A Nation is ultimately judged on how it cares for its most vulnerable citizens. For most of my adult life, as a Social Worker and as a Politician, I have worked with, and campaigned for, the vulnerable in our Society. People with disability, the elderly, those living in poverty, have all been important challenges which I have addressed as best I could. Sadly, I often felt that I was armed with a sticking plaster to cure a cancer!
My bottom line, however, has always been to save the children. If that sounds trite or corny, I make no apology! Not only is it our duty to care for the children, it is the very future of our Society which is at stake. Too many of our children are “Born to Fail”, and that is why I was so delighted to hear Nicola highlighting Child Care as a top priority in her recent Conference speech. Theresa May talks about a fair society, while slashing benefits, Nicola takes action!
Scotland is a country facing a demographic deficit – too many of us “oldies” and not enough young people! We must value and nurture all Scotland’s young people. That is why I am so delighted that the Baby Box scheme is to be rolled out by the end of this year. In spite of the derision from the usual suspects, this is a splendid policy. If it was just about giving every new baby a layette to welcome them to the world, it would help many a poor family, but it is a proven package to reduce mortality in the first months of life. Cot deaths are not reserved to the poor or uncaring in our society. The fact is, however disturbing, that many infant deaths described as “cot deaths” are the result of the “over-laying” of a baby by a parent. This can be the result of a baby being placed in the parental bed and results in blocking the infant’s airwaves. Another cause of cot death is the placing of a young infant in an unsafe cot, where they get entangled with the spars. This is where the baby box package comes into play. The box itself is designed to serve as a safe bed for the first 3 months of a baby’s life. Guidelines to parents come with the package. Place baby on his/her back, do not cover baby’s head and do not allow the infant to get cold or overheat. The baby box scheme has been running in Finland for 80 years and that country has reduced its infant mortality rate from 10% to 0.2% – one of the lowest in the world! In my days as a social worker I worked with a few families who had experienced the loss of a baby through cot death. The sadness of the loss, combined with feelings of guilt, can last a life-time. It is to be hoped that these tragedies become rarer with the introduction of this initiative.
Good pre-school child care is an essential in our modern society, pre-school nurseries are not “holding pens” for children. They play a crucial part in a child’s development. The Scottish Government has a policy which gives 16 hours a week, (Term Time) free nursery care to 3 and 4 year olds. Unfortunately this has not been the boon to parents and their children that was envisaged. As Local Authorities currently allocate the funding for these free hours, some of them have chosen to cut or refuse funding to private nurseries – offering Local Authority nursery places instead. This has resulted in some children missing out on their entitlement, as the places offered were miles from the parent’s home or work and the hours offered, totally inflexible. Indeed, some small children have ended up in two different nurseries each week. Thank goodness the Scottish Government is reviewing this situation. In my opinion the best option is for parents to select a Nursery of their choice, and if this provider meets the required standard, then the Local Authority must provide the funding – in other words the funding follows the child.
I will close with a subject dear to my heart – that of the children in the care of the Local Authority (“looked after children”). These children can be being looked after in their own home with Social Work support, in Foster Care or in Children’s Homes. Make no mistake – these are OUR children and we have the responsibility to care for them as if they were our own. In Children’s Homes in particular we are sadly failing those children. The statistics are there for all of us to see, and it is indeed unhappy reading – only 6% of children in care go to University, almost half have mental health problems, and half the prison population is comprised of people who spent time in Care. When I worked in Child Care I thought of the placing of a child in a Children’s Home as the least worst option! Not because the staff were not committed and caring, but because the “rules” made it so difficult to give a child a much needed home environment with all the love, nurturing and guidance we give to children in our own homes. A wee example from my experience – a 13 year old boy spray-paints a wall in the neighbourhood. What would you do if it was your son? I would suggest a monetary punishment/ removal of say, computer time, and of course, the miscreant would have to wash the graffiti off the said wall. On this occasion the Children’s home called the Police. Just a little pen picture of the difference in the way OUR children in Care are treated! How pleased I was to hear Nicola announce a root and branch review in to the care of these, OUR young people.
In this piece I have spoken about the SNP Government’s plans for improving the care and nurturing of all Scotland’s children, and I salute them for this. However, I believe that all Scotland’s politicians and we as a Society, must focus on the necessity to Save the Children. It is our future too!