Children in Scotland who are “looked after”* are those for whom the local authority has a formal responsibility for their wellbeing. By any reasonable assessment it is clear that wider society has a moral responsibility too.
So the clear indications that children in the care system are much more likely to be affected by tobacco, and often start smoking at a younger age than their peers, should concern us. These are children who are in our care, and we should demand the very best for them.
That is why I warmly welcome the new guidance for residential care settings launched by the Care Inspectorate, with input and support from ASH Scotland. “Creating a tobacco-free culture” gets it just right in a number of ways:
- the message is loud and clear that smoking by young people should not be seen as the norm or acceptable, and if it not good enough for children in general then it is not good enough for children in care. As starting principles go, this is spot on.
- a policy on smoking cannot just set no-smoking zones for staff and tell kids they’re not allowed to smoke at all. If the child’s well-being is the priority that means looking at the whole environment the child is growing up in. The guidance recognises that, as with any child, the best outcomes come from growing up free from tobacco altogether (making specific reference to ASH Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation)
- the response to children who do smoke must be about support to stop smoking and find alternative coping mechanisms, rather than punishment
It is worth noting that this is about the children, not the staff. If a staff member is a smoker that does not prevent them being a good carer, but they must ensure it does not impact on the children in their care.
Overall the significance of this new guidance is that it makes clear to residential care providers that tobacco-free is now the standard expected of them. Who doesn’t want that for their kids?
* Under the provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, looked after children and young people are defined as those in the care of their local authority as a result of a supervision requirement from the children’s hearing system. Depending on the conditions of the requirement, the child/young person may be ‘looked after at home’ with regular contact from social services, or they may be ‘looked after away from home’ by foster or kinship carers, prospective adopters, or in residential care homes, residential schools or secure units.