MSP in inquiries call for premature deaths of care-experienced young people

31 July 2018, 07:17

Kezia Dugdale MSP

The sudden or accidental deaths of people under 25 who have been through the care system should be subject to fatal accident inquiries (FAIs), according to a new report.

The document, published by Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale and researcher Ashley Cameron, made the recommendation after uncovering a lack of data on the deaths of looked-after young people.

It found that at least 84 young people who had spent time in secure care died prematurely in the last 10 years.

Charity Who Cares? Scotland previously reported that young people who have been in care are 20 times more likely to die before the age of 25 than their peers who have not been in care.

Ms Dugdale said that holding FAIs was "the right thing to do" to ensure that lessons could be learned for the future.

The MSP and Ms Cameron, who grew up in care, spent a year compiling their report by gathering data from councils using Freedom of Information requests.

Only 20 out of 32 local authorities provided information on the causes of death for young people in care while those who did respond were unable to provide summaries of the circumstances of death in each case.

Glasgow, Scotland's largest council, was among those who did not provide figures.

Of those councils who did respond, it was found that 84 young people, aged up to 24, had died in secure care over the last 10 years.

The most common reasons for premature death are suicide, overdose, accidents and complex health issues.

Cause of death was either "unknown", "unreported" or the local authority "refused to comment" in 29 cases.

Figures were not provided for deaths of those in foster or residential care.

The report sets out a series of recommendations for the Scottish Government including a change to FAI protocol and statutory requirements for recording data on deaths of both those under 18 who are in the care system and those aged 18 to 25 who have experienced it.

Ms Dugdale said: "It's a scandal that we don't know exactly how many care-experienced young people die before their 25th birthday - but we do know it's far too many."

She added: "Who Cares? Scotland tells us you are 20 times more likely to die before your 25th birthday if you've been in care.

"I think there should be fatal accident inquiries first and foremost to recognise what's gone wrong here.

"It's not about apportioning blame and pointing at one social worker or one hostel and saying 'you were the one who got it wrong', it's about learning from those experiences to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Ms Dugdale said that while FAIs are expensive and subject to lengthy waits, "that doesn't mean they are not the right thing to do".

The report also proposes the Lord Advocate would have the discretion to not hold an FAI in certain circumstances, with a written reason made publicly available.

Ms Cameron said: "The lives of care-experienced people and their subsequent premature deaths should always be considered a matter of public interest."

Children and Young People Minister Maree Todd said: "The untimely death of a child or young person is a tragedy.

"I agree we must do everything we can to prevent such deaths and we will carefully consider this report and its recommendations.

"There are a number of measures already in place to monitor and review all child deaths with the aim to improve the system, including a mandatory fatal accident inquiry for those that occur in secure accommodation."

She said an independent care review is ongoing.