Staf has recently launched the latest episode of our podcast, ‘The Forum’. The third full episode of our series focusses on The Care Experienced Bursary, in conversation with John Swinney, Deputy First Minister for Scotland and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

This episode is hosted by Staf’s Policy and Communication Manager, Liam Furby, with both Liam and Kevin Lafferty – Youth Just Us Peer Leader – asking the Minister a range of questions regarding The Care Experienced Bursary’s implementation.

You can listen to the podcast episode here

Here are just some of the highlights from what was a rich and fruitful discussion.

Lifelong support for care experienced people

Kevin asked the Deputy First Minister whether there is an ‘assumed financial stability’ at 28 years compared to 26 years, reflecting on his own experience of being denied access to the Care Experienced Bursary as a result of his age. Mr Swinney in response admits that there must be such an assumption, given that 26 is the current cut-off point, but emphasises that ‘it doesn’t matter where an individual is in their life journey, if they’re care experienced they might need support, and we’ve got to find the means of making sure that’s a practical reality.’ Kevin notes that any age limit would be ‘contradictory’ to that statement, with Mr Swinney making a commitment to ‘take that away and think about what the implications are for government policy’.

I think the point you make is that somebody may manage to get things together enough to get involved in education, but at an age older than our care experienced bursary might refer to. And we’ve got to be responsive to that, so I’ll take that away Kevin and think about what the implications are for government policy.

The bursary should be clearly viewed as additional to any other entitlements

A number of Staf members raised concerns regarding the lack of clarity on how the bursary interacts with other financial entitlements. 'The policy intention of the care experienced bursary is crystal clear – it’s to be additional to support young people, so it’s additional to all other entitlements’ The Deputy First Minister states in the opening section of our podcast.

It should be viewed as addition to other entitlements that care experienced young people have. I was hearing from amongst care experienced young people that not in all circumstances was it being viewed as additional. And I wanted to make clear just how clear we viewed that policy to be and the letter was prompted by the need to make sure that point was very clearly and widely understood, and supported, by our local authority colleagues.

A person-centred approach is crucial

Mr Swinney notes that a one-size-fits all approach is counterproductive to providing the best possible support when delivering services. He reflects on the work being done within schools to take a child-centred approach.

I think what’s important is that we build all of that around the individual, so rather than saying ‘the state offer service A, service B, service C, service D’ what we actually say is ‘you’re a care experienced individual whatever stage in your life you are at, here’s how we will work with you to try to help you on your journey’. Because every journey is going to be different, everybody is different, and everyone will have a different experience.

But what we acknowledge, and I think this is an important shift in thinking, is that we acknowledge that things are more difficult and more challenging for care experienced individuals so what we have got to do is put the support in place that will work for each individual and we shouldn’t shy away from that challenge.

I’d like to see us moving more and more to a person-centred approach to how we deliver services. Rather than saying ‘here’s a service we deliver’ and hope that it meets the needs of a care experienced individual, we actually look at individuals and say ‘what is that you need as a care experienced individual to be able to make your next steps in life’? And that’s very much at the heart of the thinking we expect to come out of The Care Review that was established by the government a couple of years ago and which we want to see at the heart of the system that we put in place.

Information on the bursary should be shared with everyone involved

While a letter was sent from Mr Swinney to Local Authority Chief Executives to clarify the policy intention of the bursary, there was also acknowledgement that it had to reach all levels.

It’s important that, wherever information is held and judgements made about the care experienced bursary, the aspirations and intentions of the letter that I set out are very clearly understood at all levels. So whether that’s within local authorities, colleges, universities, it has to be shared with practitioners and it’s up to those organisations to do exactly that.

Everyone should be included in the implementation of the Care Review

We asked Mr Swinney how the government would ensure that everyone, including practitioners would be involved in the implementation phase of the Independent Care Review, recognising that we would need to take a whole-systems approach to this change. Mr Swinney agreed that everyone should be involved.

When the care review reports I am certain there will be other things we’ve got to do. So I hope that people would have confidence that we are making progress on that journey. It’s getting more significant as we go on. And crucially, it has to do exactly as you’ve asked me Liam: it’s got to involve everybody who’s involved in the system to make sure that the system meets the needs of every care-experienced individual.

The Scottish Government continue to be committed to changing things for the better for the care experienced community

Throughout the podcast, John Swinney emphasised The Scottish Government’s commitment to addressing the issues for care experienced individuals, stating ‘we’re very committed to that and we’ve got a lot to deliver on, and we’re making progress […]’. Mr Swinney notes the Care Experienced Bursary is a ‘step in the right direction’ and notes that there will be a suite of other changes to be made to improve support for the care experienced, particularly with The Care Review underway.

With the Programme for Government set to be announced later today (Tuesday 3rd September) Mr Swinney also stated: ‘I think there will be things in there that will be of help to care experienced individuals; that will help to take forward the agenda even further’.

Read our calls for the Programme for Government here