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Creating a cohesive voice for the children's sector

The Children’s Sector Strategic and Policy Forum, coordinated by Children in Scotland, takes a proactive and evidence-based approach to improving children’s lives at a strategic and national level.

As we welcome 12 new members onto the Forum, our Chief Executive and Forum Chair, Judith Turbyne, reflects on the value of creating a cohesive voice for the sector and key priorities for the year ahead.

My first encounter with the Children’s Sector Strategic and Policy Forum was only a few weeks into the role of Chief Executive at Children in Scotland back in 2021. Stepping into the position of Chair so quickly into the job, I had those natural jitters going into my first meeting which were quickly overpowered by how impressed I felt at the calibre of the members that made up the Forum.

Importantly, it was great to see representatives from across the sector; organisations big and small, from a range of different backgrounds, statutory and non-statutory. This diversity remains important today. Despite that first meeting being nearly three years ago, I still maintain the optimism that I felt then at the impact that could be made from bringing such a great group of individuals together to address the important issues.

Today’s policy landscape is complex and with so much of it impacting children and young people, as well as so many different organisations feeding into it, it is so important to find ways of remaining on top of issues and not feeling overwhelmed by it all. The Forum’s ability to develop a shared understanding of what good policy and practice might look like, even if we don’t always agree on everything, is a key reason as to why it is such a valuable mechanism for the sector.

Passion is something that the children’s sector undoubtedly possesses in abundance and there are so many organisations working tirelessly to see change made for children, young people and families. I believe that it is so much easier to create progress on the key issues that we all agree need to be changed, when we speak as a clear, unified voice rather than from many, nuanced positions. The Forum, by bringing together representatives from different organisations to converse, debate and share experience, provides this essential collective voice that can create coherence and, in turn, influence policy.

Much of the work of the Forum is longer-term which allows us to get into the nitty gritty of issues and make a real impact on policy development, even if progress can sometimes feel slow. Recently, a focus area has been to push for a more sustainable funding landscape for many organisations working with children and young people. Much of the sector share the view that long-term solutions to this problem are required so that organisations are not spending valuable time scrabbling for survival instead of working with and for children and young people. Through the Forum’s efforts approaching the Scottish Government as a united group, we believe our voices have been heard and we’ve been able to influence thinking on this issue.

We have just welcomed 12 new members into the refreshed Forum and we now have 32 members altogether. With new members joining, we are feeling energised and looking ahead at what will be the important focus areas for us over the coming year. Undoubtably, there will be significant change ahead with the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scottish law and its provisions coming into force. We are also very aware of how overstretched the sector is and for that reason we will be really focused on prioritisation and tackling the issues where we can make most impact.

For the new members joining their first Forum meeting in March, I will be remembering how I felt back in 2021 and offering a warm welcome to the group. The Forum will meet four times throughout this year and, as well as meeting online, we hope to meet in-person for at least one of our meetings. As Chair of the Forum, I try to create an environment where people feel free to talk, where trust is built between members, and where everyone has the opportunity to feed in; whether we are meeting in-person or online.

Despite having clear agendas and focus areas, a wonderful thing about this group is that you don’t know what you might learn and where new information may be useful in the future. Some of the unexpected discussions that have taken place during a meeting have allowed me to make a connection or link up work in the future and that is such a valuable aspect of the Forum.

I’m sure many of the current or past Forum members agree that when their organisation first joined Children in Scotland membership, they did not feel confident enough to consider becoming part of the Forum, but they have gone on to play a key role in its work. If you are member reading this now, I hope you will remain open to contributing to the Forum when the time is right for you.

From a personal perspective, I have drawn so much inspiration from observing the collaboration within the Forum, as well as throughout the children’s services network more widely. We are so lucky to have a sector that is made up of such highly-skilled, committed and experienced individuals, it is something to be very proud of.

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About the Author

Judith Turbyne is Chief Exeutive of Children in Scotland

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