THE Scottish Government has a very clear vision behind its children and young people (Scotland) bill – to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. At the end of last year, the bill completed its stage one passage through the Scottish Parliament.
This is a once-in-a generation piece of legislation which has the potential to transform lives – and so I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that the minister had 15 minutes to introduce the bill and MSPs had less than five minutes each to contribute to a debate which felt considerably shorter than stage one sessions of bills gone by.
I was even more disappointed that there was no discussion of how the bill will meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society. As a valued colleague in the sector commented in the usual flurry of emails which follow these debates: “for obvious and good reasons, virtually all of the attention focused on what is in this complex and wide-ranging bill; unfortunately, this meant that next to nothing was said about what is missing from – but should be in – this legislation”. And this meant that the needs of disabled children and their families were entirely absent from the stage one debate in parliament.
Enable Scotland has been working with organisations under the banner of the For Scotland’s Disabled Children (FSDC) and the Putting the Baby In the Bathwater coalition, to identify constructive suggestions to inform the development of a bill which will lead to real improvements in the lives of disabled children and young people, and their families.
It has been really exciting to be part of these discussions with colleagues, to speak with our members about their lived experiences to inform our positions, and to see organisations working constructively together to join forces and identify the common issues which matter most to the groups of children and families we represent.
I am proud that I am now working within a sector which is less concerned about name checks in debates and more concerned with identifying the bigger structural issues which can be addressed through legislation to benefit the majority of the people we represent. The last thing anyone needs or wants is an argument about which groups are more vulnerable, and therefore more deserving of having new duties reflected in law.
At the same time however, it cannot be representative of the needs of our society that disabled children and families are entirely missing from the Stage 1 debate in Parliament, and so far, in the bill as amended at Stage 2. This is not for want of trying on our part, and on the part of some MSPs who have raised the needs of disabled children and their families at committee.
As organisations representing the views of disabled children and families, we have collaborated across the sector to issue written evidence, debate briefings, and spent time meeting with Scottish Government officials, who have been very generous with their time and keen to listen.
While we know the intentions of the bill are to universally benefit all children and young people, experience teaches us that without a clear and strong steer from legislation, the needs of disabled children and young people can all too often be missing in local service planning. There is, rightly, a clear focus on improving outcomes for looked after and accommodated children and young people in the bill. I can see no good reason for not extending that vision to include disabled children.
MSPs have a crucial chance to ensure that the bill delivers its intentions of improved outcomes for disabled children and young people by focusing scrutiny and further amendments to strengthen the bill around the following top four issues for disabled children and their families: transitions to adult services, early years, family support and routes of redress. We will play our part by working to influence across the chamber to make sure that this is a bill that delivers for Scotland’s disabled children. Will our MSPs?