Greater urgency is needed across Scotland to stop the lives of babies, infants, children and young people in care from being “determined by their circumstances.”

The call comes in the first monitoring report from the Promise Oversight Board (POB), which is tasked with making sure the Scottish Government, local authorities and agencies stand by a commitment, made in the wake of 2020’s independent care review, to a “10-year transformational change programme.” 

The watchdog has criticised the lack of data gathered by public bodies and other organisations when it comes to care, saying that Scotland “only measures things which are easily quantifiable, rather than things that matter such as a child’s personal development as they grow older.” 

This, they say, means it is impossible to properly understand a change in the number of deaths of looked after children. 

Overall, there were 17 deaths of children in care, seven involving youngsters in continuing care and 35 involving those in through care and after care over the period 2019, 2020 and the first nine months of 2021, the report detailed.

They say deaths increased in 2019, 2020 and then fell back last year.

The reason for this change, the report says, is “unknown, because this is data on a group of people for whom no additional information is collected.”

It added: “The avoidable death of a child or young person for whom Scotland has had responsibility is an unmitigated tragedy.

“The fact that the data lacks any information on the lives and experiences of care-experienced young adults compounds what is already a heart-breaking position.

“Failure to understand not only makes it hard to monitor, but also fails to provide the chance to learn and make sure it stops.”

According to the report, Scotland does not know, at a national level, how many incidents of restraint and seclusion take place, how frequently, or how seriously. 

The Scottish Government recently committed to “ensure that all care experienced children, wherever they live, will be protected from violence and experience the safeguard of equal protection legislation.” 

While POB welcomes this commitment, they remain concerned about “how it will be implemented and monitored to ensure that care experienced children are protected in the same way that their peers are and are not subject to restraints”. 

POB also said that some children in care are being forced to live “too far from their home, in places that do not provide the support or facilities they need, and that often separates them from their siblings.” 

It follows a recent report by the Competition and Markets Authority Report into Children’s Social Care in England, Scotland and Wales which found that inadequate provision in England was “the key driver of cross border placements into Scotland.”   

They acknowledge that there are legal complexities between the four nations, but have called for a “collaborative plan between the Scottish Government and the UK Government to address the issues at the core of the problem.”

On mental health, they say that long waiting lists “are having a profound impact” and that there are “serious concerns about the wait for support for care experienced children and young people.”  

Fiona Duncan who chairs the board said: “The lives of too many babies, infants, children and young people in Scotland are still determined by their circumstances.

"In times of adversity, too many face a system that does not love and does not care as it should. By 2030, at the latest, that must change.  

“It is concerning that more than two years have already passed since the promise was made and with less than eight years left to keep it, we need greater urgency across Scotland to deliver the change needed.” 

She added: “There is no one organisation that can be singled out and identified as getting it wrong. The inability to make sufficient progress is collective and exists right across Scotland. 

“As the problem is collective, the solution must be collective too and we must take a long hard look at what has been achieved – and what has not – in the last two years and consider what more we can do, at pace and with a sense of urgency because lives depend on it. 

“Before the next monitoring report is published next year, we need to see a real step change in the pace and scale of improvements being made.” 

Maria McGill, member of the Oversight Board and former chief executive of Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), said: “Making change to how services care and support people is hard and getting multi agency partners to line up to provide person centred care demands a lot. 

“But what the promise told Scotland was that putting love at the heart of how we think, plan and prioritise is the only way to make sure children and young people grow up loved safe and respected” 

Ms McGill said they would expect to see “more tangible plans and priorities beginning to deliver the change that infants, children, adults and families were promised” in the coming year. 

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I welcome this report and the continued focus and momentum to Keep The Promise.

“In March we set out over 80 actions that the Scottish Government will take to Keep The Promise and deliver change by 2030. Alongside The Promise Scotland, the care community, local government and others, we continue to build on work that is already under way to improve the lives of children, young people and families in and around the edges of care as quickly as possible.”