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Stability for children in care
New laws to improve stability for young people in care and minimise upheaval as they grow up were unveiled today.
The measures will lead to better long-term planning by councils for children in care to ensure both their immediate and future needs are fully considered.
The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 Regulations and Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 - which follow extensive consultation with interest groups across Scotland - will:
- provide children in care with more certainty and stability about their long-term future with a new family through the introduction of Permanence Orders
- ensure the network of wider family and friends is considered first for care placements, if in the child's best interests
- improve the planning and reviewing of care arrangements to help reduce the number of different homes that children are placed in and ensure appropriate family support if the young person is to return to their parents
Children's Minister Adam Ingram said:
"In an ideal world there would be no need to remove any child from their birth parents but sadly that is not the reality and I am determined to ensure young people in care get the best support possible as they grow up.
"The decision to take a child into care is always made on the best interests of the young person and the numbers are increasing, suggesting those in need are being identified and agencies are intervening to get them support and security.
"Yet it is crucial that we minimise further turmoil for these young people and we don't want to see them being moved around on a series of unsettling short-term placements.
"That's why we have listened to views and are moving to ensure stability and the child's long-term needs are treated as a priority, whether that means exploring what support their parents would need for them to return or looking at the alternatives. If it is best for the child, the network of wider family and friends should also be considered first for placements.
"We're clear that outcomes for looked after young people must get better and last year we launched measures to improve their educational achievement. Yet life chances also depend on children being happy and settled with a sense of belonging which is why these regulations are so important."
The new legislation - which comes into force in September - will compel councils to consider the child's long-term needs from the earliest planning stage and make ongoing reviews to ensure stability. It will also lead to more flexible arrangements for children where adoption is in their best interest and widen the range of potential adopters and foster carers.
The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 - which was passed in the Scottish Parliament with widespread support - will also remove the restriction on same sex couples adopting, bringing the law into line with existing practice. Currently, one partner of a same-sex couple who are living together can adopt while the legislation will allow them to adopt as a couple.
Mr Ingram added:
"This government is clear that the most important concern is meeting the needs of the child, regardless of the potential carer's sexual orientation. Where adoption by a same-sex couple is the best option for a child, that route should be available. That's what already happens through existing laws and what this legislation strengthens."
The Fostering Network (TFN) Scotland Director Sara Lurie said:
"We welcome the legislation and the opportunities that this will present to give children who are looked after more security as they grow up. The Fostering Network also welcomes the positive moves to increase the range of people who may adopt or foster recognising that there are significant shortfalls in the numbers of foster carers across Scotland.
"The Fostering Network wants to see every child who needs to be cared for away from home being provided with a placement with carers who can best meet their needs."
British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) Scotland Director Barbara Hudson said:
"We welcome the regulations, which provide the information about what the many professionals and organisations, including local authorities, involved in the lives of children have to do to fulfil the aspirations of the new legislation. Improved support for adopters and a wider range of potential carers are just two examples of the provisions of regulations."
National consultations on the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 Regulations and Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 ran from June 2008 until January this year. The legislation begins being introduced to parliament this week.
The legislation was developed in response to an Adoption Policy Review Group report in 2005 which made recommendations to improve, modernise and extend the legal framework for providing security to children and young people in care.
Guidance to help local authorities and other agencies implement the new regulations is being developed by BAAF and TFN.
Permanence Orders will replace a number of existing court orders for children in care which councils can apply for, allowing greater flexibility to meet the young person's needs.
In September 2008, the Scottish Government published These Are Our Bairns - the first document in Scotland to set out the role and responsibilities of everyone who are responsible for our looked after children.
The term 'looked after' refers to children who live with foster or kinship carers, in residential schools or care homes or who live in secure units. It also includes children subject to a supervision order from a Children's Hearing but living at home with their birth parents or other family members.