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Welcome breakthrough for the children in care

Children enter the care system for many reasons and the support they receive is just as varied.Whether there because of neglect, poor parenting, parental addiction or other circumstances, all are young people who need care and protection.

They receive it in a variety of settings: foster homes, residential children's homes, or in the home or in so-called kinship care with a relative.But they all have something in common: a scandal shared. It has been unacceptable for years that the state effectively abandons many of the country's most vulnerable young people when they turn 16 or 17.

Although there is some provision of aftercare services, social work departments have been legally able to turn their backs too soon and often appear to do so with indecent haste; that is if young people do not vote with their feet. Many are all too ready to flee the embrace of state care as soon as they leave school, having made a judgment about the commitment on offer and found it wanting.

The results are not hard to see. We have known about the bad outcomes for decades: poor educational results, more homelessness than the general population, a disproportionate rate of imprisonment and addiction. Lacking the skills to live alone, they also tend to lack reliable supports to fall back on when things go wrong.

Report after report has discussed the problem. We Can and Must Do Better and These Are Our Bairns were titles published by the Government. Sweet 16 by Scotland's Children's Commissioner also made the problems plain. But one cynical care leaver dismisses such documents as the annual apology. That is why the response from campaigners to the Scottish Government's guarantee of support for children in the care system until they are 21 has been little short of jubilant. It puts Scotland in the vanguard of support for children in state care.

But this is not someone else's success. Addressing the challenges facing some of Scotland's most at-risk children as they become young adults accrues benefits to the whole of society. Savings from early investment in these young people should come from health, justice, and housing budgets.

But there is also a moral reason why this news is greatly to be welcomed. It is simply wrong to pretend that it is good "corporate parenting" to end support to children in their teens, when those from a non-care background increasingly stay at home well into their twenties.

Financial and logistical challenges remain, but charities working with children in care believe this is a breakthrough. Young people need caring, loving relationships and a sense that they are of value.

This change could give them that, but the next breakthrough needed is in public attitudes. Public perception remains that most are in care because they are, or have been "bad" yet only a small minority are there because of their own behaviour.

This should be the first wave of a sea change in professional and public attitudes alike. While some would see them as "other", these truly are our bairns. They are Scottish children in need of help, on our doorsteps.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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