At Holyrood, yesterday:
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (Scottish Liberal Democrats): To ask the Scottish Government what immediate action it is taking in response to reports [Herald] that at least one young person each week goes straight from a care home to homelessness?
Kevin Stewart: Whilst the most recent statistics published in June show a very small reduction in the number of young people leaving care straight into homelessness, there has been a 70% reduction over the last 10 years.
This issue is one which has been a problem for many decades and it is good that there has been a substantial reduction in the past ten years, but it is one which continues to require attention and resourcing.
In the mid 1990s I moved to a school which had several children’s homes in its catchment area. Around that time with the advent of the Labour Government there was a huge increase in the collection of data to inform the incoming government’s social policies. The idea was a laudable one about resources and actions being based on robust objective data. While the actual data collection was a big and time consuming task, the data collected provided a good picture of what the actual situation was. There had, of course, been ‘anecdotal’ evidence, but these data gave the anecdotes some substance.
One set of data related to the academic attainments of looked-after children. Across the UK after 11 years of statutory education the average number of Standard Grades/GCSEs attained by looked after children was less than 1 against an average of 7.5 for the rest of the population. In terms of entry to the employment market, this was a grave handicap, which would account for many becoming homeless, because, on leaving care few had family homes to return to or they were returning to homes which offered so little support, which was the main reason they had been put into care. And, sadly, many of their parents had themselves been through the care system. So, it was a self-perpetuating cycle.
It was a complete revelation to me to realise that when I looked at the specific data or the school at which I now worked that the looked after children who attended, were attaining 7.5 Standard Grades – the same as the rest of the roll. Clearly the ability level in looked after children is no different from other children. When I looked into this, there were a number of factors, one of which was compassionate support by teachers and support staff both in the school and in the children’s homes and, also, good liaison between the homes and the school. For the staff and for the children this level of attainment was not seen as ‘exceptional’. It was ‘normal’ or the school. It was only when the national data became available that they became aware that they had been doing something right for several years!
Once we became aware of this, we then began to wonder about what happened to them after school. Of course, many did keep in touch, but there was no formal mechanism for identifying, systematically, what the ‘destinations’ of those children was – or, indeed, the ‘destinations’ of all school leavers. Such data has now been available for 20 years. Sadly, while there were, undoubtedly, ‘success stories’ for most children in care, on leaving school the lack of support mechanisms – even for those with 7/8 Standard grades – meant that many drifted into poverty, homelessness, drink and drugs problems.
However, because the issue had been identified actions began to be taken and more support at school and post-school have gradually been put in place and we are seeing the kinds of things that you have reported here. The attainment levels, nationally, are much closer to the general population, now.
Sadly, in times of austerity, the budgets for these supports are often trimmed, because other services are deemed ‘statutory’ and so have to receive funding as a priority. This is exacerbated by the nasty dehumanising attitudes expressed by people like Mr Iain Duncan Smith and the media, and the focus on reprehensible conduct by individuals who have been in care, inviting the public to generalise from particular cases. Fortunately, in our schools, in our children’s care services, in social work, in Police Scotland, in the NHS, etc we have many people, who are humane and caring and are prepared to do the little extras that can change lives.
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Thanks for this. Widening and deepening our knowledge as always.