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This is a guest blog written by Satwat Rehman, Chief Executive of One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS). You can also listen to a podcast on this subject here, with OPFS and The Promise Scotland’s Policy Lead, Chloe Riddell.


To support One Parent Families Scotland to keep the Promise in Scotland, we undertook work across the organisation to help us better understand the experiences of the families we work with. Statistics on single parents and care experience are not readily available, and we were surprised when we began our work around three years ago to find that a large number of single parent families whom we were supporting across six different local authorities were either care-experienced themselves or had had children who were in or were on the edges of care. For one worker in our Dundee service, 40% of the parents they had been supporting had disclosed being care experienced.

It was this realisation that served as the catalyst for further research funded by The Promise Scotland, which explored how family finances are impacted by families’ involvement in the ‘care system’. This led to the development of a policy report with recommendations as well as two practical guides to support parents and practitioners working with parents with experience of the care system. 

In our discussions with parents and with practitioners working with families, we were interested to know what their experiences had been and, more specifically, what had and had not worked for them in terms of the support they had received when their child comes into contact with the care system.

There was no awareness of how quickly my benefits would have stopped and how I would need to live on such low income.

—(parent of a child removed)

Interaction with the social security system can create a cliff edge for families

In speaking to people working with families (academics in Scotland, third sector organisations, statutory providers), it became apparent that there was a gap in support for families once a child comes into contact with the care system or returns home. Specifically, the interaction with the social security system can create a cliff edge in terms of a reduction in income for families at the same time that they are under huge amount of pressure because they have had a child taken into care or returned home. Our plan was to use our findings to develop a list of recommendations to address this issue.

Given that the overall aim is to reduce or end the situation whereby large numbers of children come into contact with the care system, we were keen to see ways to continue supporting families and to address the impact of poverty on families when a child is taken into care as well as ensure that a lack of money does not become the reason for a child not being able to return from care.

Developing poverty proofing pathways for families with children in – or on the edges – of care.

As an organisation, we have a long track record of working with single parent families, particularly those experiencing poverty and inequality, and we have seen the positive impacts of already developed financial inclusion pathways e.g. for the early years. We wanted to contribute to helping keep The Promise by applying a similar approach to develop poverty proofing pathways for families with children in or on the edges of care.

I felt overwhelming pressure to buy things for my baby to show I was a good mother… I couldn’t. I remember buying her a toy from the pound shop. They took it off her as they didn’t think it was good or right for her age. That hurt a lot. I couldn’t afford her birthday as my ex had taken the little money I had saved. I phoned and spoke to a duty social worker who gave me £50 to get her something and a cake - I was so grateful.

We began in-depth work with a small number or families. One of the most memorable accounts we heard during that time was when a parent said: “when they took my baby away, all the support just melted away.”  We came to understand through all of the accounts from parents that withdrawing support from the point at which a child or children were taken into care could reduce the likelihood of the child returning. We also saw how much difference social security can make in providing even the minimum amount of financial stability. This led to further discussions with the Promise Scotland about what we need to do to better support families at the point they face a dramatic drop in financial support.

Findings and recommendations

The main thing that came out of conversations with parents was not only the impact of a huge drop of income but that it would have been helpful to have known what was coming, to be informed, prepared, and supported to navigate the financial changes brought about by their child or children being taken into care. One of our short-term recommendations to mitigate some of the corrosive impact of policies and service delivery issues identified by parents and practitioners was therefore to develop a guide for practitioners supporting parents and an information pack for parents that can be used in partnership with support workers.

With poverty being recognised as a contributory factor, and emerging evidence that financial assistance can increase the chances of a child being reunited with their family, we believe that family financial wellbeing must be embedded in the design of benefits and placed at the centre of all work to support families to stay together. Our policy response has therefore also been to make a series of longer-term recommendations which require legislative changes. Examples of these are our support for making the Scottish Child Payment a standalone benefit, not dependent on eligibility to UK benefits, which will then give the option of top-up payments for certain families. We also recommend that local authorities have increased access to discretionary funds to protect family incomes during the first six months after a child is removed.

In addition to legislative changes, our policy briefing includes recommendations to inform and change the narrative through framing of communication, training and education around the care system and poverty. For example, all social work (and other practitioners) training should include poverty-awareness modules that cover the importance of embedding family financial wellbeing in work to support families to stay together.

OPFS is already providing whole family support for families and assisting families with income maximisation. We are committed to Keeping the Promise to care-experienced children. This is ultimately what drove us to gain a better understanding of the experiences of the single parent families we work with. If we are serious about Keeping the Promise by 2030, this requires work on a number of fronts. Our work around poverty is therefore an important contribution to the overall aim of fulfilling the promise to Scotland’s care experienced children and ensuring that lack of money is never a reason for children to enter care, or not be able to return home.

You can read the full policy report and download the parent and practitioner guides here.