It must be the age that I am getting to but more and more of my friends are becoming grandparents.
Every time I meet Pauline she can't talk about anything else. She has an apparently infinite supply of stories and photographs to share. And quite right too.
Pauline is looking forward immensely to the times that she will get to spend with her granddaughter as she is growing up, taking her for walks, visiting places and, occasionally, having her overnight. These are the sort of things which every grandparent looks forward to.
I have another good friend, Jessie. The best part of a decade ago, Jessie received a knock at the door and a request from Social Work to take in her grandson. She was left in no doubt that, if she had said "no" (something that didn't even cross her mind), her grandson would have been taken into care. Since then, she has cared for him 24 hours a day.
Earlier this week, Jessie was one of more than 100 kinship carers demonstrating outside the Scottish Parliament calling for justice for the children they love and care for. She is one of thousands of kinship carers, mostly grandparents, who have responded to that knock at the door and plea for help.
People like Sadie, Moira, Tommy, Anne and Cathie, and many others whom I am privileged to know. For me, they are among the heroes of 21st-century Scotland.
In one sense they are doing what any grandparent would do: they are "just looking efter the weans". But, in another sense, their love is extraordinary. They are caring for some of the most vulnerable children in Scottish society, many of whom have already been deeply traumatised by violence, drug and alcohol abuse, bereavement or the imprisonment of a parent. Jessie speaks for many when she says: "We've already lost one generation. We're not going to lose another."
Kinship care makes sense. It makes sense socially, for there is clear evidence that a child growing up with a grandparent or another loving relative will do better than a comparable child forced into other forms of care. It also makes sense economically because the cost of supporting that child is considerably less than any other means of supporting them. Kinship care, however, does come at a cost, one that is being borne unjustly by kinship carers.
The Children & Young People (Scotland) Bill is making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It includes proposals for a new Kinship Care Order, designed to enshrine the rights of children living in kinship care in primary legislation.
On the surface, this is to be welcomed. However, the Scottish Kinship Carers Alliance, an organisation set up and run by kinship carers, is opposing the new Order.
The alliance does not believe that it will address the real needs of the children they love and care for. These needs include essential psychological services and trauma support, as well as an end to the lottery of the levels of support that exist between different local authorities and between children in formal and informal kinship care.
The alliance is rightly concerned that the legislative process has been decoupled from a review of the support costs being offered to children in kinship care and that the Financial Memorandum accompanying the bill suggests the introduction of a Kinship Care Order will end up saving the state money. Do not forget that this is saving money by denying resources to some of our poorest and most compassionate citizens.
Over the past four years I have been a part of Scotland's Poverty Truth Commission. The commission has a simple principle. We need to ask the people who really know about the issues how these problems can be most effectively addressed.
In this case, the experts are kinship carers. I would plead with our politicians to sit down with those experts and to reframe their proposals so that they can make the difference which these children deserve.
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