Report on Edinburgh's Heathervale Young People’s Centre gives Nicola Sturgeon another reason to keep her promise to children in care – Susan Dalgety
and live on Freeview channel 276
Some – like her pledge to close the education attainment gap – she broke, it seems, without a backward glance. But when she resigned as First Minster, only nine weeks ago, she pledged to keep the vow she had made to the most marginalised children in Scotland in 2020, following an independent review into how children in care were looked after.
“While I am stepping down from leadership, I am not leaving politics,” she said. “There are many issues I care deeply about and hope to champion in future. 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.”
Fine words. Indeed, when she resigned, I suggested that she should focus her attention on Edinburgh Council and its appalling failure to properly look after the city’s most vulnerable children – those living in secure care accommodation. It now emerges that the council cannot be trusted to care for the vulnerable children in at least one of its ‘mainstream’ children’s homes.
A Care Inspectorate report has just revealed that the Heathervale Young People’s Centre in Wester Hailes is so “unhomely” it affects the children’s sense of worth. Leaking windows meant there were no curtains in some rooms, the home’s TV was broken, there were holes in walls and some children slept on broken beds.
If a social worker visited a child in her own home and found that there were no curtains in her bedroom and the house was generally a tip, there would be an immediate red flag about her parents’ ability to care for her. Surely the same applies to the council? The report also pointed out that a constant stream of agency staff meant that the children were frustrated by not having a regular team looking after them.
The city council has acknowledged that Heathervale is in need of repair, and work is being carried out as a “matter of urgency”. But Councillor Joan Griffiths, the council’s education, children and families convenor was less forthcoming on the report’s criticism of staff shortages or the pressures that permanent staff were under.
There is simply no excuse for treating vulnerable kids in this way. When a child goes into residential care, the city council becomes her “corporate parent”. Would any councillor or senior council official leave their own child living in a house without curtains and sleeping on a broken bed? I don’t think so. So why should they treat vulnerable children in their care any differently?
And children need continuity of care, a familiar face in the morning when they wake up or come home from school. Now, I know Nicola Sturgeon is busy learning to drive while dodging questions about motorhomes, but I will repeat my call to her to keep her promise to improve the lives of looked-after children.
I am not her biggest fan, but in future if she can do anything to ensure that councils like Edinburgh fulfil their parental obligations, then she will have earned my respect. I just won’t hold my breath.