Caring for our children and young people: corporate parenting update 2018 to 2021

Second national report on corporate parenting by Scottish Ministers. In this 2018 to 2021 report, we provide an overview of corporate parents’ activities over the last three years, and how they have delivered their duties to support children and young people with care experience.

Chapter 2: Policy Landscape and Findings from 2015-2018 Review


In this chapter we first explain what corporate parenting is and who Scotland’s corporate parents are, before outlining the key findings from the first 2015-2018 review, thus setting a content and baseline to later chapters. We then provide an overview of the wider policy landscape in which corporate parenting exists. In particular we highlight the significant developments from the 2018-21 period, including the Independent Care Review and The Promise.

What is Corporate Parenting?

Corporate parenting is defined[1] in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and places a number of duties on public sector organisations to uphold the rights and safeguard the wellbeing of looked after children, young people and care leavers. The term[2] refers to an organisation’s performance of actions necessary to uphold the rights and secure the wellbeing of a looked after child or care leaver, through which physical, emotional, spiritual, social and educational development is promoted, from infancy through to adulthood.

In other words, corporate parenting is about certain organisations listening to the needs, fears and wishes of children and young people, and being proactive and determined in the collective efforts to meet them.

What are the duties of corporate parents?

Corporate Parenting Duties

  • Alert

    Consider wellbeing and be alert to matters which may affect care experienced young people

  • Assess

    Assess the needs of care experienced young people for the services and support provided

  • Promote

    Promote the interests of care experienced young people

  • Opportunities

    Provide opportunities to participate in activities promoting wellbeing

  • Access

    Make sure care experrienced young people can access opportunities and make use of services and support

  • Improve

    Strive to improve the way your organisation functions in relation to care experienced young people

As the Independent Care Review highlighted, the experience of being cared for must be normalised and free from stigma. Scotland should be a good parent and at every turn and in every setting, children must have access to safe, consistent nurturing relationships and environments that enable them to reach their full potential. Taken together these six duties provide an alternative definition of corporate parenting, and it is a corporate parent’s responsibility to ensure they take action to uphold the rights and promote the wellbeing of Scotland’s looked after children and care leavers.

Who are Scotland’s corporate parents?

  • Independent Living Fund Scotland
  • 32 Local Authorities The National
  • Convener Of Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • THe Scottish Ministers And Executive Agencies Of The Government*
  • SCRA The Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration
  • 14 NHS Health Boards
  • Healthcare Improvement Scotland
  • SQA The Scottish Qualification Authority
  • Care Inspectorate
  • The Scottish Social Services Council
  • Sportscotland
  • Police Scotland
  • SDS Skills Development Scotland
  • The Principal Reporter
  • The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  • The Scottish Legal Aid Board
  • CYPCS The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland
  • The Mental Welfare Commission For Scotland
  • The Scottish Housing Regulator
  • Bòrd Na Gàidhlig
  • Creative Scotland
  • Health And Social Care Partnerships
  • 7 Special NHS Health Boards
  • Further And Higher Education Bodies scottish Police Authority

*(this Is The Category That Includes Accountant In Bankruptcy; Disclosure Scotland; Education Scotland; The Scottish Prison Service; The Scottish Public Pensions Agency; Student Awards Agency For Scotland; And Transport Scotland).

Previous Learning – Findings from the 2015-2018 Report

Before considering the changing and developing policy landscape in which corporate parenting exists, we return to the findings from the first 2015-2018 review. Turning Legislation into Practice Together Report (2018) specifically highlighted the journey corporate parents were on and focused on strengths and areas of development. It also reflected on how the voice of children and young people had informed Corporate Parenting Plans, and how corporate parents were creative with the actions within their plans to maximise their input in order to achieve better outcomes from children and young people.

Key highlights and learning from the 2015-2018 review included:

  • Use of Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) programme methodology to test small changes to local practice.
  • The importance of regulatory and scrutiny bodies such as Care Inspectorate, Scottish Housing Regulator, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Scottish Social Services Council, Education Scotland and Commissioners, in holding other corporate parents to account.
  • The importance of regular monitoring and recording of issues and improvements.
  • The opportunity to build corporate parenting into other planning and reporting cycles.
  • The value of support from organisations funded to support corporate parents and how this could be tailored for maximum benefit.
  • The benefits of collaboration between corporate parents, and in particular the role of local Children’s Services Planning Partnerships.

Key challenges identified included:

  • Difficulties in identifying and/or engaging with care experienced children and young people. Many organisations recognised up front a need to be better at coordinating and collating the views of care experienced children and young people on an ongoing basis to inform planning or improve communication more generally. The report noted there was limited levels of success either due some organisations not readily knowing if a young person is care experienced or how to approach young people respectfully and through the appropriate channels available.
  • Inadequate IT/data collection. Depending on the category of corporate parent, there were a number of approaches where data is already collected to establish a baseline for engagement. But for those with less front-facing roles, they reported difficulties in understanding where their input would add most value.
  • Limitations of staff/resources. Different organisations and individuals understand corporate parenting in different ways depending on their statutory responsibilities and role. On a number of occasions, the 2018 report mentioned the need for staff training to better understand the role of being a good corporate parent. Young people fed back that many corporate parents did not know their full responsibilities/duties when speaking to them, nor did they offer advice on how other corporate parents could support them.
  • Inconsistency of support across the sector. This was highlighted mainly through the diverse range of corporate parenting plans, their actions and activities. Where organisations delivered their corporate objectives in isolation, there was potential for ineffective communication, delayed decision making, poor assessment of an individual’s needs and lack of person-centred support.

The 2015-2018 review also offered key messages from care experienced children and young people, including them:

  • Experiencing what they feel is impersonal support at times of crisis.
  • Experiencing unnecessary administrative barriers rather than a dedicated and transparent consideration of what can be done to support them in their specific circumstances.

Overall, the report demonstrated that greater success can be achieved where there is strong engagement with children and young people with care experience, strong partnership working and senior level support, clear corporate parenting goals and appropriate staff training. Four areas of focus were highlighted for the 2018-21 period:

  • Seeking the views of looked after children and young people and care leavers.
  • Assessing their needs and how they can be addressed.
  • Collaborating with other corporate parents to share learning and reach a wider care experienced population.
  • Securing support and understanding at senior levels of each organisation.

The Policy Landscape and the Key Policy Developments in 2018-21

The Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework outcome for children and young people is that ‘we grow up loved, safe and respected so that we realise our full potential’. The Framework sets out a vision for Scotland where children’s human rights are embedded in all aspects of society, where childhood is free from poverty, hunger, and abuse and where children’s life chances are enhanced by supporting families when they need it.

Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) continues to be the national approach to improving the wellbeing of children and young people in Scotland. Using a GIRFEC approach to improve the wellbeing of our looked after children, with the policy intention of The Promise at its heart, means that we are committed to putting the best interests of the child at the heart of decision making and taking a holistic approach to the wellbeing of the child.

Poverty is both a key driver and can be a consequence of many of the other wider societal issues that have been identified by children and young people with experience of care as particularly important to them. These issues have been highlighted by the Independent Care Review and identified in The Promise as needing to change. People with experience of care are more likely to experience poor mental health[3], homelessness[4], more likely to be excluded from school[5] and leave school with fewer qualifications, and less likely to go to a positive destination after leaving school[6], than their non-care experienced peers.

The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22 sets out the initial actions developed to meet the ambitious targets set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. The plan includes new actions on Fair Work, the costs of living, food insecurity, affordable credit, financial support for lower-income families and a number of actions to improve the quality of life for children now in poverty. Since the first corporate parenting report was published, some key stepping stones have been put in place to help deliver our vision to get it right for all children and young people. The world has also experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had significant negative impacts on the lives of children, young people and their families. This section highlights key developments with regard to the independent care review, our work to embed children’s rights, and how the needs of children and young people have been considered in our response to COVID-19.

The Independent Care Review and The Promise

The Independent Care Review was announced by the Scottish Government in 2016 as an independent root and branch review of the care system. Chaired by Fiona Duncan, and driven by care experienced people, the review commenced in 2017 and was one of the most substantial, ambitious and necessary reviews in the history of devolution. Over 5,500 people were engaged in developing its reports and conclusions, with over 2,500 of those being children and young people with lived experience of care. The Promise set out the need for fundamental change in the way children and families are supported and delivered a powerfully simple message: care must have love and nurture at its heart.

In 2020, the Scottish Government made its promise to the care community. The First Minister accepted the review’s conclusions in full, with cross-party support, and committed the Scottish Government to work along with local authorities, care providers and all relevant stakeholders and corporate parents, to make the changes identified in The Promise so that all children will grow up loved, safe and respected so that they can realise their full potential.

Since 2020, work has progressed aligned to The Promise’s ten year transformational change programme. The Promise Scotland has been established as a non-statutory company owned by Scottish Ministers and funded through a grant from The Scottish Government. The Promise Scotland’s role is to oversee the changes needed and support them to happen. The Promise Scotland published The plan 2021-24 in March 2021, outlining the priorities for the next 3 years; and The Change Programme ONE in June 2021, which outlines and assesses the work in progress to deliver these priorities.

Working collaboratively will be essential to transform how Scotland cares for children, families and carers and the Scottish Government is committed to providing a leadership role in driving the change required and to working alongside The Promise Scotland and other partners to realise this change.

Throughout the duration of the Independent Care Review, the First Minister heard first-hand from over 1,000 children and young people with experience of care. The key emerging themes from those discussions aligned with those emerging from the Review as well as from representative organisations of people with care experience, such as Who Cares? Scotland and the Scottish Through Care and After Care Forum. Scottish Ministers responded to these priorities by committing to a number of actions in the 2019-20 Programme for Government which included:

  • Promoting time for children and young people’s important relationships, specifically committing to keeping children with sisters and/or brothers together, where this is appropriate.
  • Improving access to dental care.
  • Extending entitlement to funded early learning and childcare.
  • Extending the entitlement to the Job Start Payment.
  • Working with local government to ensure young people with care experience and who are receiving qualifying benefits can obtain discretionary housing payments.
  • Removing the age cap on the bursary for students with experience of care.

Further detail on a number of these actions is provided in later chapters of the report.

United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

The UNCRC sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard. In March 2021, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, a landmark piece of legislation which would incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law to the maximum extent possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament, signalling a revolution in children’s rights in Scotland. Royal Assent for the Bill is not possible at this point as the Supreme Court has since ruled that certain parts of the Bill fall outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government remains committed to incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law to the maximum extent possible, as soon as practicable. While the reference means that the Bill cannot receive Royal Assent at this stage, we are considering with urgency the most effective way forward for this important legislation. The majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC can and is continuing.

Through the implementation of the UNCRC the rights of all children should be fully realised and protected. Respecting, protecting and fulfilling children’s rights is central to our commitment to #KeepThePromise and to Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC), which will continue to underpin how we love, care for, and support all children and young people in Scotland.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected every aspect of life in Scotland. The virus and public health measures necessary to suppress it had, and continue to have, a substantial, wide- ranging impact on our lives, our business and our public services. We know that the pandemic had a significant impact on children and young people, and a disproportionate impact on those who are care experienced. However, as set out in the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy it has created an opportunity for renewal, to tackle the root causes of inequalities, to prioritise whole family wellbeing support, and to ensure that those most in need of help know how to ask for it and how we are able to respond quickly, accessing appropriate services and building trusted relationships.

Stakeholder governance groups were established early in the pandemic to ensure that the Scottish Government response took account of the views, expertise and experience of stakeholders, delivery partners and those with direct experience of how children and families were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These included the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group and the COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group (CLG).

CLG developed an action plan, on the basis of intelligence gathered from a range of sources and direct experience of delivering support during the pandemic. The action plan included work to improve access to information on the support available to care leavers; raising awareness of corporate parenting responsibilities particularly amongst further education and higher education institutions; and providing a greater role for the Care Inspectorate in assessing the support and planning involved in what children and young people need to help them at key transition points in their lives including moving to independent living.

During the height of the pandemic, support for people with care experience in Scotland was prioritised by providing direct funding to organisations who had close contact with our young people and their families who were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Families were supported had needs concerning to digital connectivity, utility bills, mental health and wellbeing support and this was achieved through the distribution of digital devices, fuel and food vouchers as well as direct help from frontline statutory and third sector family workers to cope and reduce isolation. Funding was distributed via our third sector, social work teams, housing and communities, with the role of Children’s Services Planning Partnerships instrumental in ensuring a local joined-up approach.

Through this involvement, many families were assisted at a critical time. The speed at which this support was offered by corporate parents and partners was incredible and we are thankful for their support during these challenging times. With a recovery focused on the wellbeing of people, and aligning services to the needs of individuals, now, more than ever, is the time for bold, decisive, and collective action. We can help create a supportive and nurturing environment in which love is possible for everyone.

In Summary

Whilst much of the Scottish Government’s focus over the past 18 months has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, key government priorities have continued to progress. Whilst The Promise and the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots Law are in their early stages, there is a clear commitment to transformational change to improve outcomes for children, young people and families, particularly those who need extra support. The response to the pandemic has demonstrated effective collaborative leadership to address impacts on children, young people, families and carers. Lessons learned are already contributing to the collaborative work underway to put in place a whole system approach, improve coherence across the policy and delivery landscape and create a better Scotland for children, young people and their families, with a collective focus on the principles of The Promise in doing so.



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