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Support for Children (Kinship Care)
Johann Lamont (Labour)
I welcome the opportunity to open the debate and I thank the members who have supported the motion in my name. It is important to reflect on the issues that are highlighted in the motion. It is worth noting that a similar motion was lodged in Westminster by my colleague Cathy Jamieson, in recognition of the fact that the challenges that face kinship carers have been and are compounded by decisions or lack of action at every level of government—local, Scottish and United Kingdom.
I acknowledge the powerful role of the kinship carers who have forced the debate into the public domain. Kinship carers in my constituency and far beyond have found a voice and demanded that we listen. We should pledge to ensure that the solutions to the challenges that they face should be developed with and by them, for they know more than anyone what the reality of their experience is, despite the claims by some that their problems have been addressed.
All members recognise the critical role of many kinship carers. Day and daily, grannies and granddads, aunties and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters and sometimes simply family friends do everything in their power to protect and nurture often very vulnerable children. We should be aware of the degree of sacrifice in time and energy
Often, when grandparents look after their grandchildren, the issues are compounded by the emotional involvement that they experience when their son or daughter is the parent who is failing. Such people have spoken to me about their determination to ensure that, having lost one generation to drugs, they will not lose the next one. The final decision to bring a child into their home will often have been preceded by years of anxiety and stress, and fear for the children.
Kinship carers deserve more than pieties or congratulations from us, especially when we consider what they save the public purse and the better outcomes that they provide for needy children. Kinship carers need and deserve a proper understanding of the challenges that they face. The debate on the issue is too easily distilled into an argument about financial payments and how those are fixed. I have been struck by the voices of kinship carers who feel frustrated by that description of their plight. First, they say that the financial support that they fight for is not for them, but for the children, to meet their needs. Secondly, the issue is not just about financial support, although many of the families involved live in poverty. It is also about a proper understanding of the emotional, psychological and educational needs of children who have endured hardship and neglect. For kinship carer families, the issue is the rights of the children. It is not a debate about adult entitlement.
Let us imagine that two children make the same journey through abuse and perhaps neglect. Unnurtured, they are denied the normal hugs and sense of security that family life brings, and they are affected and marked by all that goes with living in a family where parents, for example, are drug addicted. The two children end up in the same place, where for their own safety and wellbeing they have to be taken from the family home. It is impossible to understand why the support that is then provided to the two children is defined not by their care needs but by the relationship that they have with the person who takes on the job of caring for them. One child goes into foster care and has access to one level of support. The other child goes to granny, and there starts a battle for that family to get any help at all. That is a simple and irrational injustice for that child and every other child in those circumstances.
There is on-going frustration that there is not equivalence between foster and kinship carers. There is still a postcode lottery in the level of payments in different parts of Scotland, and indeed in some places there are no payments at
All those problems remain, and until they are addressed and sorted we are all culpable in celebrating kinship carers' role but not willing the means for their lives to be made a little easier. There is a temptation for us all, of whatever political stripe, to talk up what our own party has done in this regard and leave our sharpest criticisms for the efforts of others, but it is impossible for me to overstate the clear message that I have been given by kinship carers when I meet them at the Poverty Truth Commission, in my constituency or elsewhere. All of us, as politicians, need to stop blaming each other, stop passing the buck, and get together to get this sorted. I say gently to Bob Doris that the amendment that he lodged, presenting his Government's actions as positively as he did, falls absolutely into that category. We have failed these children at every level of Government and we ought not to miss the challenge that that presents to us all.
There are, of course, those who tell us that this is a complex or difficult area, but that is a counsel of despair. If kinship carers can hold traumatised children to them in love, it cannot be beyond the wit of our collective endeavour to find a way to support them in that critical job. There is a lot of talk these days about preventive spend. The reality is that a little support to these children and their carers now will pay dividends in allowing the children to reclaim their childhood, and in the future to achieve their potential. It will also help to sustain those carers through the tough times that they face in dealing with the consequence of the abuse that these children have faced in the past, and help them with what they do out of love.
At every level of government, energy should be put not into saying what we cannot do or justifying the limits to what we have already done, but into working together. I will be interested to hear what the minister has to say about his capacity to work with other levels of government and co-operate in that regard. It is no longer acceptable at any level of government for people to say, "We have done enough." We need to show how we can work together to solve the problem. The fact of the matter is that that co-operation and focus would be a new year's resolution that is worth making, and it