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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 29 November 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (European Union Referendum), St Andrew’s Day, Business Motion, Decision Time, Blood Donation


Topical Question Time

Sexual Abuse

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect children involved in football from sexual abuse. (S5T-00231)

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children in Scotland, including when they take part in sport, is of paramount importance to us all. Through sportscotland, Children 1st has been funded to provide training, information and support to Scottish governing bodies of sport. That work includes putting in place minimum operating requirements for child protection to safeguard children and ensure that sport governing bodies take a consistent approach. The Scottish Football Association has implemented those requirements to ensure that all qualified coaches who are involved in youth football are registered with it and have undertaken the necessary disclosure checks.

With regard to the horrific allegations of non-recent abuse that have been made over the past week in England, any allegation of abuse should be directed to the police to investigate. The SFA is also encouraging anyone who has concerns relating to child abuse in Scottish football to contact the dedicated NSPCC hotline on 0800 023 2642. The hotline will be available 24 hours a day, and people who call will receive professional assistance and support in strict confidence.

Clearly, this is a distressing issue and one that should be approached with care and consideration. Does the Scottish Government support calls from the likes of Gordon Smith, the former SFA chief executive, to launch a wider inquiry into other areas, such as sport?

As I have mentioned, the hotline that was recently launched by the NSPCC is available to receive calls. It was launched only on Friday, and at this stage it is too early to say how many calls have been received. The Scottish Government will continue to liaise with the NSPCC and with governing bodies on the volume of calls that are being received and on whether any further steps are required later in the process.

I appreciate the work that the Scottish Government has done in setting up the hotline. However, I am disappointed that it is not undertaking an investigation into abuse in sports clubs. When asked about the current inquiry, Break the Silence said:

“Where we stand, it makes no difference where the abuse occurred. All survivors should be able to access recovery services.”

The current inquiry risks not going far enough in helping victims of child abuse. Will the Scottish Government listen, reconsider and instigate a focused investigation into abuse in sports clubs?

Rachael Hamilton will be aware that, in the Deputy First Minister’s statement to Parliament, he made clear the parameters of the inquiry into historical child abuse and was very clear about the reasons behind those parameters. That said, we take seriously any indications or reports of sexual abuse in sporting bodies and will continue to monitor the number of calls that are made to the hotline to determine, alongside other bodies, whether any further action is required in that specific area. That does not affect the remit of the historical abuse inquiry, which has been set by the Deputy First Minister.

In his answer to Rachael Hamilton, the minister stated that any allegations of sexual abuse of young players in Scotland should be referred immediately to Police Scotland. Does he agree that the Scottish Football Association should not take any investigatory role in these matters, as there may well be a conflict of interest, and that any referrals to the SFA should be immediately referred to Police Scotland?

Anyone who believes they were abused as a child involved in football or who has a concern about someone they think was abused should contact the police to investigate. That also applies to anyone who is currently being abused or who is concerned about a child being abused, whether at football or in any other sporting environment—or, indeed, in any other circumstance. The right people to investigate criminal offences of abuse, whether current or non-recent, are Police Scotland, and I concur with Christine Grahame in that respect.

Children with Additional Support Needs

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish children’s services coalition warning that Scotland faces a “lost generation” of children with additional support needs. (S5T-00232)

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. Since the act was passed, it has been amended—in 2009 and again last year—to ensure that children’s rights sit at the heart of the legislation, the framework and the approach that is taken.

The act and other actions that have been taken by the Government and partner agencies—including education authorities, which in 2015 increased their spending on additional support needs by £24 million—are helping to provide better outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs. Achievement and attainment continue to improve. In 2015, 86.2 per cent of pupils with additional support needs had a positive destination, compared with 82.3 per cent in 2011-12, and 60.7 per cent of 2014-15 school leavers with additional support needs had one or more qualifications at Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 5 or better, which is an increase of 11.2 percentage points since 2011-12.

It is clear that we need to do more and stay focused on ensuring that children and young people are supported to fulfil their potential.

I refer to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a local councillor in South Lanarkshire Council.

Official figures for 2015 show that 22.5 per cent of pupils were recorded as having additional support needs. That is an increase of 16 per cent since 2013. Meanwhile, the number of learning support teachers fell by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2015—that is a decrease of 427. The number of support staff in schools, such as additional support needs auxiliaries and behaviour support staff, dropped by more than 9 per cent between 2010 and 2015. That is a reduction of just over 1,800. Will the minister act to protect the most vulnerable pupils by ruling out cuts to local authority budgets?

It is worth reflecting on what is captured by the figures on additional support needs that Monica Lennon cited. They capture pupils with any requirement for additional support throughout a school year. An identified additional support need does not necessarily exist throughout that year—for example, a family bereavement could require the provision of additional support to a pupil. A change was made to the statistics that were collected, and that is perhaps reflected in some of the figures that were captured by Monica Lennon.

It is worth noting that about 95 per cent of children are educated in mainstream settings, where support is provided through classroom support—the number of classroom assistants has increased—and through teacher professional development to enable teachers to better understand and support the needs of children with additional support needs.

The figures that I read out are concerning, and it is not just me who is concerned. The Scottish children’s services coalition, alongside local authorities, has written to the Scottish Government to say that the cuts are affecting vulnerable children and families.

We read today, in a new report from the Accounts Commission, that local authorities face a predicted funding gap of £553 million by 2018-19. Scottish Labour would use the new powers to the Parliament to invest in vital services. The minister has not ruled out further cuts today, but will he think again and listen to the Scottish children’s services coalition and parents across Scotland, and then seriously address the need to increase resources for services for children and young people with additional support needs?

I repeat, as I said in my initial answer to Monica Lennon, that in 2015, which is the last year for which we have audited figures, the spend on additional support needs increased by £24 million.

I have read the Scottish children’s services coalition’s press release, which makes it clear that the genesis of its concern is in Philip Hammond’s autumn statement. That is the reality in which we operate in fiscal terms. The press release states that we need to look at greater public sector reform and collaboration, which is an agenda that we should all be signed up to. It follows clearly in the spirit of the Christie commission, and I will be more than happy to discuss that with the coalition in response to the letter that it has sent to the Scottish Government.

I recently visited Seamab school in Perthshire, which cares for and educates vulnerable children with complex needs who are aged between five and 13. One member of staff informed me that one of the children who attends the school had 17 care placements before they arrived at the school. Another member of staff told me that another child was about to be removed from the school because the local authority was no longer willing to pay the necessary amount to the school.

Does the minister agree that any child who is placed with 17 sets of foster parents or any child who is removed from a school because of a financial measure has been failed by us all? Will he write today to each local authority to confirm the Government’s position that each child’s needs should be met according to those needs and not any other consideration?

The principle that lies behind GIRFEC is of course getting it right for every child. Jeremy Balfour’s points tie in succinctly to the points that were raised in last week’s debate on adoption and permanence, and I am sure that his points will also feed into the work that is being undertaken in the care review in relation to children who find themselves moving from place to place rather than achieving early permanence, which would lead to better outcomes for them.

I take on board the points that Jeremy Balfour made. They would perhaps be better addressed as part of the wider review, and I am sure that he and other members will take the opportunity to feed into that review their views on how best to take the work forward.