Staf CEO Jo Derrick sets out our priorities for ensuring Scotland's economic renewal is built with care leavers in mind, including a national 'Family Firm' approach to care leaver employment; extending the Care Experienced Students Bursary; and exploring a Universal Basic Income for care leavers. 

I recently listened to Michelle Obama’s new podcast and in one episode she interviews her journalist Michelle Norris on the impact of the pandemic, who tells the former First Lady that when we begin the renewal of our economy and society: “Don’t reach for normal, reach for better.”

This speaks to many of us who have been reaching for normal in our own lives. We’ve all gained a new appreciation for those things we may have taken for granted: connection to friends and family, fulfilling work and a stable income.

Yet for young people leaving care a return to normal is simply not good enough. Their life chances are far too often determined by their experience of care and by the adversity and trauma they have faced in childhood. For care leavers, we must reach for better.

During lockdown young people told us they were concerned about being able to get to foodbanks – not to get to supermarkets but to get to foodbanks. Care experienced students have been unable to pick up work over the summer and are having to turn to hardship support to get by. As our world moves online, digital poverty has been exposed like never before. And we face a looming mental health crisis after months of isolation.

In all of this social workers and the third sector have stepped up and we’ve seen a welcome package of emergency support from the Scottish Government, not least the extension of the Connecting Scotland fund to address digital exclusion amongst care leavers. But now we must think beyond this crisis.

Some of the solutions are already there, we just need to build on them. This includes the Care Experienced Students Bursary, which should be extended year round, providing the financial security and stability our young people need.

We also need to make the new solutions already being developed work for care leavers too, including the new youth jobs guarantee. A new report from IPPR Scotland has warned that 100,000 young people could be looking for work by the end of the year – and we have no doubt that care leavers will be amongst the hardest hit.

A national Corporate Parenting approach to care leaver employment could harness the job-creating power of Scotland’s devolved public sector, which employs over half a million people and spends over £11 billion on public procurement annually. Indeed, if we just look at the transition to a net-zero economy, there is enormous potential to create opportunities for young people leaving care.

Of course every parent wants their child to gain the skills to find well-paid, fulfilling work. But when young people face troubled seas we all want to be reassured that they get the financial support they need to get back on course.

To do this, the Care Review challenged us to streamline and better communicate financial support for care leavers. But what if we reached for better? Could a Universal Basic Income for care leavers be a bold way forward? We think it’s certainly worth exploring and it could be perfectly workable in a devolved context in a way that other pilots may not be.

If this crisis has taught us anything it is that change under challenge circumstances is possible – what was once unthinkable has become possible.

So, as the First Minister prepares to set out her Programme for Government for the next year, let us apply that same urgency to our economic renewal. For our care leavers, let us not reach for normal, let us reach for better.

Find out more about our proposals for a national Corporate Parenting approach to care leaver employment here.