On 15 October, I announced an independent root-and-branch review of the care system. The review, which will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be taken forward in partnership with young people who have experience of care. It will look at the legislation, the practice, the ethos and the culture of the system. It is vital that we listen to young people’s experience of being looked after. I am absolutely committed to using what they tell us to help to change the care system, to put love at its heart, and to make their lives better.
We have taken action to modernise our children’s hearing system, to review secure care, to establish our youth justice improvement boards, to support kinship carers, to review learning and development opportunities for foster carers and residential work, and to support families who are on the edge of care. Those are just some of the things that we have already done; the list could go on. Improvements are being made: school exclusions, for example, are down and more young people are in permanent, rather than in temporary, placements.
When we look at the statistics for young people who experience care, none of us can be satisfied that we are yet doing enough, because those statistics are absolutely horrifying. When I speak to young people who are in care or who have been in care, as I have been doing a lot recently, they give me the simple message that the system works well to stop things happening to them. It should do that to some extent—we must have in place safeguards. However, the system does not always operate to make things happen for them. We need a system that ensures that, where young people cannot live with their own families, for whatever reason, and the state becomes their corporate parent, we give them a sense of family, a sense of belonging and a sense of love, and that the whole system operates to make sure that they can reach their full potential. That is what I am determined to do, but the Government cannot do it alone and Parliament cannot do it alone. We will succeed only if the review is driven by the experiences of young people in care. That is what will make the review unique.
I welcome very much what the First Minister had to say, but I urge her to look in particular at access to higher education, which is an area where those with care experience are glaringly underrepresented. Will she look specifically at the support that is available to those with care experience to ensure that the maximum opportunity is provided for them to gain the benefit of a university education?
Yes, I will give that commitment. Indeed, we have already announced certain changes to help to make sure that that commitment can be delivered.
I have mentioned statistics: a horrifying statistic is that only 6 per cent of care-experienced young people go to university. We have therefore accepted the commission on widening access’s recommendation to ensure not only guaranteed places at university for care-experienced young people who have the grades, but full grants for those care-experienced young people going to university. That is a concrete example of the progress that we are making. We have to do much more, and we have to do it in partnership with the people who are the experts—those who are in care or who have experienced care.
I have been moved beyond belief by some of the conversations that I have had with care-experienced young people in the past few months. I have no doubt that, if we come together—not just as a Parliament, but as a country—and put those young people at the heart of what we are trying to do, we can do something really special that in years to come we can all look back on with pride.