CARE watchdogs have asked Scotland’s homes and secure units for children and young people to put more effort into offering healthy and varied menus.
Experts from the Care Commission spent a year inspecting the quality and range of food on offer in 224 special schools, children’s homes and secure units which care for 2400 youngsters.
While they found the majority were already ensuring young people enjoy a balanced, healthy and varied diet, they also uncovered examples where better practice was needed.
Ronnie Hill, Director of Children’s Services Regulation, said: “Overall our findings were positive, but there is still a great deal of room for further improvement.
“We can confidently say that most young people in the Scottish care system are having their nutritional needs met – and met well.
“But we’ve also highlighted where improvement is needed, while good services need to remain vigilant to prevent any complacency from setting in.
“It is widely accepted that young people who find themselves in care are more likely to have come from a background of deprivation and poor diet linked to bad behaviour in children– while those who come out of care are more likely to suffer ill-health in adulthood.”
The Care Commission’s report is based on a detailed study of all food, diet and nutrition information gathered during inspections, investigations and enforcement activity during 2006-07.
That meant looking at 187 care homes for children and young people (providing 1250 places), 32 residential special schools (1041 places) and five secure accommodation services (127 places).
Overall 79% of those services met expectations set out in Scotland’s widely respected National Care Standards – which stipulate meals should be varied, nutritious, reflect the preferences of young people and be well prepared and attractively presented.
However a fifth of all those services (39 care home, six residential special school and two secure units) were served with at least one recommendation or requirement for improvement, relating to eating well.
The areas for improvement included providing more fruit and veg, taking account of children’s preferences, carrying out nutrition assessments and improving staff training.
Mr Hill added: “We are concerned that one in five services had either a requirement or a recommendation for improvement.
“We are particularly concerned that two out of five secure services needed to improve, since those young people cannot leave the premises.
“Overall though, I’m pleased to say that services are taking very seriously the provision of a healthy diet and encouraging young people to eat well.”
The Care Commission has used its findings to set out clear messages about diet and nutrition that residential care services for children and young people should observe, including:
• Offering a menu which allows residents at least five portions of fruit and veg per day
• Accounting for the individual’s preferences in menu planning
• Improving assessment of young people’s dietary needs before residency
• Training staff on the importance of food and nutrition to general health
• Developing and implementing clear policies and procedures on eating well
Inspectors with the Care Commission will also be following up on all recommendations and requirements to make sure changes are being carried out and will work closely with service providers and other relevant organisations to ensure ongoing improvements.
The findings have now been summarised in an accessible Bulletin document – Food and Nutrition for children and young people in residential care. Are services meeting the standards?
It is being sent out to services, other relevant bodies and organisation and will also be available on the website, http://www.carecommission.com.