Children who grow up in care are “substantially more likely” to struggle with life as an adult, according to an independent review.
A three-year study, commissioned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, found they experienced more unemployment, domestic abuse, mental and physical health problems, criminal offending, substance abuse and homelessness.
The impact of the Scottish care system costs the economy around £1.6bn a year, the report found.
It calculated that £875m a year is spent on services for adults who have been failed by the care system.
The Independent Care Review (ICR) also identified £732m in annual lost income tax and national insurance revenues because care-experienced adults earn on average 27% less than their peers.
The report calls for a new independent body to oversee an overhaul of the care system, with the ICR to hold a meeting with the government and public sector agencies to thrash out a comprehensive plan next month.
The review, which received accounts from more than 5500 people – more than half being care-experienced children and adults, with the rest being families and workers with experience of the care system – concluded the care system is “fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling for far too many children and families”.
Its report outlines the basis for future changes, emphasising the need to listen to cared-for children and young people, to provide them with stable childhoods and to keep families and siblings together wherever possible.
Unlike other such government-commissioned reviews, the ICR stressed it had been working day-to-day with councils since it began work in February 2017 to make changes to the care system rather than waiting until the review was finished to issue recommendations.
The report says it had identified more than 80 specific changes to improve the care system for children and families as well as for the unpaid and paid workforce.
ICR chair Fiona Duncan said: “I have heard countless stories of when the care system gets it wrong; separation, trauma, stigma and pain.
“Too many childhoods have been lost to a system that serves its own convenience rather than those within it.”
She added: “This is a radical blueprint for a country that loves, nurtures and cherishes its children.
“This is Scotland’s chance to care for its children, the way all good parents should.”
The First Minister announced a root-and-branch review of the care system at SNP conference in October 2016, with care-experienced young people and adults invited to sit in the front row.
The leading charity for people who have grown up in care, Who Cares? Scotland, welcomed the ICR’s findings as providing a “platform for action”.
Chief executive Duncan Dunlop said: “This was promised to be a review like no other and that is why we believe its findings should provide a platform for the kind of change that care-experienced people desperately need.
“Care-experienced people are capable, thoughtful and have enormous potential.
“What we have seen, unfortunately, are generations of people living with the consequences of a care system focused on containing them then leaving them, rather than ensuring that they are loved and supported forever.”
Highlighting figures showing there had been 36 unexpected or untimely deaths of people in the care of the state between 2012 and 2018, he added: “The evidence shows that what the Scottish Government chooses to do next is literally a matter of life and death.
“We expect to see urgent action, in the next few weeks, that makes a tangible difference to young people’s lives. Any further delay would be unacceptable.”
Sturgeon said: “In 2016, I accepted a challenge to listen to the experiences of 1000 looked-after young people because I knew the care system needed a transformation and I wanted to hear first-hand what had to change.
“It is clear that despite the efforts of those within the system, the actual experience of too many people in care is not what we want it to be.
“We will keep listening to and working with care-experienced people, because the case for transformational change is now unarguable and their voice must shape that change.”