Promise to improve lives of vulnerable children will fail, report says

The Scottish Government will not deliver the original aims of its vow by next year, according to the policy's oversight board.

Scottish Government’s Promise to improve lives of care experienced young people will fail, report says Getty Images

A commitment to improve the lives of Scotland’s most vulnerable children will fail to deliver its original aims by next year, according to a new report.

STV News has seen the latest update from The Promise Oversight Board which is due to be published on Thursday.

It says the final target of 2030 to make things better for care experienced young people could still be met, but only with more co-ordinated action.

The Promise was launched following the Independent Care Review which published its findings in a series of reports in 2020.

“Sadly, due to the worsening circumstances for so many and the current pace of change, the Promise Oversight Board does not believe that delivering the original aims… is realistic within that timeframe.”

The Promise Oversight Board Report

It states that Scotland’s children and young people must grow up loved, safe and respected.

The Promise Oversight Board was set up to monitor whether Scotland is keeping its commitment, while The Promise Scotland supports people and organisations as they work to deliver it.

The report said: “Sadly, due to the worsening circumstances for so many and the current pace of change, the Promise Oversight Board does not believe that delivering the original aims of Plan 21-24 is realistic within that timeframe.

“However, 2030 remains the date by which The Promise must be kept and if everyone plays their part over the next seven years, this is still achievable.”

The report identifies three priority areas where there must be more evidence of change by next year:

  • Education – Care experienced children and young people will receive everything they need to thrive at school. They will be actively participating in all subjects and extra-curricular activities, the formal and informal exclusion of care experienced children from education will have ended, and more care experienced young people will be going on to genuinely positive destinations.
  • Brothers and sisters – Scotland will have stopped the practice of separating brothers and sisters, unless for reasons of safety. We need an accurate picture of whether brothers and sisters are living together, with a simple metric for measuring this.
  • Homelessness – The prevention pathway for care leavers will have been restarted by the Scottish Government. Housing pathways for care experienced young people will include a range of affordable options that are specifically tailored to their needs and preferences.

The report calls on the Scottish Government and other organisations to show “leadership and drive” and set out an investment plan to deliver the required change.

“While there are excellent individual examples and collaborations that are achieving change, there is still nowhere that collects who needs to do what, by when, across the ‘system’,” it said.

“Scotland does not yet have a single route-map to 2030 in place.

“There continues to be no shared set of outcomes and indicators across a timeline that will drive the necessary collaboration.

“We expect to see explicit leadership and drive from the Scottish Government and scrutiny bodies to articulate a clear set of principles, outcomes and milestones that will guarantee The Promise is kept so that Scotland’s care experienced young people’s life chances are not defined by the fact they have been in care.

“We expect to see a strategic investment plan to deliver the required change.

“This does not have to mean additional resources when public finances are fragile; it means making best use of the resources that already exist by focusing on outcomes for children and families.”

The Scottish Government said it welcomed the report and its “constructive views”.

Positive change is far from widespread

The Fife House Project supports young people leaving care to create a home.

It was set up three years ago, shortly after the launch of The Promise.

With a focus on building relationships, it teaches care experienced young people skills to help them live independently.

“I was a little lost before,” Catriona McCallum told STV News.

“I didn’t think I would get anywhere, live a sort of normal life, be like other people. But now I’ve realised that I can do that and I can be like other people.

“I’ve made a couple of good friends and it’s helped a lot with the transition from going from foster placement to living independently.”

The Project helps make sure the young people have some form of education or employment – often something they did not have when they started the program.

“If you don’t have that human contact or that relationship with anyone, it can be very, very isolating,” said Nicola Walker, project lead.

“It’s giving them that safe space, that safety net.”

However, positive change like this is far from widespread.

The Oversight Board said it wants its report to be a “call to action” for young people to tell their stories and demonstrate to others that change is possible.

“Scotland cannot afford to wait; our children and young people are relying on us,” it said.

Over the next year, the Board said it expects to see “explicit leadership and drive” from the Scottish
Government to set out a clear set of principles, outcomes and milestones that will guarantee The Promise.

A Government spokesperson said: “Ensuring that all children grow up feeling loved, safe and respected is a top priority for the Scottish Government.

“Ministers are determined to lead from the front, and will continue working with all partners, ensuring that the voices of the care experienced community informs the decisions taken as part of our commitment to Keep The Promise.”

The Government said its ambition to significantly reduce the number of children and young people living away from their families was “at the heart” of its work.

“To support this, families must be given support to nurture that love and overcome the difficulties that get in the way,” the spokesperson said.

“The national approach to Whole Family Support is being led through £500m in Scottish Government funding, which is being directed through local authorities and Children’s Service Planning Partnerships.

“The Scottish Government published The Promise Implementation Plan in March 2022, which sets out the range of commitments and actions we will take to Keep The Promise.”

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