Fostering and adoption in Scotland 1980-2010.

Author:Maclean, Kirstie

Kirstie Maclean and Barbara Hudson identify differences in context, policy and practice, as well as the greater emphasis on children's rights and use of residential care, that distinguish Scotland from its neighbours 'down south'. Similarities and future aspirations for looked after children are also discussed.

Although the Act of Union came into force in 1707, Westminster continued to debate and pass separate Scottish domestic legislation until the devolved Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 and took over this role. This has inevitably led to a number of policy and practice differences, for instance Children's Hearings rather than courts for most child welfare and criminal cases, no custodial establishment for under-16s (although proportionally higher use of secure care), one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world (8) and gay and lesbian couples barred from fostering until 2009.

There is also a significantly different social, cultural and geographical context. Some examples are: much higher levels of parental drug and alcohol issues (2% to 3% of children in England and Wales and 4% to 6% of children in Scotland were estimated to have one or both parents affected by serious drug problems [Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, 2003]); until recently, more outward than inward migration and relatively low numbers of black and minority ethnic inhabitants; and a land mass which, although half the size of England and Wales, has only one-tenth of the population. We have one local authority (Highland) which is the size of Wales and three tiny island authorities (Shetland, Orkney and Eilean Siar), all with populations of less than 27,000. Two further differences of emphasis have been a consistent, long-term focus on children's rights and greater use of residential care. Who Cares? Scotland was established in 1978 as an advocacy organisation run by and for looked after young people and has gone from strength to strength ever since. The Scottish Child Law Centre was established in 1989 and Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People was appointed in 2003. Residential care has had a more favourable reputation than in England and has not usually been seen as a 'last resort'. It has attracted both more government attention (eg Social Work Services Inspectorate [SWSI], 1992; Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care [SIRCC], 2010) and funding. (SIRCC, founded in 2000, is almost wholly government funded.)

In spite of these differences, many of the trends and developments in adoption and fostering over the last 30 years have mirrored those 'down south'. At times, Scotland has been in the forefront of change and development led by practitioners, academics or government, and at times it has lagged behind.

Permanence planning was being pursued in some areas of Scotland by 1980 (Lindsay Smith, 1979; McKay, 1980); different aspects were soon being examined, such as the timing of introductions (Kerrane, 1979), use of adoption allowances (Hill and Triseliotis, 1986; Triseliotis and Hill, 1987), placements of children with disabilities (Macaskill, 1988) and post-placement and post-adoption support services (O'Hara, 1986; Triseliotis, 1988; Hoggan, 1991; Lambert et al, 1992). Outcomes were increasingly considered (Fallon etal, 1983; Triseliotis, 1985; O'Hara and Hoggan, 1988; Hill et al, 1988; Borland etal, 1991).

Developments were also taking place in foster care in the 1980s and early 1990s, although, with the exception of Professor Triseliotis's prolific and invaluable research (eg Triseliotis, 1978, 1983 and 1989), this has been less well recorded. Specialist schemes for teenagers (O'Hara and Dewar, 1988) and for children with disabilities were established and new ways of working with children, such as group work, pioneered (Sim and O'Hara, 1982).

On the whole, the mid- to late 1990s and early years of the new century were considerably quieter periods for developments in foster care and adoption. There were probably a number of...

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