Together member: Who Cares? Scotland
If a child cannot be looked after by their immediate family, the government must give them special protection and assistance. This includes making sure the child is provided with alternative care that is continuous and appropriate to the child’s needs.
“The Scottish Government should commit to making the experience of being in care a story of love, stability and care.”
Ryan McShane MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)
Statistics show that young people with care experience face more barriers to accessing higher education than their non care experienced peers. In 2016-17, while 68% of all school leavers were in further or higher education, this figure was only 33% for those who had been looked after for part of the preceding year. This has a clear impact on care-experienced young people’s rights to education, support from the state, and non-discrimination. Scottish Government has acknowledged this inequality and the need to improve the situation for care experienced young people.
The Care Experienced bursary, introduced by the Scottish Government in 2017, aims to create equal opportunity and access to college and university. It is available to care experienced students aged under 26. The current amount received is £8100, reflecting the living wage, and helps students cover study-related costs, including general living costs. Following recommendations from Scotland’s Independent Review of Student Financial Support, the Scottish Government extended the bursary to care experienced students on non-advanced college courses.
The Care Experienced bursary has been widely welcomed as supporting young people’s right to specific care and attention, education and non-discrimination. However, inconsistencies in practice have caused difficulties for some young people. Who Cares? Scotland notes that there is a lack of clear guidance around what the bursary is to be used for. There is anecdotal evidence that differing interpretations of the bursary has resulted in some young recipients being asked to pay for things, such as accommodation or food, which were previously provided free of charge.
“The advocacy worker was contacted by a young person within a local authority children’s house looking for some support. The young person had recently started college and was in receipt of the Care Experienced bursary. The young person was told by the staff in the house that they must start paying weekly ‘dig money’. The young person’s views were not sought, the decision was not explained to them – they were simply told to start paying.
… the young person does not believe they should be paying rent in a children’s home when the council has a duty to them as a corporate parent to provide this care. This is not normal for a young person living in care and the practice of paying ‘rent’ is not set out in governmental guidance
(Report from Who Cares? Scotland advocacy worker.)
Who Cares? Scotland notes that whilst the bursary is to be celebrated, implementing it incorrectly can result in unintentionally punitive effects for some young people. Unless young people are able to use the full bursary given, there is a continuation of the situation whereby care experienced students are economically more disadvantaged that their non-care experienced classmates. Accordingly, Who Cares? Scotland has recommended clearer guidance be directed at local authorities and care providers, to ensure that individuals at all levels understand the bursary and how it is to be implemented. Incorporation would help ensure that the Care Experienced Bursary is implemented consistently and fully in line with care experienced young people’s rights under the UNCRC. Care experienced young people have asked Scottish Government to ensure that they are not just “surviving”, but rather “thriving” – incorporation would help create the positive rights culture and environment needed to achieve this.