First Minister of Scotland
15 April 2020
Dear Nicola Sturgeon
Earlier this year, you received the hard fought for and much needed Care Review report. Upon receipt, you made a promise! You promised to ensure that the messages in the report were heard and acted upon.
You promised to put love first and you promised that relationships matter!
One of the most important messages in the report is “For Scotland to truly to be the best place in the world for children to grow up, a fundamental shift is required in how decisions are made about children and families.”
The Care Review report also stated that “When children talk about wanting to be safe, they talk about having relationships that are real, loving and consistent. That must be the starting point. Scotland must prioritise that message from children over rules that have too often failed to keep them safe.”
Yet, three weeks into the lockdown, when relationships could not be more important, it seems that most if not all councils are cancelling direct contact between children and their parents and siblings. Many councils are ceasing all contact with immediate effect, indefinitely. Can you imagine the fear and heartbreak a child feels to be told that they cannot see their parent or siblings? Or the fear that they might never see their parent or brother or sister again?
Remember, many of these parents have experience themselves of care.The Care Review told you what those experiences were. Many dread their children having the same experiences. The way that they are dismissed from their children’s lives without any consultation about what they and their children want and what might be better is a stark reminder of what needs to change, and what the promise was about. What is happening to children in care during this lock down?
Remember too that this is not a decision that is being imposed on the children of separated parents. The government has recognised that family relationships are vital and they must continue during the emergency. The Scottish courts’ website gives clear advice that orders and voluntary agreements can be implemented. Orders should be respected. There is of course leeway for flexibility and for parents to agree not to follow an order where for instance this would mean unacceptable risk to someone in a protected group by reason of age or health. But that is an individual decision to be made in each case by the parents and the children.
Once again, children in care are being subjected to rules made from on high, without explanation, without consultation, and without any consideration of the specific circumstances of each child.
Now that the initial phase of the lockdown is over, and social workers have time to think and plan ahead, PAR Parents Advocacy and Rights is asking that each case is considered on its merits.
The importance of continuity of relationships for children in care is recognised in our regulations and guidance, and councils have a duty to promote direct contact between children and their parents and families. This must be weighed in the balance when risk is being considered. So too should children’s and parents’ views and needs. For children in care, feeling loved and knowing that they important to someone is vital – having relationships suddenly ended is cruel.
Please make it clear that there must be a very good reason for breaching an order of a children’s hearing for contact between chidren and their parents to take place. This could be in the parents’ home if that is where children are used to seeing their parents, or it could be in the garden of a residential home or foster home, or in a park or other public space. If necessary, it could take place under social distancing, 6 feet apart, where children are old enough to understand this. If it has to be virtual via FaceTime or Skype or WhatsApp then social workers must take responsibility for providing parents and children with the resource to make this happen. Parents with no money, no smart phone, no wifi at home can’t just be left to make the arrangement. Please fund this.
Sadly, it seems to us that despite the Care Review’s Promise, there has been no change and high handed decision making has once again proved to be business as usual in the cruel world of care.
Please remember YOUR promise to children in care and to their families.
PARENTS, FAMILIES AND FRIENDS OF CHILDREN IN CAREi