With increasing recognition of social isolation and loneliness as major public health issues that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental health[1], The Scottish Government has published its strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and build stronger social connections, entitled ‘A Connected Scotland’[2].

The late Jo Cox MP set up the cross-party Loneliness Commission in the UK parliament alongside Seema Kennedy MP. After Cox’s murder, this was taken forward by Kennedy and Rachel Reeves MP, with the Jo Cox Commission’s work culminating in the publication of the report: Combatting Loneliness one conversation at a time[3] - the recommendations of which were largely taken forward by the UK government[4]. ‘A Connected Scotland’ is the Scottish Government’s response to this important issue.

In this blog we took a look at the Scottish Government strategy, examining what we called for, what we like, and what is still missing within the report with regards to care experienced young people and those that support them.

What we called for…

A range of organisations including Staf, Who Cares? Scotland, Barnardo’s, CELCIS and other partners[5] submitted a joint response to The Scottish Government’s consultation on the strategy in April 2018, focusing on ensuring that the issues faced by those with care experience are considered and embedded into the strategy. The response ultimately calls for cared experienced children and young people’s views to be a central consideration as we work towards tackling loneliness and isolation in Scotland.[6]

Our response discusses the complex range of vulnerability factors associated with loneliness and social isolation that disproportionately affect care experienced young people such as stigma; developmental impact of early life experiences; in-care transitions and dislocation; relationships; weakened family connections; sibling separation and contact; disruption to friendships; leaving care; and housing options and homelessness.[7]

We jointly called for a number of actions[8] for improvement, including:

  • Challenging stigma and promoting understanding through governmental promotion of inclusion and inclusivity within our society that extends beyond specific issues such as bullying behaviour and moves towards a full culture shift. Eliminating stigma will reduce care experienced children and young people’s experience of social isolation and loneliness.[9]
  • Full, consistent implementation of ‘Staying Put’ and ‘Continuing Care’ to ensure extended and graduated transitions where appropriate – enabling all young people leaving care to achieve long-term positive futures.[10] Staf’s ‘Implications of Continuing Care’ report additionally outlines a suite of recommendations on how to ensure consistent implementation. [11]
  • Enabling relationship-based practice and sustained positive relationships through ensuring that the workforce’s support needs are met, in relation to any emotional demands as well as workload pressures, and altering funding cycles so that consistent relationships can form and flourish.[12] This strategy should ensure staff conditions enable them to develop the enduring relationships that are vital to young people making life transitions.[13]

What we like in the strategy…

1. Consideration of wider factors

The strategy considers wider social issues that cause and perpetuate social isolation and loneliness, taking an approach that recognises issues facing different groups under equality law, including those with more than one equality characteristic.[14]

It is positive to see The Scottish Government recognising myriad issues such as stigma and structural discrimination; access to digital skills and services; transport links; poverty; community resources; barriers to education and employment; and access to housing as key factors.

2. A focus on the importance of relationships and relationship-based practice

Relationships[16] matter: from aiding in healing trauma[17], to reducing loneliness and social isolation[18], we know that relationships are crucial for the wellbeing of everyone in society – and particularly for care experienced young people.

Our joint consultation response noted that studies show children who do well despite adversity have usually had one stable committed relationship with a supportive adult[19][20] – this key supporting information is featured within the strategy itself.[21] The report further discusses relationship-based and trauma-informed approaches in education[22] as a means of preventing and mitigating the impact of adversity, which is of great importance in tackling loneliness and social isolation.

However we would like to have seen greater recognition of the stresses on the workforce – particularly within the care sector – and tangible action to create conditions where staff’s working conditions and wellbeing enable them to prioritise relationships.

3. An increase in the inclusion of children’s rights from the draft strategy

The Scottish Government heeded our collective call for a Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) to be accompanied alongside the strategy[23][24] and have stated their intention to ensure that this assessment will inform the development of their approach. While the report states that this has been published, it is not yet available on the Scottish Government website.

Similarly, our joint consultation response expressed concern that only one outcome, measure or indicator specifically referred to children and young people[25] – so it is positive to see that the strategy now includes indicators around the confidence, mental wellbeing, and positive relationships of children and young people.[26] 

What’s still missing…

1. Proper consideration of the issues faced by care experienced young people in relation to social isolation and loneliness

The strategy contains over 70 pages, yet makes only one explicit reference to care experienced young people[27], within the context of other projects being undertaken to improve access to digital skills.[28]

This is encouraging as our joint response clearly outlined how financial barriers may impact digital access. Yet the strategy appears to make no fresh or specific commitments to support care leavers. Disappointingly, care leavers seem more of a passing reference than they do a central consideration.

The strategy states that The Scottish Government will commission research on how social isolation and loneliness interacts with key life transitions[29]. Again, this would be an excellent opportunity to analyse care experienced young people’s transitions out of care (as well as into care, and transitions between placements) and identify the work that can be undertaken by Corporate Parents to reduce experiences of social isolation and loneliness during these key transitions. This is particularly important as we know implementation of ‘Staying Put’ and ‘Continuing Care’ is inconsistent[30].

Given The Scottish Government’s own analysis into the consultation responses on the draft strategy explicitly highlighted the need for it to be more inclusive of children and young people (particularly those in care)[31] it is somewhat surprising – and frustrating – to see such an absence of consideration for the issues faced by care experienced young people within ‘A Connected Scotland’.

2. Inclusion of care experienced young people in the discussion on stigma

The strategy considers how we tackle mental health stigma, the stigma of admitting feeling lonely or isolated (and thus accessing services), and importantly noting how stigma disproportionately impacts minority groups [32].

Not only is the experience of social isolation and loneliness itself associated with stigma, social isolation and loneliness can be propagated by the effects of other forms of stigma.[33] However, the strategy’s discussion of stigma lacks any analysis through a care-experienced lens. We know that negative perceptions of care experienced young people still exist within society[34] and the stigma faced by these young people may contribute to, or exacerbate, social isolation and loneliness. As such, the strategy is lacking the necessary analysis of stigma and its subsequent plans to tackle it.

3. Discussion of the critical role of Corporate Parents in reducing loneliness and social isolation

The strategy asks: who is responsible for its implementation? The conclusion – everyone. Public, third and private sectors; government and grassroots; cabinet and communities. Yet The Scottish Government seems remiss in making no explicit mention of Corporate Parents and their vital role in safeguarding the rights, and promoting the wellbeing, of care experienced young people locally – and the importance of the government in holding them accountable nationally.

We believe The Scottish Government needs to place a much stronger emphasis on corporate parenting within the strategy: ultimately the responsibility is on the State to ensure care leavers are supported to the same standards expected for their own children – and no parent would want their child to experience loneliness and social isolation.

What we recommend…

  1. In conducting further research to ‘support greater understanding of how social isolation and loneliness interacts with key life transitions’, The Scottish Government must involve care experienced young people and those who support them. In particular, the government should engage with Throughcare and Aftercare workers in local authorities and third sector organisations that represent both the workforce and young people directly.
  2. The Scottish Government should protect funding for Continuing Care to ensure more consistent implementation of Part 11 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, which will, in turn, enable all care experienced young people to access graduated transitions where appropriate.
  3. The Scottish Government should ensure that local authorities receive adequate funding so that the working conditions and wellbeing of all those who support care leavers enables them to prioritise relationships.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on the strategy at [email protected]


[1] Scottish Government (2018) A Connected Scotland: Tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections

[2] Ibid. p.1

[3] Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness (2017) Combatting loneliness one conversation at a time: A call to action

[4] HM Government (2018) A Connected Society: A strategy for tackling loneliness – laying the foundations for change

[5] Burns, C. (2018) Joint letter introducing response to consultation on Connected Scotland

[6] Morton, L. (2018) Joint response to Scottish Government consultation on ‘A Connected Scotland: Tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections’ p.7

[7] Ibid. pp.2-3

[8] Ibid. pp.3-6

[9] Ibid. p.3

[10] Ibid.

[11] Graham, P. (2018) Implications of Continuing Care: A Briefing Paper from Staf

[12] Morton, L. (2018) Joint Response to ‘A Connected Scotland’ p.5

[13] Swain, V. (2016) Keep Connected: Maintaining Relationships When Moving On.; Boddy, J (2013) Understanding permanence for looked after children: A review of research for the Care Inquiry.

[14] Scottish Government (2018) A Connected Scotland p.5 

[15] Ibid. p.31

[16] Leggett, C. (2018) The Importance of Relationships

[17] Treisman, K (2018) Good relationships are the key to healing trauma

[18] Morton, L. (2018) Joint Response to ‘A Connected Scotland’ p.6

[19] Ibid.

[20] Couper, S. & Mackie, P. (2016) ‘Polishing the Diamonds’ Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences in Scotland

[21] Scottish Government (2018) A Connected Scotland p.34

[22] Ibid. p.44

[23] Ibid. p.33

[24] Morton, L. (2018) Joint Response to ‘A Connected Scotland’ p.11

[25] Ibid.

[26] Scottish Government (2018) A Connected Scotland p.3

[27] Ibid. p.56

[28] Scottish Government (2017) Realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world: a digital strategy for Scotland

[29] Scottish Government (2018) A Connected Scotland p.6

[30] Morton, L. (2018) Joint response to ‘A Connected Scotland’ p.2

[31] Scottish Government (2018) Tackling social isolation and loneliness: consultation analysis pp.12-13

[32] Ibid. p.7

[33] Morton, L. (2018) Joint response to ‘A Connected Scotland’ p.2

[34] Bardsey, D; Montagu, I; Reid, S. (2018) Public attitudes to care experienced young people

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash