The Scottish Labour Party has reiterated calls for more children to be taken into care in a debate on child protection in the Scottish Parliament last week.
The debate followed the publication this month of a summary of inspection findings by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, which said 23% of council child protection services were weak or unsatisfactory, and concerns raised over the death of Brandon Muir.
Following two reports on the case last month, Labour leader Iain Gray suggested the law should be changed to make it easier to take children into care, amid particular concerns over widespread parental substance misuse.
Last week’s debate was triggered by a Labour motion raising “grave concerns” about the state of child protection, and calling on the SNP government to take more action on identifying children at risk from parental substance misuse.
Opening the debate, Labour’s further and higher education spokesperson Claire Baker said the proportion of underperforming councils was “far too many” and suggested more children needed to be removed from substance misusing parents.
“It is not easy dramatically to increase placements for children who are removed from their homes, but we cannot stand back and leave children with parents whose addiction puts them at risk every day,” she said.
Review of child protection guidance
Baker welcomed actions taken by the government, including announcing a review of child protection guidance, but said it had not gone far enough.
Minister for children and early years Adam Ingram said the government recognised that there was “room for improvement” on child protection and cited a number of actions it had taken, including:-
- Reviewing child protection guidance.
- Asking the HMIE to carry out a second round of child protection inspections.
- Tripling investment in tackling alcohol misuse to just under £120m from 2008-11.
Placing an emphasis on supporting families, he said calls to take more children into care were an “oversimplification of a complex problem”.
Ingram pointed out that 50% more children were looked-after away from home in Scotland compared with England, relative to population, and the number of children in care had increased by 27% since 2004.
Conservative MSP Elizabeth Smith of mid Scotland and Fife agreed with placing an emphasis on parents, saying many child protection cases could be prevented if parents were supported and equipped with the “appropriate skills”.
She added: “I understand the call to remove children from parents whose behaviour puts them in danger, but we must not delude ourselves about the numbers involved.
“Children’s panel members will be the first to tell us that not even using multi-storey tower blocks in each area of Scotland could cope with all those suffering from parental neglect.”
Former social worker and SNP member Christina McKelvie accused Labour MSPs of attacking frontline professionals and said its motion for the debate was “an epistle of doom”.
She added: “The motion conveniently ignores the 77% of inspection reports in which child protection services were rated as good and as having already reached the standard that others are striving for.”