Join the SIRCC Scottish referendum Child Care debate here


On September 1st, 2014,  the latest issue of the Scottish Journal of  Residential Child Care , edited by Laura Steckley on behalf of the Scottish Institute for Residential  Child Care invited Garry Coutts (against independence for Scotland)  and Mark Smith (for independence) each to provide an article expressing their views about the potential impact on child care in Scotland should the Scots vote to become independent on September 18th, 2014. Each author was also given an opportunity to write a riposte to each other’s original article The format of the Scottish Journal does not allow for immediate readers’  comments and the goodenoughcaring website has offered  a place for comment in response to these articles on its home page.
Which ever way the vote goes there is no doubt child care issues will remain of consequence but  there is also   – given how imminent the referendum day is   – an immediacy about these  issues and people may wish to comment and to ask others to consider and weigh up views and opinions right now.
To read Garry’s and Mark’s articles and their ripostes visit

To comment or join in discussion click on Comments on the banner line at the top of this page and email us.
Comments will be published on this page as we receive them.
Garry Coutts  is  Chair, NHS Highland, Assynt  House, Beechwood Park, Inverness, IV2 3 BW

Dr Mark Smith Senior Lecturer and Head of Social Work in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

The Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care is now a part of CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for the Care for Looked After Children in Scotland.



Charles Sharpe writes

Read Mark Smith’s article “How would social care be different in an independent Scotland?” published in The Guardian on 17th September, 2014. Link to article

From Jonathan Stanley

More thoughts on Scottish independence and English Residential Child Care.

That the Government has chosen to see Residential Child Care as an island is a block to integrated practice. This is one shadow cast but it provides openings too. It allows us to see the distinctive contribution residential options can bring to young people’s lives, individually and collectively, and as part of children’s services.

We will be able to make that progress when we are able to go beyond the current worry over a future for the sector. Even being corralled into a corner has its benefits for the sector. Through our identification as a concern for the fate of the group there has been a ‘gathering of the clans’.

We have been forwarding the ambition for a wider nuanced discussion on the appreciation that we need sophistication not simplification, sadly the Government reforms are small tweaks and follow from the latter. You get positive children’s homes in positive children’s services. What happens in children’s homes is a correlation of many factors within but crucially surrounding them. A supportive context for homes comes with a supportive response for all children. Perhaps the fact that in most cases we use children’s homes as a last resort is more obvious elsewhere in the lives of children too? This would suggest that the sequential use of interventions is widespread, leading to hierarchical thresholds to access the next step. This would suggest we do not make the right placement at the right time for the right child but other factors intervene. It would suggest that the ‘most appropriate’ placement principle is not being held. It would suggest we are needs-led in our response to children. It suggests we are a long way, maybe drifting steadily further away, from making the right placement first time.

English discussions have not recently addressed the ‘good society.’ However in any impending separation this often becomes the topic uppermost in minds. What are the values we desire for children’s services? The ADCS position paper ‘What is care for?’ [1] is more a command paper than an exploration. It is at odds to the values seen as the foundation for children’s homes in the future written by ICHA and TCRU[2] and agreed with by the DfE in their response to the Education Select Committee [3]. If they are at odds they ought not to be. A strong culture[4] demands that we are all on-task, no off-task or anti-task behaviour needs talking out. That the discussions all too easily are reduced to territorial claims and counter claims. Such ‘boundary skirmishing’ perhaps shows us there is something needing discussing? Our children’s services culture is variable, not in a reflective way, but prone to defences and resistances. Despair is not uncommon if you are at the bottom of the pile. Positively connoting this one could say that resilience has been demonstrated, not much Hope when suffocating and the shortage of breath looking like it will continue.

We have to get beyond the binary position. Splitting is a defence whereby our good/bad feelings can be projected into another person or group who become idealised or hated. So such ‘winners and losers’ perspectives might stem from the dread of being ‘found out’? Reports like Alexis Jay’s on Rotherham propel us to confront our Present.

In a set of scales developed by psychologists Jon Haight and others, moral values tap preferences for minimising harms/maximising fairness (often termed ‘individualising’), and concerns over group norms and rules (often termed ‘binding’). Graeme Brown and Gary Lewis used these to study some data exploring how psychological factors might predict Scottish independence sentiment. They found stronger moral sentiment for valuing individual rights and less concern for group norms appear to drive preferences for independence. Maybe this holds for Government thinking about children’s services?

Residential Child Care in England has nothing to lose by speaking out on the need for ethical values in to underpin child care/social work practices. It has been placed in a position where it can offer many pertinent observations.

The small voice is often the one we need to hear loudest.



[3] p5




Sandra Brown comments

I don’t know what the future holds for children in Scotland if it becomes independent, but I see that this debate was set up by the SIRCC which is concerned with residential child care. I know something about residential child care and my experience is that it is excellent when it is provided by people who really care about you and pretty awful when the care workers just see it as a job. So what Evelyn Daniel and Jonathan Stanley write makes the future look bleak. Will residential child care in an independent Scotland be better as Mark Smith says or is it all about money as Evelyn Daniel and Jonathan Stanley are saying ?  if it is just about money I think the whole existence of residential care needs to be questioned. If it is just a money saving exercise to deal with young people who are difficult to place in foster care then it will never work.


Charles Sharpe writes

I am sure Garry Coutts wants better care, education and health services for children and their families in Scotland but his dismissive approach to the referendum, (and therefore to 50% of the Scottish electorate), along with the dearth in his writing of ideas and proposals for the future of Scotland and its children suggests a smug contentment with the status quo. Yet here was I thinking that even the most ardently unionist argument must concede that the United Kingdom’s current political and economic system is failing to change the prospects of children from very poor and not so well off families and indeed it is making their situation worse.

In fact I am saddened how little Garry actually mentions children and families. He seems much happier submerged in the politico/ bureaucratic language that is a smokescreen hiding a void.

Mark Smith,  does spend time writing about children and families as if they are real people and I think he is right to ask us to consider Scotland’s culture and history as an inspiration for the way we would want all our children nurtured.

Scotland has always been ready to learn from, and seek  inspiration from, child care and education approaches in Europe and further afield.  Adding to this mix original and creative practitioners, writers and thinkers in the field of childhood, education, nurture and relationships like, for instance, John Aikenhead, Jane Arthur, John Burnside,  W.R.D. Fairbairn, James Kelman, R.F Mackenzie R.D.Laing, John MacMurray, Anne Mathams, Isobel Menzies Lyth, A.S. Neill, Aunty Phylis of the Aberlour Child Care Trust, Flora Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Iain Suttie, it can be seen that the large group of talented individuals currently working in different fields with children and families in Scotland have an abundance of historical and cultural sources and resources upon which to draw to sustain their already strong sense and passion for democracy and community.

As Mark implies, the Scots took Europe’s first steps towards local democracy (and I am not taking a sectarian stance here) when, from the early 18th century, the congregation of the church of each parish through its presbytery voted in its minister who in turn was responsible not only for  his congregation but also for supporting and educating the children of the parish. The ministers and the presbyteries appointed dominies who taught in the new parish schools. In this way the Scots had, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the most literate and numerate population in Europe. My view is that this democratic culture still imbues the whole of Scottish life, and it can still reach out to the wide margins of poverty. It is reasonable to argue that an independent Scotland, as a country small enough still to know itself as a community, will be in a better position at both a local and personal level to serve all its children and their families. Here I am not talking about “throwing money at problems” – though money is needed – but about a community which is in relationship with, and cares for, each one of its members. The United Kingdom signally fails to do this.

Charles Sharpe is a psychodynamic counsellor and psychotherapist. He also helps edit the website.



Ni Holmes comments

I cannot consider the opportunities that may emerge or be stifled on 18th September as a sideshow.  Now that better together are offering a timetable to plan for additional powers it seems to me that there is a clear direction of travel toward restructuring our society.  We will vote on 18th September to indicate how far we aspire to travel down that road.

Ni Homes is a consultant to a Scottish local authority’s Social Work Service working at all levels from policy to practice and across the full spectrum of social work and care services and also provides support externally to partner agencies.



Jonathan Stanley writes

The papers prompted me to reflect on the place of Residential Child Care in the English national conscience.

Though it was not our past more recently England has concretised individualised, responses to social problems. None more so than the ‘split off’ way children’s homes have been discussed with an attendant burgeoning policy framework that sees them as almost another country, and one without independence or self-determination allowable. [1] As created by English policy and practice the children’s homes sector provides last resort options for young people – young people arrive on average at 14.6 years old with many previous placements, staying a few months. [2] There is no space allowed for the positive use of residential options that might stem for example from asking the question, ‘What would Children’s Services look like if Residential child Care was seen as a positive’?

The discussions in England struggle to any interrogation of substance and are artfully and successfully kept only ever at the surface, policy and regulation are increasingly being separated from needs and provision.[3] Residential Child Care in England increasingly has neither choice or alternative, without the liberty to determine its own professional discourse or practice, its ability to be creative is prescribed and proscribed[4]

The understanding that had an appreciation of the need for collectively inspired provision has been consciously broken, further distancing looks a consequence of localism – Westminster from LAs, and LAs from LAs, LAs from providers. I am often reminded of Winnciott’s remark ‘the scatter of interested parties.’ We have not been successful even with the building blocks that might support a return of collaborative planning through the needs-led data collection that can underpin strategy to meet need. The right child in the right place at the right time, (first time even) requires data and an informed conceptual framework applied by everyone. In its place the peculiar English application of market economics has us focus on the instant of a placement/transaction. We have lost the space to consider social construction and context.[5]

Moving to the daily concerns regarding meeting the needs of young people I have raised with the DfE the matter of what happens after independence but have gained no interest as yet. It can be appreciated that given their tsunami of reform regulation [6] there is not an urgency that a new situation affects the historical relationship.

Throughout the reforms there is little appreciation that some young people’s needs are elemental. These young people may know no boundaries, international or emotional. In every sense our provision for them has often been a shared enterprise.

Recently we have been asked to assist local authorities in searches for young people with high level needs who have been in Scottish placements. For many reasons they had not been placed in provision in England. Their return southwards is to a sector already a scarce resource being made scarcer through attrition by regulation, regulator actions and a downward drive on fees by LAs.

The past has seen shared provision. I recall looking after Scottish young people in English provision. With independence can this continue as it has before? Let me explain.

The Children’s Homes and Looked after Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2013 came into force in January 2014.[7] These Regulations amended the Care Planning Regulations. The main changes introduce requirements for local authorities to consult and share information before placing children in distant placements and for the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) to give approval of these placements.

There will be circumstances where a distant placement will be the most suitable for a child, such as where the child concerned has complex treatment needs that cannot be met by services within the area of the responsible authority. There will also be children who require an out of authority placement to ensure they can be effectively safeguarded. Such placements will require effective planning, engagement and information sharing with the services likely to be responsible for meeting the child’s needs in the future.

The guidance for LAs concludes ‘the principles of effective planning that apply when considering out of authority placements in England apply equally to any placement by an English local authority in Wales.’ Nothing perhaps needed about Scotland when written. In what might be new circumstances the following current position would need affirmed as still being applicable :

Schedule 2, Para. 19 of the Children Act 1989, specifies that:

“(1) A local authority may only arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care [i.e. subject to a Care Order under Section 31] to live outside of England and Wales with the approval of the court” OR (2) … with the approval of every person who has parental responsibility for the child …”

There are additional requirements, set out in Paragraph 3, that a court will not grant approval unless satisfied that to do so is in the best interests of the child; that suitable arrangements are in place for where the child will live; and, the child capable of giving consent agrees to living in that country.

Any decision of a court to give or withhold its approval is subject to a right of appeal, and a court could rule that any approval it may have given does not have effect until the appeal has concluded.

By reason of Section 85 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, none of the above provision apply in respect of a local authority placing a child for adoption.

Jonathan Stanley is the CEO of the Independent Children’s Homes Association and Principal Partner of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care


[1] See Huffington Post blogs

2 DfE data set

3 See forthcoming consultations on Quality Standards and later Ofsted inspection framework

4 Home Truths

5 See Children England papers




 Evelyn Daniel comments

I know that in the kind of political campaign that has gone in Scotland a lot of hot air is talked,  many doomsday prophecies are made and a great deal of blue sky thinking is aired but before I make my response to Garry Coutts’s and Mark Smith’s articles and ripostes, I confess that my knowledge of child care and health services in Scotland is limited but if, as Mark Smith seems to imply, Scottish independence means that a Scottish government and Scottish local authorities are committed to purchasing and providing the major part of their own child care resources through the public purse I would want to hear more.

In England there are a number of excellent voluntary and private providers of child care services, but we have witnessed a trend in the last decade in which local authorities have gradually withdrawn from the provision of services and have encouraged private commercial organisations to take them over. Now that this is a well established project, we watch in despair the process of local authorities driving down the fees they are willing to pay to the private organisations they had in the first place persuaded to become providers. In this Dutch auction, economies have to be made and these reduce the quality of the service provided. This has meant that many excellent small providers previously offering a good quality of service could not sustain that level. Either they join the rush to the bottom or they withdraw because they are unwilling to provide a second rate service. There are always overly competitive commercial and less altruistic organisations (often quite large ones) willing to fill the vacuum this creates, and who, for the sake of  making sufficient profit to keep their shareholders content, lose site of the fact that their primary task is to provide good nurturing care for children and young people. These types of organisations increasingly dominate the scene.  In this way services to the most needy and the poorest of our children and young people have inexorably declined. Services to the poor just get poorer. There may be a place for small private enterprises to provide services for children but in my view the bulk of these services should be  funded and run by local authorities. In this way, even if it involves extra cost, all children will receive the care and support they need. This it seems to me is a more equitable way of doing things and from my distant perch I had thought that this is the direction of children’s services in Scotland.

I found Garry Coutts’s attitude towards dealing with inequality in all its forms at best sardonic. It is as if he’s saying that whenever attempts are made to deal with redistributing wealth little is achieved apart from actually widening the gap between rich and poor. I wondered why he doesn’t put forward new ideas which would address improving the life experience of poor and troubled children and their families in Scotland. He suggests structures are already there to deal with these issues. My experience in recent times is that structures and machinery are no help to troubled children, but committed loving adults, supported by a sympathetic community, are.

There is a measure of idealism in what Mark Smith writes but I feel myself more sympathetic to his tone. Drawing from its history and culture he suggests that an independent Scotland will be in a good position to spread wealth more equally and so provide a consistently high quality of child care services. He speaks of “individuals” and “relationships” rather than distant phrases like “curriculum for excellence”. If  Mark Smith’s prognostications about child care, health and education in an independent Scotland are right, I would wish the Scottish independence cause well and be concerned that we in England should learn from the way an independent Scotland cares for all its children.  What a time it is for Scotland and the United Kingdom !

Evelyn Daniel is a Child Care Services Manager in London