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Lack of information on deaths of children in care is heart-breaking – watchdog

A new report monitoring progress towards improving the lives of children in care has highlighted a lack of information about deaths (Ian West/PA)
A new report monitoring progress towards improving the lives of children in care has highlighted a lack of information about deaths (Ian West/PA)

A lack of data on deaths of children in care has put Scotland in the “heart-breaking position” of not knowing why the number has risen and then fallen, a new report has said.

Deaths of “looked after” children, as well as those receiving continuing care and young adults receiving through care and after care, increased in 2019 and 2020, but then fell back last year, it said.

But the report, which examined progress made towards meeting “the promise” – a commitment to improve the lives of those in care – stated: “The cause behind the change is unknown, because this is data on a group of people for whom no additional information is collected.”

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.

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.”

The criticism  was contained in a report which warned that while progress was being made towards meeting the promise – described as being a “10-year transformational change programme” –  overall more needs to be done if this is to be fulfilled by the target date of 2030.

Fiona Duncan, chair of the oversight body set up to monitor efforts, was clear that “we need greater urgency across Scotland to deliver the change needed”.

The Promise Scotland Oversight Board’s first report told how the “continued lack of mental health provision for children and young people, and the lengthy waiting lists, are having a profound impact”.

The report highlighted the ‘profound impact’ of the lack of mental health provision (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The board also said it was “concerned that there is a lack of planning to end cross border placements” where children are put into care in other parts of the country “too far from their home”.

And there was a complaint that the data available was “insufficient for understanding children’s lives, and incomplete in providing information for us to properly do our job”.

The report said: “The way that data is predominantly used by the ‘care system’ has evolved to meet the needs of the ‘system’, rather than being founded on what matters to children, families and care-experienced adults.

“Too often it seems 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.”

Speaking as the report was published Ms Duncan 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.”

But she added: “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.”

While the report said change was not happening at the scale or pace needed, Ms Duncan stressed that “there is no one organisation that can be singled out and identified as getting it wrong”.

Instead she stated: “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.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney welcomed the report and the “continued focus and momentum to keep the promise”.

He said: “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.”