‘Red flag’ survey prompts call for support to children’s services

The research comes as part of a report carried out by Holyrood's Cross-Party Group on Children and Young People.

‘Red flag’ survey prompts call for support to children’s services iStock

Urgent calls have been made to bolster current policy to protect children and young people organisations as the majority said they are struggling to provide crucial services.

A national survey put to groups helping children, young people and their families in Scotland found that 90% of participants said they are facing “some” or “significant” barriers to providing services, with almost three-quarters (74%) saying they are battling with limited staff numbers, primarily due to an increase in demand.

Almost half (49%) reported longer waiting times for their services, with 86% sharing concerns about the negative impact coronavirus regulations have had on the mental health of these vulnerable groups and future child development.

The research comes as part of a report carried out by the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Children and Young People which has looked at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on these organisations.

It was co-convened by MSPs Meghan Gallacher and Kaukab Stewart, with secretariat provided by YouthLink Scotland and Children in Scotland.

The report aims to understand ongoing challenges to services and inform policy makers about current needs and recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

Some of the changes proposed include securing access to a provision of key support during school hours so that teaching staff and pupils can benefit from experienced voluntary organisations, and encouraging grant-makers to talk to frontline workers and people in communities to better understand the reality on the ground.

Gallacher described the survey results as “a huge red-flag”.

The Tory MSP for Central Region said: “It is absolutely crucial that we address the concerns raised in this report as a matter of urgency.

“I am calling on ministers to ensure that changes are made to strengthen the current policy landscape to protect these vital services. That will enable stakeholders to deliver services that are robust and fit for purpose.

“For the sake of the children, young people and families who so desperately rely upon these services, these vital changes cannot be delayed.”

Other key findings in the report showed 35% of organisations said there are ongoing issues with “digital inclusion”, which is about making sure people have access to the internet to do things that benefit them day-to-day, with more than half (56%) saying they are seeing increasing levels of inequality.

Lack of access to local authority facilities, financial stresses among families, and the pandemic’s impact on staff recruitment, retention, morale and wellbeing were also noted as primary concerns in the report.

Co-convener Stewart, SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, said: “It’s time to recognise what we need to do to support good mental health for young people and children – not just for recovery from Covid but embedded in our culture in much the same way that Zoom and Teams calls are now part of everyday life.”

Other changes participants said they would like to see in relation to improved policy and practical Covid-19 guidance included better equality between private and local authority wages in nursery settings and greater clarity about council buildings being open for essential support of families and children.

In response to the survey, Tim Frew, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, said: “The findings are unfortunately not surprising, but they will, I hope, offer further vital evidence to both national and local government on the need to work with the sector on recovery and further invest in and protect organisations who have and continue to support children, young people and families through these challenging times.”

Judith Turbyne, chief executive of Children in Scotland, added: “Alongside YouthLink Scotland, we urge the Scottish Government, MSPs and COSLA to pay attention to the findings and listen to the important views on policy change captured in the research.

“As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, issues such as the role of voluntary organisations in supporting schools, access to council buildings, and wage parity in early years settings must now receive the attention they deserve.”

The CPG said all participants in the survey were organisations and services that work with children, young people and their families across local authority, national and third sector providers, and the view of all council areas in Scotland were represented, with the exception of Shetland Islands Council.

A spokesperson from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said: “The Scottish Government had to make quick decisions at a time of public health crisis and we now need to work together, with partners and importantly children and young people themselves, to support them to overcome the impacts and improve their health and wellbeing.

“That is why, at the crucial time in Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, we cannot allow ourselves to become distracted by the restructure and upheaval that would result from inclusion of children’s services in the National Care Service.

“We must focus our full efforts and resources on supporting those most in need and tackling the widening inequity and health impacts facing children.

“Local government is committed to this and will consider the report and any recommendations it makes once published.”

In response to the calls, a Scottish Government spokesman pointed to the £40m package to improve CAMHS and to clear waiting lists by March 2023, and an additional £15m to local authorities to deliver mental health and wellbeing support for five to 24-year-olds in their communities, including access to counselling in all secondary schools, to provide alternative treatment options.

He said: “We recognise the valuable role the youth work sector has to play in supporting the health and well-being of young people in Scotland,” adding, “we have increased our investment in youth work over the past year to £12.5m. This has helped young people to re-engage in youth work through social activities, summer holiday programmes and outdoor learning.”

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