This case study was written for Together’s 2016 ‘State of Children’s Rights’ report by Lizzie Morton, Policy Associate at CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland) based at the University of Strathclyde. CELCIS develop policy, practice and research through partnership work to make positive and lasting improvements in the wellbeing of children and young people living in and on the edges of care, and their families. The case study headlined the report chapter for Family Environment and Alternative Care.
Article 12 of the UNCRC requires the views of children to be respected, and for their opinions to be sought and listened to. Article 18 places a responsibility on governments to provide support services to parents and families, recognising the crucial role of parents in guiding their children. Both these rights should be realised when children are subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order (CSO) and ‘looked after at home’; however, this may not always happen.
Lucy lives at home with her mum and dad and her four younger brothers and sisters. Life is often chaotic and sometimes her parents struggle to look after everything properly. Lucy’s mum suffers from severe depression and her dad struggles with an addiction to alcohol. They find it hard to keep routines and boundaries in place, and often Lucy doesn’t go to school. When she was 13, Lucy was referred to a Children’s Hearing because of these issues.
Lucy’s found her Children’s Hearing difficult. There were many adults there she didn’t know, and her head teacher came, which made her feel like she was in a lot of trouble. Lucy didn’t really understand what would be talked about, and some things were discussed which she felt were very personal. Lucy didn’t say anything in the meeting because it was frightening and intimidating. The panel at the Hearing decided a Compulsory Supervision Order was needed and Lucy became ‘looked after at home’.
After the Hearing, Lucy didn’t notice anything really changing, except she knew she had to go to school every day or else she and her family would be in trouble. This was not easy to do, because her parents needed help at home with her younger brothers and sisters, and there was no one else to support the family. Lucy couldn’t concentrate in her lessons and she wasn’t achieving educationally like her class-mates. Her teachers told her off for not listening and not doing her homework.
Lucy had a social worker who spent time with her to try and understand her views. With her permission, Lucy’s social worker talked to her teachers about what was going on, and this helped to make things better at school.
Lucy is one of approximately 4,000 children who are looked after at home in Scotland. Children can be looked after at home for many different reasons when there are concerns that parents are struggling to manage without social services. These children have the poorest educational outcomes of all looked after children, including children who are looked after away from home in placements like foster care and residential care.
So what could be different for Lucy? The adults involved should have taken time to support Lucy though her Children’s Hearing. Her views should have been sought in a meaningful way, and should have formed the basis of the reports that were written. Lucy could have been supported to use the ‘Having Your Say’ forms to make sure everyone at the Hearing knew her views.
Lucy’s right to privacy should have been considered and her opinions taken seriously about who needs to know personal information. Plans to support Lucy and her family should be clear, and have Lucy at the centre. Plans should then be implemented. Any plans should be regularly reviewed and Lucy and her family given the chance to say if they are getting the help they needed. Her school should play a key part in ensuring her right to education is realised fully, and that she is supported rather than feeling guilty and afraid. Lucy should be able to rely on all adults being supportive like her social worker, who she knew would be kind to her, listen and help with her worries and identify possible solutions (more than worries).
Children like Lucy who are looked after at home need to be given the same priority as other children. They need support and nurturing relationships so that they have the same chances in life as every other child. Fortunately, Lucy’s experience is not the same as all children. The Scottish Government, Children’s Hearings Scotland, and other corporate parents are committed to improving experiences for all looked after children, including children who are looked after at home. By listening to the needs, fears and wishes of children and young people, services can continually improve, to effectively support children like Lucy.
Children looked after at home still live at home with their parents but are looked after by the state. Despite a decrease in the numbers of children looked after at home since 2010, they still constitute a highly significant proportion of children looked after in Scotland – currently over a quarter of Scotland’s looked after population. The families of children looked after at home often experience multiple, chronic problems such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and financial difficulties. Despite the numbers of children looked after at home, and the seriousness of the challenges they face, little is known about their or their families’ needs. See Together’s State of Children’s Rights report page 82 for further reading.