Scotland’s Programme for Government – keeping The Promise for children and families

Children 1st Chief Executive Mary Glasgow reflects on what the new Programme for Government means for Scotland’s children and families.

After a tumultuous year and a half, it is encouraging to see commitments from the Scottish Government go beyond a return to the old normal. Among the many strands in the Programme for Government there are four key proposals which, Children 1st especially welcome because they, prioritise the rights of children and their families to access early help and support when they need it, for as long as they need it.

Keeping the Promise - the new Whole Family Support Fund

As part of the Government’s commitment to keep The Promise, and deliver the recommendations of the Independent Care Review the Programme for Government contains a £500m investment into a new Whole Family Support Fund. I wholly agree with Fiona Duncan, Chair of The Promise when she says: “This will require new ways of working, but the approach outlined in this Programme for Government of significant and sustained investment which must be delivered in a joined up, cohesive way should give hope to everyone who is working to #KeepThePromise.”

The Promise called for nothing less than a transformation of the system we call “care”, and for investments to be made with the intention of ensuring children grow up safe, loved and respected. A key part of achieving the vision requires that emotional, practical, and financial support is available for every family as early as they need it to prevent crises that can lead to children requiring to be removed from their families.

The Promise quite rightly sought to put the voices of children and families at the centre of that transformation. The children’s sector have worked collaboratively to help share and support the Promise’s vision. Our task now – as individuals, charities and organisations who want to make that vision a reality – is to make sure that the full potential of this investment is realised. Our focus must be on ensuring that we meet The Promise that was made to children and families.

Positively transforming children’s mental health and wellbeing

In 2018, both Audit Scotland’s report and research commissioned by the Scottish Government on “rejected referrals”  from CAMHS found complex and fragmented systems that made it difficult for children and young people to get the mental health support they needed. The commitment in the Programme for Government to full implementation of the CAMHS National Service Specification to address these barriers is a welcome one, which sets out clearly what children and their families should expect from the NHS.

Just as important when it comes to children’s mental health and wellbeing, is the renewed focus on prevention and early help also outlined in the Programme for Government. If improving National Wellbeing is a priority for this Government, then it is critical that children and their families can get support long before their mental health reaches a point of crisis.

There is no kindness in a system that makes children wait when they need help.

Tackling poverty

Through the End Child Poverty Coalition, Children 1st has joined over 120 other organisations and Scotland's faith leaders in issuing an urgent call for the Scottish Government to commit to doubling the Scottish Child Payment immediately this year. 

While the First Minister’s commitment to extend the Scottish Child Payment to families with children up to the age of 16 from the current cap (under the age of six), and to doubling this payment as soon as possible is welcome, the wait for the Scottish Budget is unfortunately another set-back for many families and risks Scotland’s targets for tackling child poverty being missed entirely.

To achieve the radical vision laid out by The Promise requires nothing less than the dismantling of structural inequalities which disproportionately impact the opportunities and life chances of children and their families. Children living in the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in Scotland are 20 times more likely to be taken into care than those in the wealthiest 10%. Without urgent action, 26% of children in Scotland are likely to live in relative poverty by 2024.

A radical vision for children in the justice system

While the National Care Service proposals will likely have the biggest focus in terms of public service transformation, the proposals for children in the justice system represent a huge opportunity to rethink how we deliver services.

It is fantastic to hear confirmation that all children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses of abuse or violence, and children under the minimum age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has caused significant harm, will have access to a Scottish version of the Scandinavian Barnahus – a “Bairns’ Hoose” - by 2025. This move will transform the experiences of children by making sure that they no longer have to tell the story of their traumatic experience over and over again. Instead, children will be supported through the justice process to a place of recovery.

Children 1st look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government, public sector agencies and other charities and organisations to share the learning from our work to pilot Scotland’s first Barnahus, the Child’s House for Healing to inform the delivery of these commitments in the Programme for Government.

Investing in support

As the Programme for Government recognises “These measures alone will not #KeepThePromise – but radical change like this will ensure we shift the balance of investment in families towards prevention. Our ambition is that, from 2030, we will be investing at least 5% of all community-based health and social care spend in preventative whole family support measures that will enable us to create a Scotland where more children will only know care, compassion and love, and not a ‘care system’.”

I could not agree more.

Every single child in Scotland has – to varying degrees – experienced difficult and challenging times during the pandemic. The Programme for Government contains many very positive commitments which I hope will be truly transformative through a joined-up approach that keeps The Promise, puts children’s rights as the foundation and has children and their families at the heart.

Let’s work together to realise that vision.