Children and young people should, rightly, be at the heart of the work of the Scottish Parliament and this has been highlighted recently through a number of initiatives.
Starting with our youngest citizens, a competition to design a baby box that will be given to all newborn children in Scotland has been launched.
The competition will be run by the V&A Museum of Art and design in Dundee and is open to design students across Scotland.
The Baby Box scheme, which will cost an estimated £6m per year, will provide families with a box containing items including bedding and clothing. It is inspired by a project that has been running in Finland since 1938.
The Scottish government said the scheme had a “proven track record” in tackling deprivation.
Launching the competition to design the box my colleague, Childcare and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald, said: “There are over 50,000 babies born in Scotland each year so the winning design will receive fantastic exposure throughout the country.
“We want these boxes to become a key part of the lives of parents and children so the design needs to be bold and inspirational.”
The winning design will be piloted from New Year’s Day in Orkney and Clackmannanshire and put into production from summer 2017.
The competition will run until 17 November and the winning student will receive a £1,000 prize and mentoring from Scottish Designers Holly Fulton and Scott Jarvie. So, I would encourage any local Art and Design Students to participate.
The Government is also implementing a revolution in childcare provision.
Access to flexible, good quality childcare doesn’t just help young children – it also broadens the employment opportunities for their parents.
Over this Parliament, we will see the doubling of the amount of state funded early years education for all three and four year olds, and the most disadvantaged two year olds.
The next step is to ensure that it is available when and where parents need it.
At SNP Conference the First Minister announced radical proposals to make childcare more flexible. Parents will be able to choose a nursery or childminder that suits – and ask their council to fund it.
Alternatively, they could receive the funding in a special childcare account, and then use it to directly purchase a suitable place.
The system works well for many parents right now – but just adding in that bit of flexibility will help ensure that the benefits of this ambitious policy can reach everybody.
Another area of child development and experience that the Government is addressing is the Care system.
Many young people who grow up in care go on to do great things. But only six per cent of people who grow up in care go on to university. Almost half will suffer mental health issues. Half the adult prison population will have had experience of care.
Someone who has been in care is twenty times more likely to be dead by the time they are 25 than someone who hasn’t.
Announcing an independent, root-and-branch review of the care system the First Minister said:
“No one could look at those heart-breaking statistics and not believe that we as a society need to do more.
So I’m going to do what these young people have asked me to do – listen to their experiences, and make the care system better.”
Crucially the Review will be driven by those who have experience of care themselves.
Care experienced young people lobbied the Government to conduct this review and they were heard loud and clear.
Ensuring that young people in Scotland are listened to on the issues that affect them is important.
As well as lobbying on specific issues I would encourage local young people to become involved with the Scottish Youth Parliament. The Youth Parliament is the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people.
Elections to the Scottish Youth Parliament happen every two years, with the next elections taking place in March 2017. The call for candidates is open until the 31st of October 2016.
Two Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) are elected from every Parliamentary constituency in Scotland, as well as two members from various partnering national voluntary organisations. Young people aged 14-25 who either live, work, or study in Scotland are eligible to stand for election.
Could you, or someone you know, perhaps, be one of my Scottish Youth Parliament colleagues next year? More information can be found here: http://www.syp.org.uk/stand4syp