13 Jun 2010

Speech on Getting It Right for Every Child 3rd. December 2009

There is no doubt that, as is wider civic society in Scotland, all members are committed to the principle of getting it right for every child. It is a principle that is based on common sense, a caring philosophy and understanding. The minister is right to talk of the progress that has been made—progress that all parties, those in the previous Administration and this one, supported. He was also right to point out some of the issues that are essential if getting it right for every child is to be implemented effectively. We need joint leadership, commitment, training and a single planning process.

It is also right to pause and reflect on some of the challenges that face us. It would be wrong to dwell solely on all the positive things that are happening and to be blind to the risks and dangers. I was shocked—as I am sure other members were—to hear the statistics that Duncan McNeil articulated. If nothing else, hearing his encapsulation of the figures, which are in the public domain, should make us pause and question whether Parliament and ministers need to investigate the situation further. We heard the horrendous death toll of vulnerable youngsters in this country. We rightly talk of our shock and horror at deaths from drug addiction and say how committed we are to dealing with the problem, but we seem to say little about those 144 children, the plight of whom Duncan McNeil raised. Perhaps a warning bell should be rung on the issue.

I turn to Angela Constance's speech. As she said, there is never room for complacency. She pointed out that only 12 councils were given excellent reports and also, rightly, that satisfactory was not good enough. She would not accept a satisfactory rating for her child. Like her, I would not accept a satisfactory rating for my grandchildren. I am sure that no member would accept satisfactory for any child who was associated with them.

I repeat what I said in a previous debate on the very point about the HMIE reports that Angela Constance raised:

"If a school were to get a 'satisfactory' report in an HMIE inspection, there would be an inquiry into the school's performance because that would not be good enough. A 'satisfactory' report is barely scraping a pass."

In terms of HMIE definitions, "barely scraping a pass" is essentially a "satisfactory" report. I went on to say:

"I refer to 'The Summary of Indicative Quality Indicator Results from HMIE inspections, 2009', which reveals that out of 30 councils, 16 are barely passing or are failing on the quality indicator that 'Children's needs are met'; 24 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on the 'Recognising and assessing risks and needs' indicator; 17 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on 'Operational planning'; 17 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on 'Leadership and direction'; and 18 are barely scraping a pass or are failing on 'Leadership of change and improvement'."—[Official Report, 24 September 2009; c 19945.]

That is not good enough for our children and should not be good enough for anyone here or anyone who has any influence to do anything about it.

There is still a challenge. Members are right to point to professionals' commitment and to the challenging and difficult job that they do. However, we ignore at our peril the damning indication of weaknesses in our system. If we do that, the figures to which Duncan McNeil referred will continue to grow, which is unacceptable.

We need to look at what is happening as a result of our actions. I refer to Parliament collectively—I am not trying to damn the present Administration, because the problems have existed for a number of years. Collectively, we need to do something to achieve more success. What are we achieving from our political and resource input?

Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): In the light of the reassurances that I have repeatedly received in Parliament in response to questions about home visiting, and given the figures that Mary Scanlon cited, I am extremely concerned. Does Hugh Henry agree that there is a strong case for the Government to institute a review of the national health service's provision of home visiting, which seems to be failing? It might even want to ask Audit Scotland to become involved in that review.

Hugh Henry: We are duty bound to review any area of activity in which there is a sign of weakness. Home visiting is critical, because often it can pick up some of the weaknesses and dangers that Duncan McNeil highlighted. I hope that ministers will listen carefully to what Robin Harper has said.

Do we spend enough time listening to our children and young people and to the concerns that they articulate? Often, when I speak to teachers and health workers, I hear stories of young children pouring their hearts out about the circumstances that they face at home because of their parents' addiction to alcohol or drugs. Are we listening to them? Do we sometimes brush them off when their behaviour is a bit aberrant, without understanding what is causing that behaviour?

This comes back to Robin Harper's point: are we spending enough money to ensure that we achieve the desired outcome? The voluntary sector in Scotland—as the statutory services are—is under pressure and struggling. There are cuts and redundancies in many voluntary organisations across Scotland, but we depend on high-quality services to make a difference. As the minister and others have said, we need to improve information sharing and to ensure that our GIRFEC principles are at the heart of any proposed legislation.

My final point relates to our children in care, both those who are looked after in foster care and those who are in residential care. For years, we as a society have failed those children. It is remarkable how some survive and, indeed, thrive, but too many are left vulnerable to homelessness, addiction and prison once they leave care. We need to put that issue back at the heart of our commitment and discussion, in order truly to make a difference for every child in Scotland.