‘Best place in the world to grow up’?

Posted on 20/02/2014 by

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Children and Young People Bill is passed

Children’s Minister Aileen Campbell has welcomed Parliament’s backing for new laws to provide greater support for children and families, saying the reforms will ‘help Scotland become ‘the best place in the world to grow up’. The Bill was not passed without opposition, however – critics have expressed concern over a lack of clarity and say that the proposals have not been fully costed.

The Children and Young People Bill will deliver more funded, flexible early learning and childcare of at least 600 hours a year for three- and four-year-olds and the most vulnerable two year olds – delivering a saving of around £700 per child per family per year – from August.

Other provisions in the Bill will see:

• From April 2015, teenagers in residential, foster or kinship care who turn 16 gaining new rights to remain ‘looked-after’ up to the age of 21, as well as extended entitlement to aftercare up to their 26th birthday.

• New duties placed on Ministers and the wider public sector to promote children’s rights, as well increased powers given to Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner.

• Kinship carers gaining enhanced legal entitlements to assistance.

• Scotland’s National Adoption Register placed in statute, improving prospects for finding homes for vulnerable young children.

• Counselling and other support provided for vulnerable children and their families.

• Improved provision of advice and help when needed for children and families from early years to adulthood, including providing a ‘named person’ for each child – usually their health visitor or head/senior teacher – available as a single point of contact.

• Every primary 1 to 3 child gaining the option of a free school lunch from next January.

• Strengthened legislation on school closures, including new requirements and improved transparency for closure proposals, particularly in rural communities.

Ministers have set out their longer-term ambition to transform childcare provision and ensure every child from one to school age is entitled to 1,140 hours each year, if Scotland gains full control of its finances following a vote for independence in September. This can help boost economic activity and support around 35,000 additional early years jobs.

Ms Campbell added: “As I have always said, this Bill is a starting point for a significant expansion of high quality, flexible early learning and childcare. It sets the foundations for our longer-term aim to transform childcare provision using the full powers and resources of independence – enabling us to support more parents wanting to move into work by re-investing higher revenues from improved economic activity back into expanded childcare provision.

“Our approach is a phased, sustainable one, where we are focusing first on those families who are most in need and who will benefit most from an expansion of funded hours. Not only will this improve the life chances of children, it will also provide opportunities for parents and families to benefit from support into training or sustainable employment.

“In Scotland’s Future we have set out phased plans to achieve 1,140 hours per year for all children aged between 1 and 5, starting with an increase to half of all 2 year olds. The expansion set out in the Bill is a significant step towards realising that vision.”

Commenting on the Bill’s wider measures, Ms Campbell added: “This landmark Bill is testament to the ambition, hard work and dedication of many young people, their families and countless others who have backed them in their calls for improved recognition and support from public and other services as they move towards adulthood.

“The legislation is the culmination of extensive consultation and discussion with a wide variety of individuals and groups all with the best interests of Scotland’s children at heart. The measures will support children and families right across the country and will help secure a widely-held ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world for children to grow up.”

The legislation has been widely welcomed across the country. Director of Barnardo’s Scotland, Martin Crewe, said: “Children in care are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in Scotland and this Bill represents the biggest shake-up of the support we give them for nearly twenty years. It will help transform the lives of looked-after children for the better, ensuring that we begin to get it right for every care leaver in Scotland.”

There are some dissenting voices, however. Opposition MSPs raised concern that they were being asked to pass the bill without knowing the full cost of implementing the proposals, while other groups have talked about a ‘Big Brother’ state and argue that the universal  ‘named person’ approach will result in a reduced services for those that need them most.

Not so, argues Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, Jackie Brock, who said: “We appreciate and understand the concerns that have been raised by some groups regarding the Scottish Government plans for a named person, outlined as part of the Children and Young People Bill, but believe that some of the opposition to this element of the Bill is a result of a misunderstanding of what the named person will actually involve.

“The role of a primary point of contact available to all children and families, is a step towards ending silo thinking and is merely the formalization of practice that already exists across the country. It is not about creating “a snoopers charter” but instead will provide a safety net for those who need one, improving information sharing around vulnerable and potentially vulnerable children.”

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