dead-eyed men in dark suits who shoot first and ask questions later. It is, in fact, one of only five residential units in Scotland that provide secure care for traumatised children aged ten to 17.
There are only six places in the Edinburgh unit and the children who end up there have experienced such trauma and abuse that their behaviour poses a serious risk to themselves and others.
The service is meant to provide intensive support to keep the children safe and to help them escape their past. It is a tough environment. The children are locked in their rooms at night for example, but that should not mean that it is a hostile place for vulnerable young people.
Yet a report by the council’s monitoring officer, and considered in private by councillors last Thursday, revealed “serious failings which compromised the well-being and safety of young people” over a period of more than ten years.
It is said that an investigation, carried out after a whistle-blower contacted the council in 2020, found evidence of assaults on young people, abusive language, children being isolated and a toxic management culture stretching back at least a decade.
It is also understood that some children had burn marks where they had been restrained, and others suffered bruising on their faces.
This hardly meets the standards set by the Scottish Government two years ago when children in secure care were promised “intensive support, care and education within a nurturing environment”.
Little wonder then that the Conservative group on the city council tabled a vote of no confidence in the council’s chief executive, Andrew Kerr, last week.
The damning investigation into secure care is just one of several reports in recent years that suggest there is something rotten at the heart of Edinburgh City Council.
As the man at the top, it’s Andrew Kerr’s duty to ensure that the council’s culture is beyond reproach. He would appear to have failed. That must sit on his conscience.
But he is not the only person to have let down Edinburgh’s most vulnerable children. The Scottish Care Inspectorate – whose job it is to scrutinise the quality of care in Scotland – carried out regular inspections of the city’s secure services.
Its 2018 inspection was typical of its findings during the ten-year period covered by the council’s monitoring officer’s report. It found that the quality of care was “very good”, staffing was “very good” and management and leadership was also “very good”. Perhaps questions need to be asked of the Care Inspectorate too.
Children in secure care are not the easiest young people to look after. Their challenging behaviour requires special treatment, but they need love and security, not a bruised face and abuse.
Surely that is not too much to ask of the leadership of our city council? Because if they cannot look after a small number of damaged children, how can we trust them to look after the whole city?