26/10/2015 19:08 GMT | Updated 26/10/2016 06:12 BST

Child Protection Is Everyone's Responsibility

As a former social worker, I have seen the hardship some families face. For too long, our society has left protecting children to others, particularly to social work. We need to change that. This is my challenge to Scotland as a whole - to doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, social workers, governments at all levels and all services working to support children. We are all responsible for vulnerable children, and we need to do more- to step in, act, stand up and be counted whenever we see or know a child at risk.

How well are we doing at ensuring all our children get the best start in life? To be frank, I don't think we are doing well enough, particularly for our most vulnerable children. We face a number of challenges, but we can, must and shall do better.

The number of children on the Child Protection Register went up by 41% between 2000 and 2014 to 2,882. And, while the number of children in care is falling, the figure still stands at 15,580.

The UK government's austerity and welfare reforms are particularly hammering low-income families and mean the numbers of children growing up poor will rise. A child in poverty is a child more at risk of poorer long-term outcomes. More at risk of obesity and of hunger.

There are also new risks: online bullying and the use of technology changing the scale and nature of sexual abuse; trafficking; radicalisation and exploitation threats, both within Scotland and internationally.

The Scottish government believes the best way to stop concerns becoming a crisis is through prevention and early intervention - by supporting children and their families in the right way, at the right time - as early as possible.

We are working hard and investing money in programmes and partnerships to make sure early support is available to families. We are also making good progress in tackling child sexual exploitation and reported on that two weeks ago, with our first public information campaign launching in January.

This is taking us in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement. Two recent reports on child protection - the Brock Report and the Care Inspectorate's review -have identified areas of activity which need improving.

That's why I am working to develop a programme of action and improvement that will involve people on the frontline of children's services. This will start in February when I will come before Parliament to present it to MSPs so they can be in no doubt about the changes we need to make.

We need a system that is ready to meet the demands of caring for, and keeping our children and young people safe in the 21st Century. A system that recognises everyone's responsibility to protect children.

We must create a system that doesn't just get it right for some of our children, some of the time, but one that is getting it right for every child, every time.