Child Protection

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:21 am on 24 September 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:21, 24 September 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4911, in the name of Karen Whitefield, on child protection.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour 10:29, 24 September 2009

I am pleased to open this debate on child protection for Labour. Along with all members, I appreciate how important child protection is for our society. It is unfortunate that Karen Whitefield cannot take part in the debate. There might be heated exchanges in the Parliament during the debate, but I hope that members will acknowledge Ms Whitefield's commitment to the issue and accept her apologies.

Public tragedies have brought us to this debate. We all know that far too many children live in family circumstances that put them at risk. There might have been more tragic outcomes but for the dedication and professionalism of social workers and other family support workers. The death of Brandon Muir shocked and sickened people and awoke many to the chaotic, dysfunctional and dangerous circumstances in which some children live. I am the parent of a young child, and the circumstances into which Brandon Muir was born and raised would be unimaginable for my child. Many people in Scotland reacted similarly to the terrible circumstances of Brandon's death.

Social workers have witnessed dramatic societal changes in recent years. We do not underestimate how difficult their job is. More unborn babies are being placed on the child protection register because their mother has a drink or drug problem, and the number of babies who are born suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms is increasing. There are more families in which there are generational substance misuse problems. Social workers and other professionals are at the sharp end of those issues. They carry the responsibility of making informed judgments and they must be supported in that. We acknowledge that they do a difficult and pressured job and we want to make their job as easy as possible.

I hope that the debate will be constructive and that members will acknowledge how difficult child protection is. There might be disagreement about the way forward, but we will all take part in the debate for the right reason: to ensure that our child protection system is as good as it can be.

I think that we all agree that the significant case review and review for chief officers reports into the death of Brandon Muir identified significant gaps and inadequacies in the sharing of information between agencies that were concerned with the child's care, which contributed to the inability of services to protect him.

Concern about local child protection is not unique to Dundee. Since 2007, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education has published critical reports on Midlothian Council, Moray Council and Aberdeen City Council. The recent "Summary of Indicative Quality Indicator Results from HMIE Inspections" showed that 23 per cent of local authority child protection services in Scotland were evaluated as "weak" or "unsatisfactory" on at least one indicator. We acknowledge that more than 75 per cent of services are performing well, but any squint at the figures will confirm that 23 per cent are underperforming, which is far too many.

How can we improve services and ensure that no child is vulnerable? We must all acknowledge that we still have inadequate systems for the sharing of information that is vital in the protection of children. Labour thinks that the Government is not doing enough to address that. The Government's actions certainly do not match what was intended in the draft children's services (Scotland) bill.

We need to be better at identifying the problem. The "Hidden Harm" report estimated how many children are affected by parental drug or alcohol misuse. We would welcome action to ensure that those children are identified and supported. I hope that members will support our call for the Scottish Government to report to the Parliament on the steps that it has taken to identify children who are at risk because they live with parents or carers who are alcohol or substance dependent. We acknowledge the road to recovery approach, which is mentioned in the Government's amendment, but it involves considering children in the context of an adult's drug or alcohol problem and is too light on how we can measure the impact on children.

We would like the Government to make more progress on implementing the recommendations in "Hidden Harm", and we would welcome a statement on how the work will be taken forward. In light of that, I do not see the point of the amendment in Robert Brown's name, which seems to add little to the debate.

The Government needs to show leadership. It is not easy dramatically to increase placements for children who are removed from their homes, but we cannot stand back and leave children with parents whose addiction puts them at risk every day. Of course, time and resources must be dedicated to helping families to stay together, but child protection services must be supported financially and professionally to take difficult decisions unhindered. We must listen to Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey, who says that we have a system in which we are more content to try to fix families than to do what is in the best interests of the child. We should think about what would be acceptable for our own children before we leave other children in situations in which they are vulnerable.

We welcome many of the actions that the Government has taken, which are set out in its amendment, but we fear that the Government is not going far enough and is presenting proposals that tinker around the edges of a significant problem. The national review of child protection guidance is welcome, but it will not get to the heart of the issue. Do we need to challenge the orthodoxy? Do we have a system of child protection that is able to meet the challenges of our modern society? Do we have the right balance between the welfare of the child and the needs of parents and carers? Are we properly resourcing child protection services? Do the resources properly reflect the scale of the issue, particularly drug and alcohol misuse? Do we need to re-examine and change our view on intervention?

That is not a criticism of the people who provide child protection services day to day. As policy makers, we are responsible for the direction of travel and for resourcing the system. That is why the Labour Party believes that we need a national inquiry into child protection in Scotland. We need to take stock of the serious concerns that HMIE and the reports into Brandon Muir's death have raised.

The Scottish Government needs to redouble its efforts to deal with the problem. The First Minister's recent response at question time that

"We have a very good child protection system in Scotland"—[Official Report, 25 June 2009; c 18905.]

is in danger of being seen as complacent, but it does not reflect the Government's amendment, which

"recognises that further improvement is necessary".

In light of the recent HMIE reports, it cannot be denied that we need to improve child protection services pretty dramatically for some children. Labour believes that it is time that we questioned the system.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with grave concern the Summary of Indicative Quality Indicator Results from HMIE Inspections, published on 17 September 2009, showing that 23% of local authority child protection services in Scotland were evaluated as weak or unsatisfactory; further notes with similar concern the findings of the significant case review and review for chief officers reports into the death of Brandon Muir, revealing gaps and inaccuracies in the sharing of information between agencies concerned in his care and the terrible circumstances of his life as well as death; believes that the situation highlighted by these publications cannot be tolerated in a civilised society; acknowledges and commends the efforts and dedication of staff involved in the safety and care of Scotland's children, often under considerable pressure but believes that these reports confound the comments of the First Minister on 25 June 2009 that we have a very good child protection system in Scotland; recognises the initiative taken by the previous administration in tackling this problem by bringing together a series of actions contained in the Hidden Harm report; calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward a report and to make a statement to the Parliament on the progress that it is making in implementing the recommendations of Hidden Harm and also what it is doing to build on those recommendations, and also calls on the Scottish Government to report to the Parliament on the steps it is taking to identify those children who are at risk as a result of living with parents or carers who are alcohol or substance misusers.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 10:36, 24 September 2009

None of us in the Parliament disputes the need to keep Scotland's children safe; what Claire Baker's comments show is that we differ on how to work with partners to best achieve that objective.

The Government recognises that there is room for improvement and fully supports hard-pressed staff who, for the most part, do an excellent job, often in very difficult circumstances. We hear about the tragic cases, but we hear less about the daily challenges that staff who work with vulnerable children face and overcome. We are keen to build on the good practice throughout Scotland—the foundations for which were laid by the previous coalition Administration—and are working in a structured way with those who are responsible for child protection to address the concerns that have been highlighted in the various reports, including those arising out of Brandon Muir's death.

I agree that the circumstances of Brandon Muir's life were intolerable, but the prime responsibility for that lay with his parents. We need to enhance the capacity of parents and communities to support their children and to know how and where to share any concerns that they have. We must also ensure that services are alive to and able to respond effectively to risks. That is why we are working closely across children's services to learn from the undoubted good practice throughout Scotland to identify improvements.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The minister talks about the need to support parents. Does he acknowledge that the figures show that an unacceptable number of children live with drug and alcohol-abusing parents and that it is time for a rethink on risk, with the emphasis being on the child?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

The emphasis is on the child. Safety is the overriding consideration. I do not recognise Rhona Brankin's leader Iain Gray's description of the current system as operating a presumption for keeping children in unsafe conditions with their families.

I will set out the range of actions that the Government is taking and show how they combine to form a programme of activity to keep children safe as far as possible. No system can protect every child, but we can do our best to ensure that children are as safe and protected as possible.

We regularly meet child protection committee chairs to ensure that national policy is developed in partnership with professional stakeholders. I recently announced that we will shortly recruit a national coordinator to strengthen and support the work of local child protection committees and to increase the emphasis on multi-agency working.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

The minister knows my interest in the topic, as I am the convener of the cross-party group on survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Is he aware that the centre for the vulnerable child in Fife has a waiting list of up to 16 weeks, which I am working hard with colleagues to address? I also ask him about the promise of further Government support through additional funding from the mental health division for a child psychology post over the next three years—

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

I would be happy to meet Marilyn Livingstone to discuss the local circumstances in Fife.

Our child protection inspection regime is the most robust in the United Kingdom. It challenges and highlights good practice and areas for improvement. We are reviewing the 1998 national child protection guidance and will issue a consultation in the spring. The guidance needs to reflect the changing environment in which child protection services are now delivered and the changing risks that our young people face.

The blight that substance misuse now places on the lives of far too many children in Scotland is unacceptable. Within a year of taking office, we issued "The Road to Recovery: A New Approach to Tackling Scotland's Drugs Problem", which included a chapter on protecting children. Our approach seeks to realign some of the positive action that is already under way with the Government's preventive, early-intervention agenda and places an emphasis on support for families. We now have a comprehensive alcohol framework, which was launched earlier this year and is backed by record investment totalling just under £120 million over the three-year period 2008-09 to 2010-11. That represents a tripling of resources compared with the previous three years.

All that, along with the progress that is being made on risk assessment and information sharing as part of the review of child protection guidance, forms part of the wide-ranging approach that we are taking to tackle these difficult issues.

We have also embarked on a second round of more targeted and proportionate child protection inspections that will show how services have learned and improved from the first round. In the coming weeks, we expect a detailed report from HMIE on the messages from the first three-year round. That general report will help to draw out a comprehensive overall picture for the first time.

All those activities are coherently linked together under our strategy for keeping children safe, which is shared with stakeholders, and all are being delivered under the existing legislative framework. Yes, we must challenge and probe and work with partners to improve services and outcomes, we must encourage parental responsibility, we must challenge whether the child's best interests can be addressed within their family, and we must never be complacent, but we should also recognise the good basis from which we start and the work that is under way to secure improvements. Therefore, I invite colleagues to support the Government amendment, which recognises the considerable progress that has been achieved so far, and to encourage the development of our work.

I move amendment S3M-4911.2, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:

"notes with concern the 23% of local authority child protection services in Scotland that scored weak or unsatisfactory in at least one of the reference quality indicators, reported in the Summary of Indicative Quality Indicator Results from HMIE Inspections, published on 17 September 2009; welcomes the fact that 77% of authorities have achieved positive child protection reports; recognises the immensely valuable contribution made by those professionals working in frontline child protection services; recognises that further improvement is necessary and will be informed by the second round of inspections now underway; looks forward to HMIE's summary report that will provide the most comprehensive national picture of child protection that Scotland has ever had, which, taken together with the findings of the recent significant case review into the death of Brandon Muir, will feed into the national review of child protection guidance; encourages measures to address the increasing prevalence of substance misuse and its impact on children within the framework of Road to Recovery; encourages the promotion of the Getting it Right for Every Child approach, and looks forward to public consultation on the review of national child protection guidance that will address assessment of risk and information sharing for all children, including those suffering from parental substance misuse, domestic abuse and other risks to their safety and wellbeing."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 10:43, 24 September 2009

I welcome the tone with which Claire Baker opened the debate and the minister followed. It is important that there should be a unified Parliament view on child protection matters, which are of great importance to the future of Scotland's children.

Few burdens rest more heavily on social workers, teachers, youth workers, police officers and, indeed, politicians than the protection of our children. We know that some children have simply appalling starts in life through neglect by those who have responsibility for caring for them. We also know that the consequences follow young people through their lives and can blight the lives of their children too.

Over the past 10 years, and before then, we have had many reports and inquiries. They have often been insightful and have often confirmed the same messages. All the reports had three basic points in common: the need for partnership working and information sharing between agencies; the need for individuals within the system to take personal responsibility for action; and the need to identify and target the children who are most at risk. Those children are often with parents and families who are alcohol or drug abusers—a growing problem, as Claire Baker rightly said.

If anything, there has sometimes been too great an emphasis on partnership working and information sharing and too little emphasis on individuals taking urgent action based on that information. Too many times, information has gone round the system rather than stopping and moving forward to action. Report after report has identified the presence in the system of enough information to put anyone on alert in cases in which action was not taken or not taken urgently enough.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

The member will be aware of the getting it right for every child programme, which addresses the issue of referring on inside the system. Clearly, the member is familiar with the origins of that programme. I assure him that we are making significant progress.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for the minister's intervention in that regard.

The Labour motion is highly pertinent. Evaluation of local services has shown that there are far too many weaknesses. To be fair, there have not always been weaknesses in every area; nevertheless, a quarter of council areas have "weak" or "unsatisfactory" gradings. The processes for producing sustained improvements exist, with HMIE targeted inspections and follow-up work, but that approach needs a strong and sustained ministerial lead and priority to make it happen, as well as full commitment from the local authorities concerned. The minister rightly made the point that we need to have structured responses in child protection and to follow through on the lessons that we know about.

Ministers are properly accountable to Parliament for how they perform their duties, so the Liberal Democrat amendment proposes that there should be a full report to Parliament within three months—before Christmas—and then reports at regular intervals on progress on identifying and focusing on children who are at risk, on which information is still lamentably vague, on the follow-through on the "Hidden Harm" report and on HMIE's inspection and improvement work.

The clear focus of all that work must be the welfare and best interests of children. It is, no doubt, often best to support children in living with their own families or with grandparents or other relatives. However, the briefing that we had on that from the Association of Directors of Social Work was astonishingly complacent and lacking in any sense of hope for the future. Yes, we have to be realistic; yes, no system of child protection can guarantee a child's safety; and, yes, we have a shortage of adopters and fosterers. However, I increasingly feel that Barnardo's Scotland and others are right that more children need to be removed from chaotic and dangerous families—I use the word "dangerous" advisedly—and that that must be done much sooner, before their lives and health are irreparably damaged. I know from conversations with people in the field that others feel likewise.

Parliament and Government cannot set targets or make individual decisions on those matters, but there is a sense that decisions are driven by resource issues, such as the number of foster carers and the lack of alternative carers, and sometimes by inappropriately applied views about the natural family unit, rather than by consideration of children's welfare. Government can do many things to support the workers in the field, not least in bending its efforts to the effective recruitment of more foster carers, possibly through a high-profile national campaign akin to that used to recruit children's panel members.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am in the last moments of my speech, I am afraid.

Today's debate is too short to do the subject justice. However, these children are our children, and it is our job and everyone's job to ensure that they have the best start in life.

I move amendment S3M-4911.2.1, to insert at end:

"recognises the initiative taken by the previous administration in tackling this problem by bringing together a series of actions contained in the Hidden Harm report; calls on the Scottish Government to take effective action to identify and focus on those children who are at risk, particularly as a result of living with parents or carers who are alcohol or substance abusers; calls on the Scottish Government to report to the Parliament within three months and thereafter periodically on the progress made on this, in building on the recommendations of Hidden Harm and in the follow-up inspection work by HMIE, and looks for a child-centred approach to child protection that has the welfare and best interests of children at its heart."

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 10:47, 24 September 2009

This debate sits in the context of two main issues. First, there is the growing number of reports into child protection services, which, as Labour has rightly identified this morning, have too often been found seriously wanting when it comes to looking after the best interests of the child. Secondly, there is the crisis—I use that word advisedly—in parenting skills. While each of the three speakers so far has identified the first issue as extremely important for the Parliament, the second issue must be a priority for debate in every corner of Scotland. We want to use this debate to pursue that theme in order to help deal with the root causes of the problem. After all, a substantial number of child protection cases, though not all, would never occur if more parents were better able to harness the appropriate skills.

Let me deal first with the question of child protection procedures and the fact that, earlier this month, 23 per cent of local authorities were rated as "weak" or "unsatisfactory" in relation to their child protection services. That is a deeply worrying statistic, particularly for local authorities such as Dundee City Council, Moray Council, Aberdeenshire Council and Midlothian Council. On top of that, we have had deeply disturbing high-profile cases, such as the death of little Brandon Muir.

There has been consensus across the chamber about how to improve child protection procedures in line with national legislative changes. The Scottish Government has made good progress in some areas through simplifying structures, such as those that surround disclosure procedures, and trying to end the culture of crisis management that has often been the result of too much buck-passing of responsibilities. In addition, the more carefully targeted inspection programme will bring benefits, as will the determination of all parties in the chamber to support earlier intervention strategies. However, it remains the case that the lives of far too many young people have been blighted by incompetence within the system.

It will be important that the Scottish Government gets the forthcoming children's hearings bill right. Ministers have been forced into a major rethink because they did not consult fully and because some of their initial proposals were rightly seen as a challenge to the traditional ethos of the children's hearings system. The Government has said that it will ensure that that ethos is looked after. I hope that that happens, because that system is vital to children in Scotland and we must get it right.

For me, the issue of parenting skills lies at the heart of the debate. It is a hugely difficult and complex issue, which is similar to that of drugs and substance misuse, but that is no reason to shy away from it or be reluctant to take bold and radical action. Indeed, as Annabel Goldie made very clear in her recent speech to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, there is no option to be anything other than radical. Family breakdown from one cause or another costs the UK over £20 billion a year. The resulting burden on society, especially on family relatives, social work services and our justice system, goes much, much deeper than just the money. We do not pretend that our party has all the answers—we do not—but neither do we believe that there is any time to waste in bringing the matter to the top of the political agenda.

We totally accept the Scottish Government's focus on the early years, but why can it not also tackle child protection within education spending? Why must we spend £30 million a year on providing free school meals to those who do not need them? That money could go into providing better support for the very young children who are the victims of irresponsible parents, providing universal health visitors for all young children, or providing support for the hard-pressed voluntary sector, which does such a fantastic job for so many children.

It is also time we had a major reform of the UK tax and benefit system to end the perverse financial incentive against couples who choose to marry, and to end the benefit system that penalises married couples. Last week, the Conservative party received from lain Duncan Smith and the cross-party Centre for Social Justice a three-point plan to help more households into work and tackle the penalties that work against constructive parenting.

A very large number of parents in society genuinely find it difficult to pass on parenting skills to their children because they themselves are the children of parents who do not possess those skills. Those people need our help because they have also been let down in some way or another. I understand the call to remove children from parents whose behaviour puts them in danger, but we must not delude ourselves about the numbers involved. Children's panel members will be the first to tell us that not even using multistorey tower blocks in each area of Scotland, which would involve prohibitive costs, could cope with all those suffering from parental neglect.

This debate is not easy, and I fully agree that there is an issue about child protection. However, there is a much bigger issue about parenting and engaging parents in their responsibilities and their child's education and about ensuring that the welfare state supports rather than penalises them. I hope that all parties will be able to sign up to my amendment.

I move amendment S3M-4911.1, to insert at end:

", and further calls on the Scottish Government to acknowledge the concern about the growing number of parents in society who lack the necessary skills to bring up their children responsibly and to address this issue as a matter of urgency."

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 10:53, 24 September 2009

In 2006, the previous Labour-led Executive published a draft children's services (Scotland) bill. Regrettably, the Scottish National Party decided to abandon that bill because it believed that more had to be done before changing the way in which information is shared by different agencies. It is three years since that draft bill was issued, but little has been done—at least, there is no evidence of much being done—and a bill has yet to see the light of day. The Government has published only one draft bill that relates to child protection—the children's hearings (Scotland) bill—but it had to drop that, before resurrecting it, so inept is the team of education ministers. If that is an indication of how seriously the SNP takes the matter, we should be alarmed for the future safety of children in Scotland under this Administration.

If the SNP genuinely believes that its e-care framework or the vulnerable persons system for Scottish police services meets the provisions that were envisaged in our proposed children's services (Scotland) bill, we really are in trouble. That is why Labour, but in particular Iain Gray, has stated on several occasions that we would support a children's services bill if the SNP introduced it.

A recent report showed that 90 per cent of child abuse happens in the home. It is therefore essential that we do everything that we can to protect vulnerable children in a place where they should feel safe and free from harm. The Scottish Government's website states:

"Scottish Ministers are committed to improving the protections offered to children and young people in our communities. We recognise that the best way to do this is by taking appropriate, proportionate and timely action to support those children who need it."

Those are absolutely the right words and they indicate the action that we would expect to see from the Government, but how much time does the SNP need before we see that action?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Will the member reflect on the fact that his politicisation of the issue does neither him nor those involved in child protection any service?

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I am always happy to take an intervention from Mr FitzPatrick, but I have found it to be a waste of time on every occasion. I am not politicising the debate but highlighting the need for the Government to take decisions. Any criticism of the Administration is used by the SNP to say that we are carping and complaining. Our job is to hold the Government to account. Mr FitzPatrick must accept that we need to say it as it is: we cannot accept a cosy consensus that is a false consensus.

We should not really be surprised by the situation, given that the SNP prefers to spend time on the national blether. Would it not be better to put that on hold for a while? So far, the SNP Government has wasted £700,000 of taxpayers' money on its national conversation instead of using that money to fund services to protect our children. What type of Government prioritises a referendum bill over the need to address the serious issue of child protection?

The seemingly endless review of child protection services is a poor substitute for the action that is needed. Our children deserve better than that. No member would want to see any other child's life ended in the way that Brandon Muir's was because of an inability of child protection agencies to share information with each other.

Under this Administration, we are asked to accept a situation in which the majority of inspection reports mark our local authority child protection services as "satisfactory", which means that strengths just outweigh weaknesses in meeting children's needs. From the briefing that was issued yesterday, it is apparent that the Association of Directors of Social Work is happy to accept such low standards. That should worry us all. I am pleased that such low standards are not good enough for the Labour group in the Parliament.

The children's charter that was developed under the previous Labour-led Executive pledged that children and young people who are at risk of neglect or abuse would get the help that they need when they need it and that professionals would use all the powers available to them in order to help such children. We also pledged that those involved with helping such children and young people would share information to help to protect them and to work effectively on their behalf.

I am still 100 per cent committed to those pledges. I am disappointed that the current Government clearly does not share that commitment.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 10:57, 24 September 2009

I read the Labour motion for today's debate with some interest. The motion—this epistle of doom—points an accusing finger at the professionals who work in council child protection departments and suggests, as Michael McMahon has just done, that they are not up to the job. The motion conveniently ignores the 77 per cent of inspection reports in which child protection services were rated as good and as having already reached the standard that others are striving to reach. The motion also ignores the fact that staff whose council receives a negative report will use the report as constructive criticism to help to improve service performance. The time to assess a report's overall effect is after the follow-up inspection, when it can be seen what actions have been taken as a result of the comments that were made in the initial inspection report.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am not sure that the member has read our motion, which

"commends the efforts and dedication of staff involved in the safety and care of Scotland's children, often under considerable pressure".

If that is not recognition of the commitment and dedication of social workers, I do not know what is.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Rhona Brankin quotes only a small part of that epistle of doom. Michael McMahon has just claimed that the Association of Directors of Social Work is happy with low standards. I do not believe that the professionals who are on the front line every day are happy with low standards. I was on the front line with them for 19 years of my career, and I will not have that profession done down by Labour members. Serious professional people who do a serious professional job deserve better than to have their efforts taken out of context in an attempt to score petty party-political points.

Let us get the matter straight by considering what the professionals say about the proposed national inquiry—although we have not heard much about that today because, I believe, Iain Gray has dropped the proposal after taking on board the professionals' opinion. The Association of Directors of Social Work says:

"We do not want to see an inquiry into child protection, which will divert energy and scarce resources away from service delivery; our inspection regime is delivering results and the majority of councils and their partners are delivering good services; those that are not are being supported to improve".

I am glad to see that Iain Gray has taken on board those comments of the front-line professionals.

Four of the 32 councils received reports in which the actions taken by child protection staff in response to immediate concerns were rated as unacceptable. Four out of 32 is not good, but those four will strive to improve so that they get a better result next time. Only one of the 32 councils—only 3 per cent of the total—received a report in which the service was rated as unacceptable on whether children's needs are met. That council will strive to improve. No council was rated as "unsatisfactory" on listening to, understanding and respecting children, and I hope that we will hear some acknowledgement from Labour members that those workers deserve some praise. On what is surely the prime indicator for child protection services—whether children benefit from strategies to minimise harm, which means whether child protection services actually protect children—no council was rated as "unsatisfactory". I hope that Labour will have the good grace to recognise that.

Weaknesses are identified in the reports—11 authorities were rated as "weak" across four indicators—and those weaknesses need to be addressed. I believe that they will be addressed by the professionals on the ground, who deserve our support and thanks rather than any criticism. Those five "unsatisfactory" reports and 11 "weak" reports represent only seven councils out of all those that were inspected.

Recently, Susan Deacon said:

"My heart also sinks when I hear one party somehow implying that either they have the best ideas or another party's failing. This is a classic area where politicians have to be able to get together across party lines, look beyond legislative solutions and act in the best interests of their society as a whole."

I believe that Susan Deacon is right.

The Parliament should praise those councils that have received good reports and acknowledge that councils will strive to improve things by using the reports that they have received. We should encourage those councils that have not got there yet to lift their performance. Having worked on the front line, I have seen at first hand the amazing work that goes on in child protection and early intervention teams. Those workers go out every day to do a job that our society needs them to do but that we wish was not necessary. They deserve our support, and they have mine.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 11:02, 24 September 2009

It is only correct that we recognise the progress that has been made following the "Hidden Harm" report, but that progress must be measured against the scale of the problem. Much more still needs to be done if we are to be confident that children are no longer subjected to the abuse that Brandon Muir suffered in his short and troubled life. That is why I support the call for an inquiry. Certainly, more work needs to be done to provide a greater understanding of the options available for such children, the risks that are accepted on their behalf and the lack of capacity in kinship and foster care. Our ambitions and our priorities for such children should be set by this Parliament, not simply managed by hard-pressed front-line staff.

If anyone has any doubt about how hard that job is, they need only read the Official Report of the Health and Sport Committee of 25 March 2009, when a range of health visitors, headteachers, general practitioners and social workers gave powerful and damning evidence on the frustrations and obstacles that they face every day. They spoke about children who are

"never in the same house two nights running" and about

"families in which the mother and gran are addicts, and it is the great-gran, who is in her late 70s, who is looking after young children" without adequate support. They described a drug withdrawal process that

"can take five or 10 years", and they said that

"health visitors have really big case loads ... so ... they are really reliant on parents to make contact if any problems arise."—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 25 March 2009; c 1715, 1723, 1705.]

Children's services were also described as "haphazard", and mention was made of social workers being refused access to vulnerable children. All of that is on the parliamentary record for members' attention.

Although I accept that more work needs to be done through an inquiry to establish some areas, I am impatient for action. I believe that there are things that we can do straight away to mitigate the impact of drugs on vulnerable children. What needs to be done? We need to meet the basic requirements that were set out in the "Hidden Harm" report. We need to accept that there are risks for children associated with living with an addicted parent; we need to identify and assess the level of risk; and we need to ensure that those children's needs are met. It is not good enough that we cannot identify all the children in question. Finding them and assessing them must be our starting point. If a care plan is good enough for the addicted parent, it is surely good enough for the child of an addicted parent.

It must be accepted that children who live with parental addiction are at risk—they might be at varying degrees of risk, but they are at risk all the same. Part of the process must involve assessment of parental capability. We must ensure that social workers and children's care services have sufficient powers to get access to those children when their parents refuse to engage with care services.

The significant support that we provide to those adults, such as child benefit, housing benefit and the medical support that we offer through the methadone programme, needs to be set out in a contract so that they understand why we are giving them that support and, crucially, what we expect of them in return in terms of behaviour, parental responsibility and a commitment to progress towards a drug-free lifestyle. Lastly, the contract must point out the consequences of failure, which could affect their continued receipt of support and could include the possibility of their children having to be taken into care. If drugs cannot be taken out of the home, we need to take children out of the home. That is the reality.

The sad fact is that, if Brandon Muir had not died, he would still be living in that house of horrors, experiencing all the abuse and neglect that marked his troubled young life. Thousands of other children are surviving what Brandon was put through. They will grow up with the legacy of those traumatic experiences and, sadly, will often repeat the mistakes of their parents. We must act: we must continue to do more and do better to end that miserable cycle. If we do not, more children will face the misery that Brandon and others suffered.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party 11:07, 24 September 2009

Child protection is a very serious issue. Nowhere is that more the case than in Dundee, where we recently had to come to terms with the tragic death of Brandon Muir at the hands of Robert Cunningham. In the wake of that event, the HMIE inspection was accelerated and an extremely thorough case review and independent report, which considered all the issues surrounding the case, were completed. Most significantly, the reports identified that agencies had failed to work together. Those failures must be—and are being—addressed.

Additional resources have already been allocated to meet the gaps in service in Dundee, to appoint more front-line social workers and to ensure that all multi-agency partners work together in the interests of Dundee's most vulnerable children. In addition, Dundee City Council immediately agreed that it would implement all the recommendations from all the reports to ensure that the action plan is put in place as quickly as possible so that vulnerable children in Dundee are better protected in the future. We all have a duty to ensure that lessons are learned from such a sad incident. I congratulate the vast majority of members of all parties who have spoken in the debate, who have stuck to the issue and who have struck the correct tone. It is important that we continue to do so.

Members might not be aware that Unison officials in Dundee have complained that the constant attacks on child protection services by a small number of people in one particular party are not helping those services. Our social workers, in particular, feel under threat at every turn. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. In Dundee at the moment, social workers are being lambasted for taking a child into protection, but they cannot put their side of the story. They are interested only in the child concerned. Such trial by media is unacceptable. I congratulate most members—particularly Marlyn Glen, who is not in the chamber—for not taking part in that attack on our social services.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

Does the member recall that when the Parliament discussed Brandon Muir's sad death, he shouted, from a sedentary position, that that had happened under a Labour Administration? Does he regret doing that? Is that not a political insult?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that I was responding to an attack by him on the SNP Government. My point was that it was not an issue of party politics. We should not put blame on any particular party. I believe that everyone in the Parliament is responsible, and we all have the interests of children at heart. Finger pointing does not help anyone. Unison representatives of people who are involved in children's services in Dundee sent out a clear message in that regard. I suggest that any members who want to point a finger should have a discussion with Unison in Dundee.

Each community relies on its social workers to protect its children. Instead of just attacking social workers, we must work together to improve services. As I have said, trial by media and partisan politics do not help the situation.

In Scotland, we are constantly working to ensure better protection for children. The Scottish Government has already launched a review of national child protection guidance and has started new targeted inspections to help raise standards across Scotland. It has created the multi-agency resource service, which is the UK's first hub for exchanging child protection expertise, and it is to appoint a national co-ordinator to support the work of child protection committees.

This Parliament has always sought to safeguard children across Scotland. The Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration passed a number of pieces of important legislation in that area, including the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003, and I welcome the steps that it took during its time in government.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

All political parties share the same aims when it comes to child protection, and we must work together with local authorities and other partners to ensure that those aims are met.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Ms Brankin, the member is just about to finish.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

My final point is about how the Parliament can do more to prevent children from coming to harm. The majority of cases that social work departments deal with are not like the case of Brandon Muir; they are cases of neglect. Evidence suggests that incidents of child neglect and harm are higher in households that have a history of alcohol abuse. If we can tackle alcohol abuse, which is the root cause of a large number of child neglect cases, we can make a real difference. I ask all members to consider that when the Government introduces legislation that will have an impact on the issue.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 11:12, 24 September 2009

There is no doubt that social workers across Scotland do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. It is a job that I do not envy them: their having to face the trauma, the despair, the sheer deprivation and the lack of support and care in many families is extremely stressful and demanding. In the cases that we hear about in which something has gone wrong, sometimes a mistake has been made by a basic grade worker and sometimes there has been a failure of management, but all too often there has been a failure of the system—there is an organisational reason for it. All too often, the issue of resources has not been properly addressed.

One of my fears is that we are, in the current climate, taking no action to protect social work budgets that are already under pressure and which will come under more pressure. Instead, we are leaving it to local authorities, whose budgets are already under strain. We should not be surprised when things go wrong, given some of the budgetary constraints.

That said, one thing that worries me about today's debate is the existence of a conspiracy of complacency among politicians and professionals. When we see something going wrong, we should not be frightened to speak out. It does no good to talk about how well things are going and the need to learn lessons from mistakes and difficulties. We should be prepared to speak up when we know that a system is failing. I suggest that politicians and professionals are sometimes prepared to tolerate standards for vulnerable children that they would not tolerate for their own children or grandchildren.

I still hear stories of frustration because workers in one agency do not have access to information that is held by another agency. There is no good reason why that should continue; it continues only because of the failure by the Scottish Government and ministers to take the action that is required to ensure that information is exchanged where necessary.

I come to the points that were made by Christina McKelvie about HMIE. She is right to repeat Susan Deacon's comments that no one party has the best ideas, that it is wrong to imply that other parties are failing and that we should all be working together on the issue, but it does no good to try to distort or ignore the reality of the HMIE inspections. If a school were to get a "satisfactory" report in an HMIE inspection, there would be an inquiry into the school's performance because that would not be good enough. A "satisfactory" report is barely scraping a pass.

I refer to "The Summary of Indicative Quality Indicator Results from HMIE inspections, 2009", which reveals that out of 30 councils, 16 are barely passing or are failing on the quality indicator that "Children's needs are met"; 24 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on the "Recognising and assessing risks and needs" indicator; 17 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on "Operational planning"; 17 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on "Leadership and direction"; and 18 are barely scrapping a pass or are failing on "Leadership of change and improvement". That is not good enough for our children; it is not good enough for those who are enduring hidden suffering in homes throughout the country. We must be prepared to invest and we must put our money where our mouth is. If there are continuing failures, it is right that politicians and professionals should be held to account.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 11:17, 24 September 2009

As I said in my opening speech, this is a timely debate and it has, by and large, been an important and high-quality debate. I agree with and support the comments that some members have made about the heroic efforts that are made by front-line staff, but we should not use the heroic efforts of front-line staff as a shield against proper debate on the system under which they work. We must get that balance right.

I agree with the impatience for action that was so ably expressed by Duncan McNeil. His comments on social work powers and agreements with methadone users were valid and helpful contributions to the debate.

I would like to build on the comments that were made by Hugh Henry, who has knowledge of the issue from his time as senior minister on such matters. In essence, he said that the system ought, in effect, to be such that it treats all children as if they were our children. That must be the central message that goes out from the debate. Some impatience must be shown on the matter and, as the minister said, there must also be an element of structural reform.

It is important to put the issue in context. As has been said, the damage to children is done not by positive action by social workers or youth workers, but by the parents or carers. The central issue that we face is that what we are trying to do through our services is not exactly to second-guess, but to get at what is going on in individual families, often when there is not a desire on the part of those families to let the public authorities know what is taking place. It is inevitable that from time to time the systems that are in place will have problems and will fail to catch individual instances that they perhaps should, in retrospect, have caught. Our job is to ensure that the systems are as good as they can be, which they are manifestly not.

The central point that should come out of the debate is that there must be a process of structural improvement. Our Administration put in place arrangements to take the matter forward. There were the child protections that Peter Peacock—I think—launched way back, the reports that have been touched on in the motions and amendments, and the actions that were taken to report on to Parliament on progress. There have been many inquiries into these issues, both general Government inquiries, the forthcoming HMIE general report and inquiries into individual tragedies. In large part, we know what needs to be done, but the problems have emerged from not doing the things that we know need to be done.

Some issues have emerged from the growing crisis that has been caused by rising levels of drug and alcohol addiction. I say to the minister that it is necessary to keep a very close eye on the resources that go to that problem. We know that resources are tight, but we do not want things to drop off the edge. In that regard, one has heard stories about voluntary sector organisations whose services have been terminated because of funding issues.

In that context, Elizabeth Smith was right to talk about the need to improve the resilience of parents and parental knowledge and information. We all know that the old-fashioned way in which knowledge went from grandmother to mother to daughter has in many families in recent years broken down. Many young people, some coming out of the care system, do not have the parental skills to take to the new generation. We must address those issues.

The minister mentioned the issue of alcohol resources. It would be helpful if we made best use and full use of all the alcohol resources including, for example, the underused facilities at Castle Craig, on which I have been corresponding with the minister.

These are difficult issues, so it is important that we get right our approach. As the previous debate on the issue was, this debate has been short, but many good points have come out of it. I hope that ministers will reflect on the points that have been made and will ensure that matters are taken forward as well as they can be, and that they will give attention to both the structures and the reporting mechanisms, which is the central point of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 11:21, 24 September 2009

This has been a serious debate and it has, rightly, been markedly different in tone from the first debate this morning. With the exception of a few party-political points that have been made, members recognise that we are dealing with very serious issues about some of the most vulnerable people in society. I have been struck by a number of the powerful speeches from members of different parties, and in particular by Duncan McNeil's comments on cases about which he knows.

There has been a lot of discussion about the HMIE figures and there have been attempts by both sides to spin them. For my part, I say that it should be a source of great concern to us all that aspects of 23 per cent of child protection services in local authorities were evaluated as being "weak" or "unsatisfactory". I agree with Hugh Henry that that is a wake-up call for us and that much more needs to be done.

Robert Brown made a fair point in his first speech about the briefing that we received from the Association of Directors of Social Work, which seemed to dismiss the statistics as not reflecting the true picture. We should be concerned, as we would be when a school gets a bad inspection report, that HMIE is saying what it is about child protection services.

A number of members referred to cases in the media, such as the tragic case of Brandon Muir in Dundee. There has been debate for many years about the point at which authorities should intervene in family situations and remove children for their protection. If we go back 30 or 40 years, local authorities took a much more interventionist approach than is taken today. I remember being at primary school with a group of youngsters from the local children's home, who were there for a variety of reasons, most relating to family breakdown. Nowadays, children's homes are very rare because most children are either supported in a family situation or, if they have to come out of that situation, they go into foster homes. That change has happened in my lifetime under Governments of all political persuasions.

It is easy to understand why that change took place, as the record of institutional child rearing was not good and we now have the legacy of far too many incidents of child abuse that occurred in such situations. However, many people are concerned that the pendulum has swung too far and that we now have an in-built reluctance to intervene and remove a child from a difficult or dangerous situation. It is right that we have a debate about whether and to what extent we should redress that balance. Barnardo's, the children's charity, has been calling for a new approach and for more children to be removed from their parents. We must give the matter serious consideration.

Just as the authorities seem to be too reluctant to intervene in some cases, in other cases they are far too enthusiastic. Earlier this week, there was a bizarre case at Livingston sheriff court, in which a mother who smacked her 14-year-old child, who was on drugs and alcohol and had head-butted her and stabbed her in the thigh with a pair of scissors, was taken to court and charged with assault. Fortunately, the sheriff at Livingston saw sense and granted an absolute discharge, but I have to wonder what on earth the point was of dragging that mother to court, at great public expense, when doing so was clearly inappropriate. Those resources could surely have been better spent elsewhere.

I agree with a lot of what Christina McKelvie said about social workers. Social workers are, undoubtedly, underappreciated and they all deserve our support. However, that is not to say that we should refuse to criticise when there are failures. Parliament must set out where there is room for improvement.

Elizabeth Smith referred to the important issue of parenting, which we have raised on several previous occasions. In some cases, we are dealing with second or third generations of parents who do not have the basic skills that they need to bring up their youngsters. I hope that the Government will address that.

A society will always be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members: few people are more vulnerable than are children in at-risk settings. We must do much more to ensure that we are getting it right for all children who are in that situation, so I hope that the Scottish Government will listen to all the points that have been made in this morning's debate.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 11:26, 24 September 2009

I thank Karen Whitefield for lodging the motion, which has led to a valuable discussion, and I am sorry that she was not able to be here to speak in it. Different points of view have been expressed, but there is much common ground. We agree that every child has the right to be kept safe, and we agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that we have a robust child protection system. We also agree that child protection practitioners do a difficult job and do so, on the whole, with great skill and dedication.

In that spirit of consensus, I note that many of the child protection structures that are in place and much of the work that is under way were begun under the previous Administration. At the time, my SNP colleagues and I supported and worked constructively with the then Scottish Executive on those developments. I look forward to working with the other parties again.

Liz Smith spoke with conviction about the need to support parents and to help them to develop the skills that they need to raise and nurture their children. We share that view. The Government's early-years framework, "The Road to Recovery: A New Approach to Tackling Scotland's Drug Problem" and the getting it right for every child initiative are designed to identify where help and support are needed by parents to ensure that their children develop and fulfil their potential.

I am happy to confirm to Robert Brown that the Scottish Government will continue to report quarterly to MSPs on child protection issues and on progress in implementing getting it right for every child, which places the child's wellbeing at the centre. Those reports will include updates on the second round of HMIE inspections and will record progress on "The Road to Recovery", which embraces the recommendations of "Hidden Harm". Together with the alcohol framework, "The Road to Recovery" is guiding how we are addressing the risks and poor outcomes that are experienced by children who are affected by parental substance misuse. We are also developing specific tools to meet the needs of children who are affected by parental substance misuse.

The first round of child protection inspections has given us an unprecedented picture of how services are performing throughout the country, and 77 per cent of local authorities have received a positive report. Nevertheless, we are committed to improving that proportion—it is, after all, one of our 45 national performance indicators. Areas that received "unsatisfactory" reports have been actively improving services, which has led to good progress being reported in Aberdeen and Midlothian. Other areas have received excellent reports, so we must ensure that we spread good practice where possible.

We must build on the strengths that we know exist and we must ensure that the system is continuously improving. The tragedy of Brandon Muir, like other horrific cases before it, has rightly led to a high level of awareness of child protection issues and to concern that other children might face a similar fate. However, Scotland's children will not be best served by radically changing a child protection system that is basically sound, with detailed guidance already under active review. Earlier, I outlined some of the work that we are doing to improve services for children who are affected by parental substance misuse. That will remain a key priority.

There have been calls for a shift towards taking more children from parents who misuse drugs or alcohol. In my view, that is an oversimplification of a complex problem. Where necessary, child protection services remove children from families, and the number of children in care is increasing—it increased by 6 per cent in the past year alone and has increased by 27 per cent since 2004. Scotland has the highest number of looked-after children who are accommodated away from home in the UK. Some 81 out of every 10,000 of our under-18s are looked after away from home, compared to only 54 out of every 10,000 in England. Crucially, children are taken into care as a result of individual risk assessments. We are not establishing an arbitrary quota.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will the minister share his views on the crisis in foster care? That resource gives another option I terms of what Government, local authorities and individual social workers can do and avoids their decisions being informed by resource limitations rather than by what is in the best interests of the children.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

As Mr Brown will be aware, new looked-after children regulations have recently been approved by Parliament. They set out what we need to do to encourage foster care recruitment, which is a priority for me. The position is also set out in the getting it right for every child programme and in our kinship and foster care document. I agree with Robert Brown's emphasis on that point.

We have heard calls for information sharing. That sounds positive, but it would not be helpful at this stage. The sharing of information must be based on sound decision making by individuals, not on broad legal dictums. Too much information can be as bad as too little, as the crucial piece can be lost in the noise.

No child protection system can ever provide a 100 per cent guarantee of safety for every child, but when things go wrong, we must learn and improve. Child protection is a complex problem that requires sophisticated systems of support. Sound-bite solutions will not help. I ask members to support the Government's amendment, which recognises the robust work that is already under way to ensure continuous improvement. We are also happy to accept the Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendments.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 11:33, 24 September 2009

I am sorry that my colleague Karen Whitefield cannot be with us today, but I am pleased that I have the opportunity to take part in this morning's very important debate.

Many members have said that protection of our children should always be at the top of our agenda. As Hugh Henry said, it is right that MSPs should challenge a system that has been identified as having problems. We should not be complacent and we should not be afraid.

I believe that Adam Ingram is sincere when he says that child protection is on his agenda; therefore, I question why he feels the need to amend Labour's motion. The motion refers to the HMIE report, which found that 23 per cent of local authority child protection services in Scotland have been evaluated as being "weak" or "unsatisfactory". Inspectors do not use those terms loosely, so of course we should be concerned. Parliament should be demanding action from the Scottish Government to correct that.

The motion and the Government's amendment acknowledge the dedication of the staff who are involved in the safety and care of Scotland's children. Do we not owe it to them to challenge the system that is in place, as other members have said, in order to ensure that they can do the job with which they are tasked?

Everyone seems to agree that the "Hidden Harm" report provides a good basis on which to progress and improve child protection services. The report highlights issues around information sharing. The minister just referred to that, and I must take issue with his stance on it.

In a speech in Dundee, following the Brandon Muir court case, Iain Gray called on the Scottish Government to legislate to require the sharing of information between agencies, so that no child's life slips through the bureaucratic net. Always, following the tragic death of a child—Brandon Muir or any other child—we hear calls for better information sharing among agencies: people throughout Scotland cannot understand why the issue has not yet been resolved. Previous attempts to legislate were withdrawn because it was felt that they did not capture the issue appropriately. I accept that. However, the minister has had more than two years to come back to Parliament with alternative proposals. When will we have those proposals? The issue has not gone away, the situation has not got any better, but we still hear—even as recently as the Brandon Muir case—that information sharing is an issue.

For most of us, the first line of child protection involves not social workers but parents. Therefore, when the Conservatives and my colleague Duncan McNeil call for support for parents, they are absolutely right. Some parents' problems result from substance abuse, so those addictions need to be tackled. Other parents' problems stem from their having themselves been neglected and uncared for, which means that they do not know how to care for their own children and need specific support. I ask that the minister tell us what the Scottish Government is doing about providing that support.

My colleague, Duncan McNeil, has long campaigned for better identification of children who are at risk. He and many others have raised the issue again today. Various figures are quoted by the Scottish Government, the ADSW and so on, but we do not have a precise grasp of the numbers of children at risk. That is not good enough. If we do not know the scale of the problem, how can we provide adequate resources and staff to tackle it?

Some members, including Robert Brown, referred to the briefing from the ADSW, which told us that no matter how good it might be, no system can offer 100 per cent guaranteed protection. I think that we would all accept that, regrettable though it is. However, that does not mean that we should not strive to improve the system. To be honest, I was also surprised at how complacent the ADSW's briefing appeared to be. When I meet social workers, they constantly say how they find it difficult to find time to do everything that they need to. However, just last week, the Scottish Government released statistics that say that the number of staff who are employed in social work in Scotland had dropped by 2,400 in the past three months. Even if the Scottish Government is not concerned by that decrease, I would have expected the ADSW to be.

I am also a little surprised that Robert Brown does not feel able to support the Labour motion. His amendment concentrates on focusing on the child and determining what is in the best interests of the child. I hope that Mr Brown accepts that that is a given—that is what we are talking about today. The child is central to all of this.

I agree with Robert Brown that today's debate has been too short. This is a serious issue:

Unfortunately, it has been left to the Labour group to bring it to the chamber. The Labour motion calls on the Scottish Government to tell Parliament what it is doing to better identify children at risk, to report to Parliament on the progress that has been made in the implementation of "Hidden Harm" and to state what further actions it is going to take in regard to "Hidden Harm" and the child protection services that were identified by the HMIE report as needing to make significant improvements. We also call on the Scottish Government to accept the Conservative amendment's call to offer support to parents and to tell us what it is doing in that regard.

I would have thought that all members across the chamber could support that call to action. Our criticism of the Scottish Government is that it appears to be complacent and inactive. Our motion gives the Government the opportunity to come to the chamber and say so, if that is not the case.