Sixteen and 17-year-olds in Scotland will not be placed in young offenders institutions, under new plans.

The Scottish government said it wanted to end the placement of under 18s in custody “without delay”.

Instead, ministers said they would fund “care-based alternatives” and shift the approach from “one of punishment to one of love and support”.

The document also outlines plans to give a £200 annual grant to young people aged 16-25 with experience of the care system.

And it says a recommended national allowance for foster and kinship carers will be introduced.

Other changes include redesigns of the Children’s Hearings system and the governance of the care system.

It follows the publication of The Promise by the Independent Care Review in 2020, which said many young people experienced a “fractured, bureaucratic and unfeeling” system.

The review said the care system should have love and nurture at its heart.

Clare Haughey, the minister for children and young people, said the government was committed to fulfilling The Promise by 2030.

“These ambitious actions will help families to thrive so they can safely stay together,” she said. “They will also support carers and families engaged with the care system, as well as care leavers and care experienced people in education and employment.

“Alongside The Promise Scotland, the care community, local government, and many others, we are building on work that is already under way to bring forward change as quickly as possible.”

Earlier this month, Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons led calls for no-one under the age of 18 to be sent to jail.

Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said sending 16 and 17-year-olds to Polmont young offenders institution – especially those who had not yet been convicted – was a breach of their human rights.

A consultation on legislation – the Children’s Care and Justice Bill – to stop this practice was launched on Wednesday.

Specialist services

The Scottish government says that if a child needs to be deprived of their liberty, it should be in a “child friendly and rights respecting” environment.

They should have access to staff with expertise in dealing with trauma.

It says there are currently 84 secure care placements across Scotland – but they need to consider how many they need and what they should look like in the future.

“The future offer will be designed in the best interests of each child and will include specialist services and bespoke packages in order to meet the often complex needs of children and young people,” the document says.

“It will consider the wider care and justice systems rather than secure care in isolation.”

Lack of progress

Conservative MSP Meghan Gallacher said her party supported the implementation plan, but noted that some in the care sector felt there had been a lack of progress during the pandemic.

Fiona McFarlane, head of oversight at The Promise Scotland, has previously described the lack of progress as “heartbreaking and shameful”.

Ms Gallacher said: “While MSPs across this chamber understand that Covid has impacted delivery across some areas, it is concerning to note that the overall progress has been criticised by organisations, charities, and those who have experienced the care system.”

Scottish Labour’s Martin Whitfield said meaningful targets were needed to measure the outcomes for young people in care.

He said: “The outcomes are currently, quite frankly, dreadful and things must change.

“And Scottish Labour believe that these targets across the board will help us identify where areas are falling behind, outcomes that need to be critically looked at.”

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