St Andrew’s Children’s Society

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th March 2023.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07711, in the name of Christine Grahame, on St Andrew’s Children’s Society. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates St Andrew’s Children’s Society on marking its centenary in 2022; understands that St Andrew’s Children’s Society is the oldest adoption and fostering agency still in existence in Scotland; recognises what it sees as the valuable work that the Society does connecting vulnerable children to safe and loving homes, including in the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale constituency; understands that it is the only agency in Scotland to offer the SafeBase parenting programme, which is a therapeutic programme for parents of adopted and fostered children who have attachment difficulties; notes that over £20,000 has been raised during the centenary and that a number of events have been held, including a Family February FUNdraising challenge, a fundraising concert by Cadenza and a parliamentary reception in the Scottish Parliament, and that a special commemorative booklet was also written by Maureen McEvoy MBE; pays credit to all of the staff and volunteers who have supported the Society over the last 100 years, with particular credit to the adopted and foster parents who have provided safe and loving homes to their adopted and foster children, and extends its best wishes to all who are involved in adoption and fostering.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I understand that this debate is the highlight of today.

First, I congratulate members of St Andrew’s Children’s Society, who would have been here had decision time been at 5 pm. Fortunately, I was able to alert them that there was a change of time. I also thank those who signed my motion, allowing the debate to go ahead, and those who have stayed behind in the face of competing attractions on this auspicious day.

The motion marks the centenary of the society, which is understood to be the oldest adoption and fostering agency in Scotland. Its history and its procedures today reflect the changing societal attitudes to single mothers, which were addressed so poignantly in the chamber last week when the then First Minister offered an apology to those who were forced to give up their babies who were born out of what we call “wedlock”. I am old enough to recall the attitudes of those days and I will expand on that shortly.

Recently, I sponsored an event in Parliament to commemorate the centenary of the society, and I was very moved by the accounts of two recent adopters. Before I talk about that, however, I must mention Maureen McEvoy, a member of the society who has written a commemorative booklet on its history. She is an extraordinary woman—a foster carer and adopter herself.

I will quote from her first experience.

“It is fifty five years since my husband and I approached the Catholic Social Services Centre with the hope of adopting a child. I would like to share a reflection on our first adoption experience. On Monday 1st July 1968 life changed forever for my husband, Jim, and me because that was the day that we brought home our first adopted daughter. We had always hoped to have children, but after years of unsuccessful tests, we decided in 1967 that adoption would be the route to our family. On Tuesday, 25th June 1968, Jim’s birthday, we received a letter telling us about Jenny, who was three months old. We went to see her at her foster family on Wednesday, and then began a hectic whirl of activity. I handed in my notice, and my employers, who knew of our adoption plans, allowed me to leave work on the Friday. Work was hectic as I finished off as much as I could, and handed over the rest of my work to sympathetic colleagues. We had to collect the pram we had ordered, and buy loads of baby paraphernalia, including lots of terry towelling nappies!”

Members might remember those.

“We had been waiting nine months for news of a baby, and had been too worried that it was never going to happen, so had bought very little. There was no paternal leave in those days, and after we got home, buying formula milk on the way, Jim just had time for a cup of tea before going back to his office. No sooner had he gone, than Jenny started crying, and I had to set about her first feed. Boiling the water, mixing the feed, then cooling the bottle seemed to take forever and her wails got louder and louder. I felt a total failure in that first hour.

Both of our families welcomed Jenny into the wider family, and although we had never heard of funnelling in those days, we were very gradual in introducing her to our many family members. Jim’s sister and husband lived in Edinburgh with their five children, and Jenny loved spending time with her cousins.

When I learn now of the phased introductions for adopted children, and hear of continued contact with foster parents, I realise that Jenny’s move to our home was harder for her than it needed to be, and only her sunny nature seemed to make it so easy. No life story book for her—all we got was about ten lines of information and no photos of her before she came to us.

In 1968 babies were placed with families, some straight from hospital, but the birth mother was unable to give full consent for her child to be adopted until three months after giving birth, and she was able to reclaim her child at any time during that period. After three months, adopters could launch a petition to adopt the child, and if the mother changed her mind before the adoption order was granted there had to be a legal hearing to decide the best interests of the child.

Changed times thankfully for birth parents, foster parents and adopters and the children.”

When the agency was established in Edinburgh in 1922, it helped unmarried mums to find homes for their babies, as was the social norm at that time. Now it helps to find homes for vulnerable children and welcomes adoption and fostering inquiries from all members of the community, including single people, people who follow a faith and people who do not, and members of the LGBTQI+ community, through its offices in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

In 2010, it entered into a partnership with After Adoption in England and Wales to be its exclusive providers in Scotland of the groundbreaking parenting programme, safebase. The Scottish Government supported the agency to get the initiative off the ground and it has presented courses in many locations throughout Scotland. It also offers courses on Theraplay to all its adopters, to help them to reduce the development gaps that many adopted children have experienced in their early life, because children who are adopted today might very well suffer from the physical effects of parental alcohol or drug addiction.

The centenary event was a delight and heart-warming. It exemplified how far adoption has come. Two parents with their children present told us their stories. One was a single gay male with his adopted teenage son and another a gay male couple who had adopted three siblings: two little girls and a boy. All the children were on their best behaviour and beautifully turned out. The wee girls were in tartan skirts with Aran sweaters and their brother was in matching trews. One of the dads told us how he and his partner had intended to adopt just one child but, when they were introduced to the wee trio, there was only one decision for them. From having no family to having three children was quite a life-changing experience. There were no more exotic holidays or posh restaurants for them—more like burger bars and play areas. As that dad said, he would not change it for the world. Throughout his speech, you could hear his wee family, seated with his partner, encouraging him with cries of “Daddy, daddy.” He was not dry eyed, neither was I and neither was the minister who is now sitting in front of me.

It is appropriate that this debate follows on from the statement that the First Minister made last week, in which she apologised on behalf of us all for the way in which the state treated unwed mothers in past decades, which St Andrew’s Children’s Society fully recognises, and that the debate acknowledges where we and the society are now. I wish the society and all of its foster and adopter parents and their charges well.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing the debate to the chamber. I always welcome the chance to further the awareness of all forms of care-experienced children and it is a pleasure to speak in the debate today. The importance of understanding the issues that affect care-experienced people is the key to changing many lives for the better. Sadly, we in Scotland have not yet done enough to make that happen.

I also add my congratulations to St Andrew’s Children’s Society on its centenary, which makes it the oldest adoption and fostering agency in existence in Scotland, as has already been mentioned. During that 100 years, adoption and fostering has changed so much. Practices such as forced adoption are, thankfully, a thing of the past. However, as much as the apology made by the First Minister last week was a great start, so much more needs to be done to fix the on-going problems faced by forced adopters and adult adoptees, and I look forward to working with the new Scottish Government on that.

I applaud St Andrew’s Children’s Society for its understanding. Any society working in this field for more than 100 years will have seen massive changes to wider societal views, especially on fostering and adopting, and I am delighted that the society provides support for women to help them to cope with the lifelong emotional impact of having a child adopted.

I praise the society for its use of the safebase parenting programme, which is often known as the secure base model. I am sure that members are aware that the Theraplay principles of the safebase programme help adoptive parents to understand the impact of a child’s past experiences of trauma and loss.

When my husband and I adopted our daughters, we were given the following analogy for how the brain develops in a child who has experienced attachment issues from early years trauma. Imagine that a mind is being built up like a wall: every brick is a literal building block in the brain’s development. If, for example, a baby is not held, emotional and visual responses are not met and that building block is not formed, which creates a gap in the wall. Now, move on in life, building another layer of bricks on the wall. Every brick that is built on top of a gap is built on top of nothing: a literal unstable foundation.

Our daughters came to live with us when they were five and two. Those are very young ages, but, even so, the gaps in their development were obvious. At the age of five, my eldest daughter had such emotional gaps that, for more than a year, I cradled her in my arms like a baby to try to build an emotional and visual connection in the hope of plugging that gap in her development.

Every time that there is trauma or a lack of positive parenting, there is a gap in the wall, and understanding that is essential to supporting adopted and fostered children through the milestones of their life. Using programmes such as safebase, St Andrew’s Children’s Society is giving children who are adopted through its agency, and their parents, a strong chance of fixing the wall without it coming tumbling down.

I thank St Andrew’s Children’s Society for all the work that it does. I heard from some inspiring families at the parliamentary event, which has already been mentioned. Their positive and grateful testimonies are credit, if that were needed, to the support and assistance that the society gives to care-experienced children and their families. To them, I say thank you.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate my colleague Christine Grahame on securing this important debate to mark the centenary of

St Andrew’s Children’s Society, which it celebrated in 2022.

Although it has provided adoption and foster care services since 1922 by ensuring that families are prepared to meet the needs of vulnerable children, the agency has also supported thousands of birth mothers to cope with the loss of a child through adoption. Its staff have striven to show compassion to all the people who have passed through its doors, and they continue to do so, highlighting the essential wider work that the agency carries out. I speak as someone whose grandmother was adopted in very difficult circumstances, albeit in 1905, long before St Andrew’s Children’s Society came into existence.

With 13,500 children being looked after in Scotland, it is imperative to celebrate when agencies are getting it right. It is also vital to reflect on and learn from the stories of care-experienced children and adults, to improve the services and support that are on offer for both children and their parents.

St Andrew’s Children’s Society is a brilliant example of an agency getting it right, particularly with its implementation of the safebase parenting programme. It is the only Scottish agency that offers that service, which is a therapeutic programme for parents of adopted or fostered children who have attachment issues. The programme is essential in ensuring that key psychological building blocks—typically developed in the first 18 months of life—are stimulated using play. It is encouraging to see the effectiveness of the programme, which, ultimately, improves the relationship between foster parents and their children and reduces behavioural issues. I encourage the minister to further explore the benefits of the safebase parenting programme and the possibility of supporting its extension to agencies across Scotland, to ensure that the needs of care-experienced children are met while reducing adoption breakdown.

Foster carers play an intrinsic role in allowing the important work of St Andrew’s Children’s Society to take place. In Scotland, there are approximately 3,415 approved foster care homes, but there is a shortage of almost 500 foster carers. It is encouraging that the Scottish Government is working with key national and local partners, including the third sector, to identify actions to increase the number of Scots who are willing to foster, and that it provides £145,000 in funding to The Fostering Network each year to raise the profile of foster caring and encourage the recruitment of new carers.

Becoming a foster carer is a significant commitment, and it is essential that local authorities have the funding to provide a fair weekly fostering allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child. However, only one local authority in Scotland, Argyll and Bute Council, pays more than the national minimal allowance in England and Wales across all five age ranges. I therefore urge the minister to consider the implementation of a Scottish minimum allowance to encourage potential foster parents to apply, knowing that they will have the financial support to care for a child. A minimum allowance would ensure that payments would increase in line with inflation, which is particularly important during this cost of living crisis as the prices of food, toiletries, clothing and travel all increase.

It is clear that the Scottish Government is dedicated to ensuring that our care system is developed with care-experienced people at its heart. The independent care review’s research into Scotland’s care system listened to more than 5,500 people with lived experience to identify where improvements are required. The Promise is built on five key foundations: family, voice, care, people and scaffolding. It recognises that children must be listened to, must stay in homes where they feel safe and loved and should always live with their siblings when it is safe for them to do so; that carers must be supported to develop relationships; and that children and their families should be supported by a system that is there when needed.

In line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children should grow up feeling safe and loved. However, it is important to realise that care-experienced children require extra protections.

I again congratulate

St Andrew’s Children’s Society on its centenary and on 100 years of dedicated work to better the lives of care-experienced children and of foster and adoptive families and to help birth mothers and their families who have been wronged by the adoption system. The work of such agencies across Scotland is essential, and I look forward to seeing improvements being implemented by Scottish ministers to ensure that all our vulnerable children receive the love and safety that they require. I again thank Christine Grahame for bringing this debate to the chamber.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

It is a great pleasure, as it almost always is, to follow Kenneth Gibson’s contribution. He spoke about the struggle that local authorities have in finding foster parents, which is something that we must do much more work on. In passing, I mention the challenge that exists when different local authorities close to each other offer differing amounts of payment or take different approaches depending on the challenges associated with the young person who is seeking to be fostered. Perhaps that could be looked at.

This is a fascinating day. It is a privilege to take part in this debate, which Christine Grahame has successfully brought to the chamber and which is about an organisation that was 100 years old last year. The organisation has looked on during a time of many changes in Scotland, so it is perhaps fitting that we are having this debate today, given the political change that is happening.

As has been said, the organisation was founded in 1922. It is important to say that it was founded by a group of women, which speaks volumes about women’s attitudes to young people, particularly vulnerable children in distress. Over the past 100 years, the organisation’s commitment has grown and evolved, but it has unwaveringly been based on helping the most vulnerable children and families.

In 1952, it changed its name to become the Advisory Committee for Social Services. In 1963, it divided into two separate organisations, the Catholic Enquiry Service, which dealt with general social services, and the Catholic Social Service Centre, which dealt solely with adoption and foster care. It is important to say that, although the organisation was founded within the Catholic church, as times changed and attitudes progressed, those within the service felt that they had to step away from the Catholic church in order to continue serving the most vulnerable young people. It was prescient of those who worked in the society at the time that they were happy to make that change.

During the 1950s and 1960s, as has been mentioned, many thousands of children were placed for adoption because of the perception at the time that a single mother could not provide the care that a married couple could bring. I note that the age of the children was a factor and that, at the time, it was predominantly babies and children under the age of one who were adopted.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

People said that unwed mothers could not take care of a child, but it was worse than that, because they were looked upon as being disgraceful. It was even harder for them, because they were regarded as bad women.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I am very grateful for that intervention. It is right to note that the focus of the social stigma was not just the young children, but the single mothers.

It is interesting that the records of St Andrew’s Children’s Society show that a number of single women decided to keep their babies in the face of that adverse approach by the community and that they were supported by the society to make that a success. That speaks volumes. I accept that the number of women was very small, but it is significant that a strong group of women were able to stand up—against their community, but also, frequently, against their families—to do what they thought was best, which was to bring up their child.

As the society progressed, the age of the children whose adoption or fostering was sought changed and the pattern became closer to the one that we recognise today, involving older children and particularly those who have significant needs and require support as they move through fostering but also into adoption. It speaks volumes that St Andrew’s Children’s Society is able to support families in that regard.

I realise that time is tight, but I want to mention an event that speaks to the strength of the organisation. It occurred in 2015, when Scotland’s Adoption Register found itself in trouble at very short notice and, in effect, had to step away from commitments that it had given. Without hesitation or doubt, St Andrew’s Children’s Society stepped in and agreed to run the register for two years, up to 2017, when other provision could be made.

I congratulate St Andrew’s Children’s Society on its 100th anniversary. For a century, the organisation has been a shining example of what can be achieved when people come together to support those in need. Like other members, I look forward to a future in which we will redouble our efforts to genuinely build a better world for our children and families across Scotland.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Christine Grahame for initiating this debate, and I thank members across the chamber for their contributions. The debate has enabled us as a Parliament to congratulate St Andrew’s Children’s Society on marking its centenary last year. I welcome the opportunity to celebrate that significant milestone and to acknowledge all those who have played a part in the society’s important work.

As other speakers have said, there was a parliamentary reception for the society earlier this year. It gave me a chance to offer my congratulations in person and to hear at first hand the experiences of many of those who are involved with the society. The reception was a profoundly moving event, at which a number of people shared personal testimonies about their adoption journeys. We heard from an adoptee who is now a young adult and has become an adoption panel member. We heard from the first single gay man to adopt a child in Scotland, and we heard from a couple who had adopted a sibling group, as Christine Grahame mentioned in her speech. Those people’s testimonies and the stories that they shared illustrate the fantastic support that the society has provided for so many years.

However, as Christine Grahame highlights in her motion, the celebration of Scotland’s oldest adoption and fostering agency does not just enable us to pay credit to the staff and volunteers who have supported the society over the past 100 years. Importantly, it also enables us to pay credit to adoptive parents and foster carers. I put on the record my sincere thanks to all care givers, including adoptive families, foster carers and practitioners who work in the sectors. We absolutely recognise the vital part that they play in providing nurturing homes, support and love for children and young people across Scotland, and we value the positive difference that that can make to those young people’s lives.

Today’s debate also enables us to reflect on our work to keep the Promise by 2030. It is vital that the Scottish Government leads from the front to ensure that all care-experienced children and young people are supported to grow up loved, safe and respected.

We stated our commitment to do that in the Promise implementation plan, “Keeping The Promise to our children, young people and families”, which was published last year and in which we outlined our vision for delivering a good childhood to ensure that

“Every child lives in a safe and loving home where families are given support to overcome difficulties and stay together.”

Our work to keep the Promise includes the whole family wellbeing programme of activity, with investment of £500 million over this parliamentary session. That will transform services to ensure that families, including adoptive and foster families, can access the support that they need, when and where they need it. We have allocated £50 million in this year’s budget, including the provision of £32 million directly to children’s services planning partnerships, to enable work at a local level.

We have also provided more than £350,000 in 2022-23 to third sector organisations that provide support at a national level for those who are affected by adoption, including children, young people, families and adult adoptees. That includes: funding for adoption week; a national helpline and support for adoptive families, to minimise adoption breakdowns; the therapeutic education support service in adoption programme—TESSA—which provides therapeutic input for adoptive families; services for professionals and practitioners in the adoption sector; and the adoption contact register for Scotland, which is hosted by Birthlink, to facilitate contact between adoptees, birth parents and birth relatives. We also fund Scotland’s adoption register, to support finding a family as easily as possible for children who are identified as needing adoptive placements.

As the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon mentioned in the national apology that she made last week, we are also funding a scoping study to look at what support is required for those who have been affected by historical adoption practices, including adult adoptees.

St Andrew’s Children’s Society’s work extends beyond adoption, so I will briefly also mention foster care. We are absolutely committed to helping foster carers. We provide a range of specific support, which includes more than £150,000 to the Fostering Network in Scotland this year. That funding supports the Fosterline Scotland service, training for foster carers, the raising of the profile of foster caring and the encouragement of the recruitment of new carers.

I reassure the Parliament that delivering a Scottish recommended allowance for foster and kinship carers as soon as possible is a priority for me. That has taken far longer than we originally anticipated, and I recognise the frustrations of care givers and other stakeholders. I remain committed to working constructively with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to deliver it as quickly as possible; we are exploring all available options for doing that.

More broadly, the foundation of all our work is in getting it right for every child—GIRFEC, as it is known—which is the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that all children and young people and their families are offered the right support at the right time, so that every child and young person in Scotland can reach their full potential. Through the national trauma training programme, we continue work to ensure that our workforce is trauma informed, recognises the impact of adverse experiences on children and provides the right support to ensure that no further harm is done.

Although today’s debate is an important opportunity to reflect on our collective work to keep the Promise, I return to the celebration that is at the heart of the motion and again extend my congratulations to St Andrew’s Children’s Society on its centenary.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate, and I close this meeting of the Parliament.

Meeting closed at 16:03.