The Promise

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 February 2024.

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Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Who Cares? Scotland research report, “Is Scotland Keeping the Promise?”, which reportedly indicates that, on the fourth anniversary of the publication of “The Promise”, key pledges made to care-experienced people are not being fulfilled. (S6F-02810)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank

Who Cares? Scotland for the continued important work that it does to support the care-experienced community across Scotland. We are carefully considering the findings of the report. We are determined to drive forward the transformational change that is required to keep the Promise and make Scotland the very best place in the world to grow up in, where all children are loved and feel safe and respected.

Yesterday, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting the Hub for Success, which is hosted by Edinburgh Napier University and supported by Scottish Government Promise partnership funding. I met care-experienced students, who shared the positive impact that the service had on them.

There is, as the report has undoubtedly highlighted, more work to do, which we do not shy away from. However, we should also share and celebrate where change is being felt. One key area in which there has been clear progress is in the number of looked-after children. The latest statistics show that there were almost 2,000 fewer looked-after children in July 2022 than there were when the Promise started in July 2020. That does not take away from the work that still has to be done, but I am pleased by some of the progress that we are seeing.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I agree that Who Cares? Scotland deserves credit for the report, which highlights areas of progress but also major areas of concern. To give one example, its freedom of information investigation uncovered that care-experienced children have lost more than 1.3 million school days to exclusion, despite the Promise pledging to end that exclusion. That could be just the tip of the iceberg, as several councils could not provide any data.

We need transparency, accountability and leadership if we are to fulfil the Promise, but lack of data is a constant theme of the report. Does the First Minister agree that, to keep the Promise, we have to tackle quality of data? Will he and his Government urgently review the data that is held by public authorities and report annually to Parliament? What we have here is not good enough.

The First Minister:

I largely agree with Monica Lennon and the Who Cares? Scotland report that data collection, recording, monitoring and reporting is key to tracking progress and ensuring that we are delivering the change that we need. I assure her that we are working closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Promise Scotland and wider stakeholders to develop the national Promise performance outcomes framework—which will be aligned to the 2024 to 2030 plan—to track progress.

I entirely take the points that Monica Lennon made. I am happy to ensure that the appropriate minister writes to her with details of the conversations that we are having with local government about data collection.

School exclusions were mentioned to me in my meeting with the care-experienced community just yesterday. A whole raft of work has been going on to reduce school exclusions to the absolute minimum where we can. I thank Who Cares? Scotland and all the other stakeholders that are working with us to deal with those challenging issues.

The Presiding Officer:

Concise questions and responses will enable more members to be involved.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

The Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill will play an important part in keeping the Promise. As Parliament moves forward and looks to further improve the bill at stage 3, does the First Minister agree that, despite the complexity of doing so, it is crucial that, in reforming the care and justice system, we uphold and promote the rights of all children, whether they are in direct contact with the system as witnesses, victims or perpetrators or are impacted because of a family member?

The First Minister:

Yes—

I absolutely agree. I am proud that Scotland became the first nation in the United Kingdom to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. The Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill is taking measures to promote that and to help Scotland to keep the Promise.

Action to improve the experiences of child victims and their families is an absolute top priority for all of us, I am sure, and particularly for the Government. We have engaged with stakeholders including Victim Support Scotland, which has helped to inform the bill, and the bill completed stage 2 just yesterday. Protecting and promoting the rights of all children who come into contact with the justice system is at the heart of the bill, which will be an important step towards improving outcomes for young people as we keep the Promise.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

I note the First Minister’s reference to 2,000 fewer children being in the care system. However, I highlight the report’s statement that that could evidence a “worrying failure”. Given that social workers have a crucial role in keeping the Promise, the revelation that more than 83 per cent of social workers had an absence from work in 2023 because of sickness is very concerning. How will the Scottish Government ensure that local authorities receive adequate support and funding to enable them to have sufficient staffing levels so that care-experienced children, young people and their families receive the support that they deserve?

The First Minister:

We will ensure that we fund our local services and local authorities adequately. That is why they are getting a real-terms uplift in the budget, as announced by the Deputy First Minister. That is despite the fact that we have seen a real-terms cut to our budget of about £500 million over the past couple of years.

The social work workforce is employed primarily by local authorities, which monitor staff absence levels. We recognise the pressure that that workforce is under. We are working with partners who have a collective responsibility to our front-line workers to seek ways in which we can support that workforce. That includes the development, with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, of a joint workforce improvement plan that seeks to address the recruitment and retention challenges that the profession faces.

We have formed a joint social care and social work services workforce task force, which is considering how we could deliver improvements for the workforce in adult social care and children’s social care. Our proposals for the national care service include the establishment of a national social work agency to support and invest in the profession by providing national leadership, raising the status of social work as a profession and considering the future needs of the workforce.