Kezia Dugdale: How many kids fall through the cracks?

Care-experienced children are our children: the state is the parent and we're all responsible for their care.

Tuesday, 31st July 2018, 6:00 am
Looked-after children have often had traumatic childhoods. Picture: John Devlin

But too many care-experienced youngsters are abandoned by the state, and we require urgent action to improve their life chances.

Yesterday, I published a major new report on this issue and the impact of what’s called Continuing Care – a flagship government policy which places a duty on local authorities to care for young people up to the age of 21. It’s designed to prevent looked-after children, who have often had traumatic childhoods, being left to cope entirely by themselves when they enter adulthood.

The research has uncovered some startling findings.

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The Royal Mail remains the only delivery company which will deliver to every door in the country. Picture: John Devlin

In North Lanarkshire, the council warned that the costs of Continuing Care are greater than the amount received from the government.

In Stirling, the council admitted “the cost of providing the Continuing Care provision is currently double the budget allocated”.

And in Dumfries and Galloway the council stated that 89 young people were eligible for Continuing Care – but, worryingly, zero requested it or were offered it.

There are lots of data tables in the 40-page report, with figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

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But there is only one mention for Edinburgh. It’s this: “The FOI request resulted in 31 local authorities responding, with the exception of the City of Edinburgh Council.”

It’s deeply disappointing that a failure to respond to the requests means we don’t have a true picture of the ­situation in Edinburgh, and public policymakers are therefore left blind to the challenges and the opportunities facing care-experienced young people here in the Capital.

The latest “corporate parenting plan” for Edinburgh shows there are more than 1300 looked-after children in the city.

Most of them are in foster care, but my new report exposes the chronic shortage of foster carers across Scotland. One of the recommendations for the government is a nationwide recruitment campaign.

Around 270 of the looked-after children are with kinship carers – often relatives – and a tiny number are in secure care.

Across Scotland, my report has found that over the last decade at least 84 care-experienced young people in secure care have died prematurely – but figures are not available for those in foster or residential care.

The most common reasons for the premature death of a care-experienced young person are suicide, overdose, accidents and complex health issues.

It’s a scandal that we don’t know exactly how many care-experienced young people die before their 25th birthday – but we do know it’s far too many.

Looked-after young people are far more likely to die than their peers and – if they live – their lives will be poorer both in terms of their health and economic outlook.

But when we don’t record either their lives or deaths properly, the absence of data means the absence of public policy to improve their life chances.

That’s why one of the recommendations in the report is for fatal accident inquiries to include all looked-after young people who die suddenly or as the result of an accident up to the age of 25.

If that happened, we could learn valuable lessons so that we can reduce the number of premature deaths.

I hope that councillors, MSPs and ministers will be moved by this report and act in response. Together we can stop care-experienced young people falling through the cracks.

Our posties go the extra mile for customers

Every Christmas since I’ve served our great city as an MSP, I’ve taken a box of sweet treats down to the Telferton Royal Mail office to thank our postmen and women for the amazing job they do.

Of course, that means getting under their feet at the busiest time of year, so it was lovely to spend a morning with them last week first in the depot and then out on the streets.

It fell to postie David to take this rookie around the doors. I watched him at great speed order all his mail and parcels and bundle it into the back of his van before we embarked on our delivery run. So apologies to the men and women of Craigentinny who had me on their doorsteps last week asking them to sign for their parcels.

The Royal Mail, despite being privatised, remains the only delivery company which will deliver to every door in the country.

What’s more, they are paid a proper salary and while their terms and conditions could be better, they stand in stark contrast to their competitors like DPD or Amazon Logistics, which pay their staff by item delivered. Imagine having 45 stops in a day to complete in order to bring home your full wage in a city like Edinburgh with the roadworks raging as they are.

The thing that struck me the most about our posties was just how much they know and care about their community.

David knew the families with babies so chose not to ring the bell, and he knew who was at work and where to leave the parcels. It’s amazing to think they walk 11 to 15 kilometres a day and still go the extra mile for us all.

Kiwi ideas bear fruit – from knitting for babies to paid domestic abuse leave

This time last year I travelled to New Zealand to spend ten days studying both the country’s general election and its public policy.

The election was to deliver a new Labour-led government and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, pictured. Twelve months on, she’s broken new ground by being one of the first global leaders to give birth in office, shattering the glass ceiling.

Beyond the personal lives of its leaders, New Zealand consistently produces new ideas to tackle the challenges it faces. Wellington’s mayor told me how they are encouraging companies to convert floors of their high rise offices into affordable flats, bringing more people back into the city centre.

They’ve long had a baby box, but what makes it different is that each contains a unique handmade knitted item from the country’s elderly population. A plan that tackles loneliness and isolation while ensuring each new family feels loved and part of something bigger: community.

This week New Zealand has passed a new law giving victims of domestic abuse 10 days paid leave when they leave a violent relationship. A real chance to ­re-establish themselves independently with the financial security they need to take that leap.

Scotland took a huge leap earlier this year by introducing the crime of coercion; a new offence that accepted not all domestic abuse is physical.

I hope the Scottish Government will now look closely at New Zealand’s new laws to support women who leave abusive relationships, whatever their form.