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Getting it right for children in care

Published: 3 Dec 2015 10:00

Successful programme expanded to find permanent homes for vulnerable children.

An innovative programme to improve timescales in securing a permanent home for children in care is to be rolled out across Scotland.

The Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) programme was established in 2014. It brings agencies and professionals from local authority agencies, health services, the children's hearings system, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and the courts to work together to improve and speed up processes in permanence.

The programme has been operating in partnership with Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Renfrewshire Councils since last year and has recently started in East Renfrewshire. A further three areas are due to follow this month – Dumfries & Galloway, North Lanarkshire and Shetland – with Fife joining in early 2016.

Minister for Children & Young People Aileen Campbell signalled the start of this national roll-out at a conference for professionals and other specialists working in this vital field.

Addressing delegates in Ayr, Ms Campbell announced a strengthening of the partnership with the Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland (CELCIS) to offer the PACE programme in all areas of Scotland.

Ms Campbell said:

"When a child or young person can't live at home, we owe it to them to make the process of finding a new, loving family as efficient and straightforward as possible. The PACE programme ensures more children have a permanent home more quickly by reducing drift and delay in the system.

"By bringing together key agencies we are seeing a much welcome and needed reduction in the time taken to find and support children into permanent homes that offer security and stability. Using small-scale tests of change to reduce delays in different parts of the process is leading to cumulative, sustainable improvements across the whole system."

The number of children adopted from care in 2013/14 (337) was more than double the number in 2006/7 (133). More than 1,200 looked after children have found legally secured homes through Permanence Orders since they were introduced in 2009.

The Minister added:

"In one of the areas the programme is running the time taken to make key decisions about a child's permanent home has been reduced by around three months as a result of the changes made. Another region is has changed its internal legal advice process that should save, on average, five weeks for each child.

"These changes did not need any more resources, staff did not have to take on additional responsibility, but the process was made more efficient which means a lot for the children involved who can get to their permanent home more quickly.

"Given these early successes and the interest from across the country, I'm pleased to announce our intention to offer the PACE programme to all areas of Scotland."

Jennifer Davidson, director of CELCIS, said:

"Stability is essential for all children, and looked after children and young people are no different. Children and young people regularly tell us how important stability and security are for them to reach their full potential. The many passionate professionals and teams we work with are wholly committed to reducing any unnecessary placement moves and delay for our looked after children.

"We are delighted that we will be able to reach and support more local authority areas through PACE, building on our learning about what makes sustained changes happen. It's the coming together across professional groups to resolve common challenges illuminated by sound information about children's care journeys which have been critical to the success of the programme so far."

Notes to editors

Scotland's Adoption Register has made 240 matches since Autumn 2011 and councils are now required to use it to find the best match possible, as quickly as possible.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government announced it would provide an extra £10.1 million to local authorities each year to ensure eligible kinship care families were paid the same as foster carers – improving the lives of over 5,200 children and avoiding councils facing legal challenge to address the discrepancy.

The PACE roll-out builds on the commitments set out in the new Looked-After Children strategy, launched last week. For further information on the strategy see here:

Watch this video to learn more about how practitioners in Aberdeen have been using improvement methodology in the PACE programme to reduce drift and delay and bring about better outcomes for looked after children:

National data about how long it takes children to achieve permanence is not available at present. From 2016/17 local authorities will be providing the Scottish Government with data about permanence for each child. This data will be used to promote improvements across the system. Funding has been provided to CELCIS to provide expert advice and support to local authorities to make best use of this data.