Issue 20


By Martin Dorchester, Chief Executive, Includem

Last year I attended a wonderful performance at HMYOI Polmont called “Motion” - a show exploring questions of identity and what it means to be a young man in Scotland today. While there I spoke with some young men who had been appointed peer mentors. I asked one if it felt like he had a 2nd chance now. He looked at me and said “When did I get a first f*****g chance?”

I was reminded of this conversation recently when I read an article about the top 10 challenges facing young people today (1).

1. Lack of employment opportunities
2. Failure to succeed in education system
3. Issues related to body image
4. Family problems
5. Substance abuse
6. Pressures of materialism
7. Lack of affordable housing
8. Negative stereotyping
9. Pressures of 24-hour social networking
10. Crime

The rate of exclusions among care experienced children shows 169/1000 compared with 27/1000 in the general school population. We know anecdotally that the rate of informal exclusions is even higher. Trauma, mental ill health, stigma, frequent placement moves and chaotic living arrangements are all examples of how a looked after young person’s experience of education can be a negative one. With such poor experiences it is unsurprising that 73% of looked after young people leave school before the age of 16 compared with 27% of all school leavers. Only 4% of looked after young people went straight on to higher education, compared to 39% of their non-looked after peers!Firstly, to clear up a misconception: The main reason children and young people go into care is for their own care and protection. In 2016/17 only 20% were referred to the Children’s Hearing System based on offence grounds. However, whatever the reason, once in the care system, their life chances deteriorate.

Scottish Government figures show care experienced school leavers continue to have lower attainment than other school leavers. 61% of all school leavers have at least one qualification at level 6 or better versus only 16% of leavers in care. Children in care are less likely to be in positive destinations nine months after leaving school: 94% for all school leavers, 76% for care experienced. So the challenge for a care experienced child or young person in Scotland when it comes to succeeding in education is 6 times harder!

What about employment? 30% of care experienced young people are classed as unemployed 9 months after leaving school, compared to 5% of their non-care experienced peers. So it is 6 times harder for a care experienced person to succeed in the education system and we now find it is 6 times harder for them to find employment.

While research exploring the link between offending and care experience is limited, it is widely acknowledged that care experienced young people can be vulnerable to offending behaviour. Lack of placement stability, poor educational attainment and negative social or family relationships are identified as some of the reasons for this link. Young people living in residential homes are also more likely to be known to the police for minor incidences, ones that children living with their family would deal with without police involvement. Almost 1/3rd of young offenders, and an identical number of the adult prison population, self-identify as being care experienced (SPS, 2016). Given this is based on prisoners self-identifying it is highly probable that this figure is significantly under-estimated. In 2009 HM Inspector of Prisons Scotland suggested that it was more likely to be around 50%. So in regards to criminalisation, care experienced children and young people are significantly more likely to be drawn in. It was reported recently that in England and Wales, looked after teenagers are nearly 20 times more likely to be criminalised than non-looked after teenagers.

Affordable housing is a challenging issue for care experienced young people. Formal statistics on statutory homelessness state that 6% of local authority homelessness applications in Scotland between 2017-18 were from people who have been looked after by a local authority at some point. However, this figure relies on self-declaration of care experience and does not include hidden homeless numbers. Practitioners estimate that between 30% and 50% of individuals who are homeless could be care experienced. From an initial population of 2% of young people being looked after this is a staggering outcome.

A study conducted in 2002, among young people from 5-17 years being looked after by local authorities in Scotland highlighted that 45% were assessed as having a mental health issue. (3) Further research estimated that one of the highest rates of youth smoking for care leavers was 67%. While there is wide acknowledgment of the link between living in care and poor mental health, research looking specifically at rates of suicide and self-harm by looked-after young people across Scotland is poor. A study undertaken by Glasgow City Council in 2004 suggested that just less than 50% of young people in their Children’s Units had self-harmed at some point.

This article doesn’t consider all the ten factors highlighted, nor does it consider important issues such as poverty, stigma and love. What it does in a small way, is show care experienced children and young people face huge barriers in many aspects of life. In education and employment, they are significantly disadvantaged. These disadvantages are compounded by the negative stereotyping society applies to them and added pressure around housing, crime and family. Finally, what the statistics don’t show is that despite all these barriers the majority of these children and young people are successful. If 30% are not in work after 9 months, then 70% are! It fills me with hope that so many succeed despite such adversity.


(1) Article printed 24th September 2018, Central YMCA 
(2) SCRA 2017
(3) Scottish Government 2018

By Martin Dorchester, Chief Executive, Includem

Issue 20

Issue 20


Let People Choose their GP Practice

General Practitioners are often a patient’s first and only contact with the NHS in Scotland. However, unlike hospitals which are owned and operated by the public sector, the vast majority of GP practices are actually private sector contractors to the NHS.


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