The Independent Care Review has this morning published one of the most significant reports we will consider in this term of Parliament.
Indeed, I consider this to be one of the most important moments in my tenure as First Minister so far.
I am making this statement today to underline my political and personal commitment to turning its vision of how we must care for our most vulnerable young people into reality as quickly as possible.
I don't mind saying, I felt very emotional when I read ‘The Promise’ - the report’s main volume.
There is a really powerful simplicity to what it says we - and most importantly the young people who experience it - should expect from a good care ‘system’.
It should have love and nurture at its heart. Wherever possible, families must be supported to stay together.
When that’s not possible, the relationships that matter to young people - particularly with brothers and sisters - must be protected.
And the priority when a child needs our care must be the provision, not of a series of placements or arrangements driven by the needs of bureaucracy, but of stable, safe, secure, loving homes that allow them to experience the joys and the normal challenges of growing up, and to fulfil their potential in life.
None of that should be at all controversial.
But it distresses me - as I am sure it does all of us - that this is not the experience for all young people who are in, or who have passed through, our care.
To be blunt, we let too many of them down. They pay the price of that for the rest of their lives. And in too many instances, the price can be a life cut short.
The statistics have always told us that. But in this report we hear it directly from the young people we have a responsibility for.
And this is not just true in Scotland. There is possibly no country in the world where the Care Review’s vision of care is yet a living reality.
The opportunity for Scotland as a result of this report is to become the first country that makes it so.
And I am determined that we do that.
I want today to put on record my sincere thanks to Fiona Duncan, and to all of the review group members, for all the work they have put into this report. They have done, in my view, a truly outstanding job.
I also want to pay tribute to Who Cares? Scotland - a driving force behind the review’s creation.
Perhaps the most important achievement of the review - the reason its conclusions are so powerful - is that it has the voices of people in care at its heart.
People with experience of care made up half the review’s co-chairs and working group members.
The review listened to more than 5,500 people - more than half of them were children, young people, adults and families with direct experience of care. The others were paid and unpaid care workers. Their stories have shaped everything in this report.
I want to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of those 5,500. I know that sharing stories about painful and traumatic personal experiences is not easy.
However by doing so, you have all helped make things better for children and young people in the future.
And I know that the care experienced voice in this report is real. Since 2016, I have met personally with just over a thousand young people who have experienced care.
I will carry these conversations in my heart for the rest of my life.
Indeed, some of the early ones led directly to the creation of the review.
And as I read the report, I heard from every single page the voices and the stories of the kind of people I have met.
And, let me make clear, I have met so many young people with good experience of care who are doing brilliantly.
I have also met many who are doing brilliantly even though their care experience was not good - that is down entirely to their talents and their resilience.
I have also seen first hand the dedication, commitment and passion of those who work in our care sector - and I want to thank them for it.
But I’ve also heard far too many heart breaking stories.
Because despite the best efforts and intentions of everyone involved, the actual experience of too many people in care is not what they have a right to expect.
The world described in today’s report – of a care system that feels fractured, bureaucratic, unfeeling, stigmatising, and mired in impersonal language like placements, contact and respite to describe what should be loving relationships - is one that I have had recounted to me many times.
That must change.
That is why the vision and blueprint for transformational change set out in ‘The Promise’ is so vitally important.
At its heart are five foundations of care.
Firstly, voice: children must be heard and listened to in all of the decisions about their care.
Second, family: whenever possible, families should be supported to stay together with their children. Our first priority should be to do all we can to keep children out of care and with their own families.
Third, care: where living with their own family isn’t possible, children must stay with their brothers and sisters where safe to do so, and they must belong to a stable, loving home.
Fourth, people: those in the workforce and wider community who look after children must be well supported so that they in turn can provide compassionate care and decision making.
Fifth, scaffolding: the system that surrounds all of this - the system of help, decision-making, support and accountability - must be more supportive and responsive.
The report also makes an important but also very challenging point about risk. We must always consider the immediate risk of harm to a child when decisions are made about care.
But we must also consider the risk created when we remove a child from their family, or over-burden their childhoods with bureaucracy - the risk then is that we compound their trauma and make it harder for them to enjoy stable, loving, long term relationships.
Protecting family relationships - and above all allowing children to enjoy the kind of childhood that others take for granted - is often the best way of protecting children from harm.
The report also sets out very clearly the direct costs of supporting children in care and also the hidden costs of the failures of care - the long term human and financial costs that are borne, not just by society, but by the individuals whose experience of being let down by care impacts negatively on their life chances.
I hope all members will take the time to read the report in full. I have tried to summarise its principles and key conclusions as best I can - but in the short time I have available I can’t possibly do justice to the detail of the 80 specific changes that it recommends.
What I can and will say unequivocally is that I am determined to get on at pace with implementing it.
That will involve practical change at every level - but more fundamentally it will require a transformation in the culture of care.
As the review has been doing its work, the Scottish Government has already made some changes - for example, the introduction of the care experience bursary
But today’s report leaves no room for doubt that we must do more - and we must do it more fundamentally, more systematically and more quickly.
A radical overhaul is what the review demands and that is what we have a duty to deliver.
I want to be clear, though, that we will continue to listen to care experienced voices who have additional ideas and suggestions to make. There is not and never will be or should be a closed door.
But we will act straight away to implement ‘The Plan’ section of the report.
There are two key immediate elements to this.
The first is the establishment of a team to take the report and turn it quickly into a detailed delivery plan.
And although the report recognises that full implementation of its vision will take time, the process of change must and will start immediately.
The second is the creation of an independent oversight body.
I can confirm that both groups will include people with experience of care. In fact, half of the members of the oversight body – including the Chair, who will be from outside the Scottish Government - will be people with experience of care.
These groups will ensure we keep up the momentum that has been established by the review. The Government aims to make progress in a matter of weeks and will update parliament regularly thereafter.
Throughout the care review process I have been struck by the fact that – for ministers in particular but actually for all parliamentarians – the responsibility we owe to young people in care is a very special one.
In fact, ensuring that they have an equal chance to succeed – that they benefit from the stable, loving relationships that so many of us took for granted when we were growing up – is one of the most important duties we have in public life.
It is one that I take very seriously and very personally.
Today’s report makes the need for action overwhelmingly clear. It sets out the extent of our obligations. However it also gives us an opportunity – the opportunity to change thousands of young people’s futures for the better.
The Scottish Government is determined to take that opportunity.
We will work with local authorities, care providers and all other relevant partners to make the necessary changes to care.
We will deliver that change as quickly and as safely as possible - and starting now.
And we will ensure that people with care experience remain at the heart of the process.
That is the Promise I make today to all those - past, present and future - who need our care.
In keeping that promise, as I am determined to do, I look forward to robust challenge but also, I hope, to the cross party support, interest and engagement of this Parliament.
I commend this statement.
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