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Before and beyond

To eradicate the poverty-related attainment gap, we need to
do better at tackling inequalities beyond the classroom in
children’s earliest years, writes Claire Telfer

Ridding Scotland of the poverty-related attainment gap once and for all requires an approach that is balanced in favour of action ‘before and beyond the classroom’. The education system plays a key role, but it shouldn’t be shouldering the burden when the main drivers of the gap sit outside the classroom. Making progress requires a shift in gear and bold action. It means a relentless focus on reducing the number of children living in poverty and loosening the grasp poverty has on children’s learning and development in the early years.

The first few years of childhood are golden years when development is rapid, vast and holistic. It’s when little ones start to make sense of the world around them. From the moment they are born, children learn and develop in front of their families’ eyes. All parents want the best for their children but, without support, experiencing poverty in the early years can limit young children’s potential and entrench inequalities. The poverty-related gap in outcomes between children from poor families and their peers opens up well before they set foot in a classroom.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see that early delays in development between children living in poverty and their peers at 27-30 months have narrowed slightly in the last three years, from 15 per cent to 13 per cent. That said, a decade on from the ‘transformational change’ promised in the Scottish Government’s Early Years Framework, children from the most deprived areas are still more than twice as likely than those living in the least deprived areas to experience delays.

Progress appears fragile and slow – baby steps compared to the confident strides we need to make. And there’s a real danger that progress will come undone against a challenging backdrop of rising poverty. A third of families in Scotland where the youngest child is one or under are living in poverty. Without action, this is set to increase further.

There are no easy answers to this challenge. We will only succeed if our approach reflects intensified and sustained action on the drivers that allow differences in children’s learning and development to emerge. The Scottish Government has taken welcome steps to make Scotland the best country in the world to be born into, including investment in quality early learning and childcare; providing support to parents to engage in their children’s learning; and providing help with costs through the Baby Box and Best Start Grants. This support must be sustained, and every effort made to ensure these approaches are reaching and benefiting families living in poverty.

What happens at home through child and parent play has a huge impact on young children’s learning and development. Living on a low income can shrink the space and resources available for parents to support this. The parents we work with tell us they need and want help in identifying how they can best support their children’s early learning.

Government, services and communities need to work together to help unleash the power of parents and ensure they have the skills, tools, confidence and resources needed. We warmly welcome the inclusion of parental engagement as one of the six priorities for improvement in our education system. We need to ensure this priority is mirrored in family support for the youngest children.

We also must do more to address rising child poverty. Money matters, and finding ways to get more money into families’ pockets and reduce poverty is vital to closing the attainment gap. Struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis causes a great deal of stress and anxiety and leaves families with impossible choices about what essentials to spend money on.

Children living in poverty do less well than their better-off peers simply because they are poorer. This is true for cognitive and social-behavioural development and school achievement. Conversely, having more money can directly improve children’s development and achievement. Scotland has shown that progress can be made in reducing child poverty. But with that now in retreat, advances in tackling the attainment gap will be more difficult. As increasing numbers of children risk experiencing poverty in their first years, we must do more.

Attention will need to focus on ensuring families can earn enough to live free of poverty and reduce costs like housing and childcare. Scotland can now take action to protect families against poverty through new social security powers. We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to introduce an income supplement. This presents a huge opportunity to boost the incomes of families with young children. It should be seen as being as much a part of family and children’s policy as anti-poverty policy.

Tackling the poverty-related attainment gap is critical for sustaining low levels of child poverty. The Scottish Government should be applauded for setting an ambitious agenda to rid Scotland of these scars. But we need to do more to join the dots between plans for putting more money in families’ pockets and supporting children’s prospects, to prevent poverty and its impact on children from the earliest years. With political will and bold action, real progress can be made.

Claire Telfer is Head of Save the Children in Scotland

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A radical new beginning

Beginning our eight-page snapshot of best practice and innovation in the early years, Karen Richmond and Jenny Pow profile a P1 setting in Edinburgh that takes learning through play to a whole new level

Across a series of bright, airy rooms, children are drawing intently or creating complex wooden cities. Others cluster in purposeful discussion with their teacher. There is no classroom. Instead the children explore a sequence of ‘learning zones’ spanning Creativity, STEM, Imagination, Sensory, Outdoor and Connection.

The One-ery – located in Southing Morningside Primary School in Edinburgh – is based on a set of principles that are child-centred, rights-centred and creative. The philosophy behind it grew from many roots, but perhaps the most important was dissatisfaction with the highly structured traditional P1 environment.

We wanted to draw on what we know about best practice – an understanding that learners in our nurseries are creative, collaborative and problem solving. Instead of stripping away these skills, we were keen to nurture and build on them. Looking to leading Early Educational settings (Finland, Denmark) and their approach to pedagogy, we redesigned the context in which our children would learn.

Firstly, we wanted to give practitioners autonomy to allow our children to lead their own learning, using play as a vehicle to deliver the curriculum. The Curriculum for Excellence documentation encourages us to deliver our curriculum in an inventive and creative way. Decluttering the curriculum meant we started with the basic premise that our 105 primary ones should have play as their entitlement from the minute they come into school until the end of the day. Building on this, we wanted to ensure our learners receive teaching that is tailored to their needs and follows their own progression.

To develop our Continuous Provision, we started to group elements of play together, which then formed what we now call our zones. The teachers plan the zones based on experiences they’d like to develop but also on what the children want and what their interests are. This is all absorbed through observing their play and listening to them. To ensure our learners were receiving the breadth and depth of our curriculum, we bundled the benchmarks together and the teachers take responsibility for planning their own zone to meet the needs of our curriculum and our learners.

Understanding the impact of the environment on a child’s development, concentration and engagement, we stripped back our context to a calm, bright and natural place to learn. We believe that the environment belongs to the children, rather than the teachers, and we ensure all our resources are accessible and each surface has a purpose.

The ethos of ‘bringing the outside in’ has meant our natural materials, natural lighting and resources create ‘real-life’ experiences. By giving consideration to how materials and documentation are displayed, our goal is to create an atmosphere that fosters creative exploration and consolidation of skills. The learners take ownership of their environment and can look at the opportunities it can provide rather than, traditionally, looking at the barriers it could create.

Our learning opportunities are carefully displayed in a way that provides challenge, support and ease of access. Clear provocations and invitations to learn are displayed at each activity. which can provide stimulus for dynamic and creative work: constructing, applying skills, inventing, baking, building.

We are continually on a journey to challenge closed learning tasks that provide no room for individuality and can often lead learners to becoming bored and unable to be expressive or challenged. Learners are encouraged to collect six ‘targets’ during ‘Zone Time’ throughout the week, which means they access all aspects of our provision and receive a breadth of learning opportunities.

With our Continuous Provision providing rich experiences for our learners, the teacher then has the ability to work with a maximum of six learners and focus on literacy and numeracy. Our ‘Teacher Time’ allows teachers to meet the needs of all our children through hands-on, practical learning opportunities. We track and monitor the children’s learning and have fluid groups that allow learners to access the correct support at all times. As a team, we work closely to ensure all learners are getting the correct support and are able to learn at their own pace.

The One-ery is made up of a rich and vibrant blend of cultures, backgrounds and experiences. The unique structure of our setting allows the integration of all learners through our child-centred philosophy. The provision of high-quality play opportunities engages children regardless of their needs and abilities. Learners who require additional support can access learning that meets their individual needs and interests through our carefully planned provision that is open and accessible to all, and which is carefully considered to remove barriers to learning.

Karen Richmond is Depute Headteacher (with responsibility for Nursery and Primary 1) and Jenny Pow is a Class Teacher at the One-ery

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The One-ery

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Relationships are the foundations for change

Working with the child, working with the parent, and working with the parent and child together are the three keys to a new direction, says Alan Sinclair

William Clark is Tesco’s Paisley catering manager in the staff canteen. At age 33 he is excited that his partner, a nursery worker, is pregnant. His keen sense of humour is now put to good use doing stand-up comedy; he recently won first prize in the largest “gong” competition in Scotland.

But a different William Clark existed two decades ago. This was the boy who had lost his loving, cuddling dad after a blazing row; whose mother was emotionally damaged and unequipped to look after him. He was excluded from primary school after attacking another pupil, had his stomach pumped to rid it of alcohol at age 13, and at 15 he was using cocaine.

By 26 he was married and had a child but it was “mental from the go”, according to William, who remembers that he was “totally impulsive”. A second child followed, along with a spell in jail for possessing 7,500 Valium tablets and four police assaults. Rehab, Narcotic Anonymous and a Parenting Matters Dads' group literally saved William’s life.

“I first went on the Parenting Matters course to get a tick from the social work. My kids were on the protection register”, he says. “ I soon found other men talking about their feelings and I wanted to break the cycle and give my kids a more balanced life, where they could make better decisions. I did not want them to be as emotionally immature as me. It is no wonder that my wife left me”.

Today, a five-year-old William Clark would be defined as ”vulnerable”. One Scottish child in every four is vulnerable when they reach primary school, defined as being poor in social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive ability or physical health and wellbeing.

In the next five years, the forecast is that 250,000 babies will be born in Scotland – the equivalent of the combined populations of Aberdeen and Hamilton. Unless we change direction we will have added the equivalent of a Hamilton full of vulnerable children. To do this with our eyes open is not good enough.

We are quick to assign conditions to children. But vulnerable children are the direct consequences of an adult condition. This adult syndrome has two sets of symptoms, first, being locked into doing what we have done before, even when we know that it does not work. Secondly, there is a lack of will, skills and dedication to stick with a new sense of purpose and direction. Half in jest and half seriously, I call this the Implementation Deficit Syndrome.

The Victorians, when confronted by endemic cholera and dysentery created an infrastructure to provide clean water and a sewerage system. Babies across the population, or at least the vulnerable like William and his parents, need an investment. This time in engagement and support to help people get ready to have a child and look after themselves and the baby. Improved parenting is a practical and achievable goal. So the first bottom line is the reduction in pain and harm, the space for joy in parenthood and the opportunity for the child to flourish.

Individual and collective economic gain is the second bottom line and is less understood. By examining different datasets that trace people from the start of life to adulthood, James Heckman, an economics Nobel Laureate, has drawn the conclusion that early investment in parents and children produces an annual rate of return of between seven and 10 per cent. The returns come from the reduction in costs of crime, better physical and mental health, more people in work paying taxes, and fewer people on welfare.

Half of Scottish public revenues are now levied in Scotland. If Scotland’s economic base and human capital does not grow or worse deteriorates, the pressure on the public spend will get worse. Given the factors Scotland faces, this is a crisis moment which demands a change in direction.

It is sound advice to know where you are now before taking a compass bearing and heading in a new direction. Holland is top of the UNICEF league table on child wellbeing. Parenting in Scotland and the UK is not a complete basket case; we are halfway up this global table. On returning from a visit to Holland, I asked a Dutch woman living in Scotland for her opinion: “In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.”

I am optimistic. All parents of young children are hungry for help. At the core it is about what parents do and do not do. I no longer talk about “early years”; it is too woolly and leaves out mothers and fathers. The Scottish Government has started to shift in the right direction. Health Visitors have been saved from merging into generic Community Nurses and their numbers and pay grade increased. There is a strong need to go further and give the nurses the time to build a personal relationship.

A Baby Box has been introduced as a gift to each new baby and their parents. It is a welcome symbol and the box of goods is much appreciated, especially by financially hard-pressed parents. It is common for mothers to feel isolated during pregnancy and once they have a baby. At the moment the postman delivers the box; in future the box could be presented as part of group sessions preparing for birth and looking after a baby. Relationships are more important than more “stuff”.

By doubling day care for vulnerable two-year-olds and all three- and four-year-olds, the Scottish Government has committed to spend close to £1 billion a year. Quality day care (quality does matter) has a number of benefits: the most at-risk children benefit the greatest from the security and stimulation of day care and it can lift low-income households out of poverty by making it easier for one or both parents to go to work without having the financial gains eaten by childcare costs. Across the board it helps parents cope and children to become socialised.

Day care is the answer to the question: how do we help parents with young children get to work and make sure that it is worth the trouble? But is this the right question? A more significant framing is: how can we best help all parents during the first 1000 days, from before conception to two years, to become better at the most demanding role they will ever face and the one with the longest lasting consequences?

William talks about how impulsive he was in his years of chaos and how he “never once got offered help on being a parent”. Day care might be necessary but it is not sufficient for neglectful, vulnerable, traumatised or chaotic parents. Vulnerable parents are often isolated or scared of day care centres. Scottish children who “dog” school will most likely have dogged nursery.

Like Baby Boxes, day care needs reframing. Human engagement and reaching out to vulnerable parents, building trust and empathy, tea and scones, making food together and chapping doors, walking next to parents — all of these are essential.

Multiple studies have shown that the most effective interventions have three elements: working with the child, working with the parent and working with the parent and child together. Relationships are at the core of the new direction. That is a challenge for parents and for government.

Alan Sinclair is author of Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies

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A modest proposal

It’s time for a large-scale, unified campaign to transform early years policy in Scotland — and we should all be adding our voices to it, writes Sue Palmer

Whenever I bang on about the need for reform of early years policy to anyone in the political sphere, their faces tend to register incomprehension (What is this woman on about?), pitying condescension (Doesn’t she realise how impossible that would be?) or simple irritation (Oh no, not another one…).

There’s a different reaction from early years professionals in health, childcare, education or social services, of course: they just look tired, resigned and sad. But, as the poverty-related attainment gap widens and mental health problems soar among children and young people, Scotland really must start taking early years seriously.

Getting it right – or wrong – for the early years

The United Nations defines early childhood as birth to eight years and, over the last 70 years, the scientific literature about the significance of early childhood experiences has grown into a mountain. In Northern European countries, where this evidence has been used to develop coherent, well-resourced universal services to support children, families and communities, they’re already reaping the benefits in terms of national wellbeing and educational success.

But in Scotland (as in the rest of the UK), there is as yet no sign of the political and public understanding of child development that underpins these successful Northern European models. What political responsibility there is for the early years has historically been split between health (mainly physical health) and – once they turn five years old – education (starting with the three Rs).

As demand for pre-school care grew during the 1990s, Scotland clearly needed a ‘childcare sector’. But this has been cobbled together over the last 20 years – on the hoof and on the cheap – resulting in widely varying quality and attention to staff training. Most politicians – like the general public – assume that ‘out-of-home childcare’ just means keeping the weans out of harm’s way while their parents are at work.

As Alan Sinclair put it in his recent book Right from the Start: “The way in which tax money is spent in the UK and Scotland flies in the face of all early years’ science. In education, most money per head goes to university education, then secondary school, followed by primary, and last of all pre-school. In health spend, it is the same. Little is spent on the first thousand days of life, with most spent on the last days of life.”

While the accompanying documentation (such as Getting it Right for Every Child and Curriculum for Excellence’s Early Level) is developmentally-informed, this has not been translated into cultural change in terms of understanding and attitudes.

Meanwhile, there have been seismic changes in young children’s lifestyles during those same 30 years which put the two central pillars of early child development – attachment and play – under serious strain.

Twenty-first century parental working patterns have led to a massive expansion of out-of-home childcare, from an increasingly early age, and higher road traffic has combined with fragmenting communities to deny little children access to active, self-directed outdoor play. The implications of these changes for all aspects of development – physical, social, emotional and cognitive – are immense.

It’s not that the changes went unnoticed. Many professionals in health, childcare and education struggle daily to support the children in their care as well as possible, often in completely inadequate environments. Their work is supported by third sector organisations such as Home Start, Parenting across Scotland, Children First, Play Scotland and Inspiring Scotland’s outdoor play initiatives. But all are hampered by a constant struggle for funding, the short-term nature of most projects and the lack of political interest in anything beyond lip-service.

The emergence in recent years of two grassroots movements with widespread support – ACE-Aware Nation and Upstart Scotland – indicates the frustration felt by professionals across the early years sector, and those beyond early years who recognise the significance of this developmental stage.

But, despite an Early Years Framework, an Early Years Task Force, an Early Years Collaborative and an ever-growing pile of documentary advice and guidance, Scotland is a very long way from the “transformational change” promised by successive governments. Instead, as disadvantaged children are further disadvantaged by lack of attention to basic developmental needs, our nation’s deeply entrenched problems of poverty and ill-health become ever more compounded.

The road to culture change

So, if the aim is a well-funded, coherent, evidence-based early years policy (pre-birth to eight years) with a well-qualified workforce to deliver it, what do we need to do? My suggestion is that every person and every organisation concerned about this problem should work together for large-scale reform.

Many of Children in Scotland’s ’25 Calls for change’ relate to early years policy but, at present, each of the groups concerned concentrates on its own aims, from its own perspective, rather than seeing it as part of a coherent national plan. If specialists in the field put forward piecemeal solutions, we can hardly be surprised if all we get is piecemeal, short-term, inadequately-funded political responses.

I’m suggesting we put our voices together and call for a well-funded, coherent, evidence-based approach to early years policy with a well-qualified workforce. That wouldn’t prevent us from continuing to work within our own specialist fields, but it would help us envisage an overall system into which each jigsaw piece would successfully fit.

As a first move towards the realisation of this big-picture thinking, we could demand the appointment of a Minister for Early Years with real political teeth and financial clout, who could cut across the current political silos (health, childcare, education, social services) to achieve fundamental reform of universal state services. And, since such a minister would need expert advice far beyond that available from civil servants, we must also call for a standing advisory committee drawn from the sectors listed above, as well as specialists in developmental psychology and the new science of play.

A large-scale campaign of this kind would attract plenty of media coverage, creating opportunities to change public perceptions of early childhood. And perhaps this is even more important than the political demands. Imagine the impact on public opinion if all relevant professional organisations shouted loudly in the media about the ill-effects of adverse childhood experiences on physical and mental health, the protective power of focusing on love and play in our universal early years services, and the need to spend tax money at the beginning of children’s lives, rather than trying to mop up problems as the years go by.

The scientific evidence to support such a call is well-supported by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Take a look at General Comment 7 (2005) and match it up with any Articles and General Comments you already cite on behalf of children’s rights. Northern Europe has proved how critical it is to get these rights as right as possible, right from the start.

Considering the long-term benefits to health and wellbeing, for individual children and the society they will one day inherit, my suggestion does indeed seem a very modest proposal.

Sue Palmer is Chair of Upstart Scotland and author of several books including Toxic Childhood and Upstart.

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In conversation: Are ACEs overplayed?

Kicking off the special early years edition of Children in Scotland Magazine, Aberlour CEO SallyAnn Kelly and developmental psychologist Suzanne Zeedyk discuss whether the Adverse Childhood Experiences approach is too narrow – or offers the potential for real societal change

SallyAnn: I believe we need societal level change not only to prevent ACEs, but to better aid recovery and healing for those who do experience childhood adversity. I am really encouraged that there has been a commitment from the Scottish Government to aim to address childhood adversity in its widest sense and that included within that frame of reference is a clear statement regarding the potential impact of structural inequality.

But there must be greater recognition that tackling childhood adversity cannot be achieved by focusing only on adversity happening within and from family interactions (as the ACE studies do) and a clear understanding that we need to focus on those structural inequalities such as poverty and discrimination.

Right now, 240,000 children in Scotland live in poverty. There is broad agreement that lifting children out of poverty acts as an effective buffer to the risk of toxic stress on families, as it serves to improve relational heath between families and their children and reduces exposure to trauma.

Yet, we still don’t appear able to grasp that decisive action in this area is one of the single most effective preventative measures that we have at our disposal. It concerns me that much of the discussion around ACEs misses out these important issues.

The ACEs approach categorises childhood adversity into types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, and then allocates an individual ACEs score. However, these categories do not cover every potentially traumatic event a child could experience. In the original ACEs study conducted in the United States during the 1990s – on which the ACEs approach is based – the participants were overwhelmingly white and college educated.

There was no consideration in the study of the impact of structural inequalities or the discrimination faced by women and refugee, BME and LGBT communities. I, in common with many others, believe this presents a significant gap in the reach of the ACEs approach.

It does not, though, mean that we shouldn’t use the research, but that we should display caution. If we are to address all forms of childhood adversity then we need to make sure we are inclusive of all communities in how we do that.

Suzanne: I agree. Many of the pressures on families that exacerbate and cause trauma derive from societal causes: poverty; insufficient family support; pressures that prevent work-life balance; poor housing; violence; cultural ideas about gender, race, class and children’s rights. We need society-level changes that place relationships at the centre of absolutely everything we do.

The film Resilience has had a massive impact on our thinking in Scotland. As one of the people who brought that film to Scotland in 2017, alongside Tina Hendry, that impact has been a surprise to me. An ACEs framework was not new to Scotland. Many people had been discussing it since Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns and the Violence Reduction Unit first brought it to our attention in 2005.

However, once the film was available, interest in it and in ACEs exploded. Two years on, tens of thousands of Scots have seen the film. I tell this story because I now wonder if that film has been almost too impactful. It is only one hour long and can only tell a part of the ACEs story, but many people remain unaware, as yet, of that wider story. We can only get to that deeper level of awareness by having more conversations. The film Resilience is a conversation-starter, nothing more. We are now each responsible for getting curious about what else there is to learn about ACEs.

It is true, as SallyAnn says, that the original ACEs Study in 1998 focused on family factors, and the original triangular model that is now familiar to many people seems to emphasise those. But 20 years of scientific research have been undertaken since then, yielding hundreds of additional papers.

Many have now emphasised societal factors, like poverty, violence, inequality, racism, living in a war zone. Others have highlighted family and personal factors, such as bereavement, bullying, periods of hospitalisation, household moves, and care experience. New forms of the ACEs survey have been developed, some of which contain more than the common 10 items and some that contain fewer.

So, it isn’t accurate to say that ACEs studies haven’t focused on contextual factors. Indeed, one of the organisations leading on public education, ACEs Too High, describes ACEs as “falling into three large categories”: ‘adverse childhood experiences’, ‘adverse community experiences’ and ‘adverse climate experiences’.

SallyAnn sees the debate as growing from the failure of ACEs studies themselves to sufficiently consider these contextual factors. I think the problem lies not with the ACEs research, but with the public’s insufficient awareness of the wider body of scientific work. A good place to begin is the 2018 NHS Highland Report entitled ACES, Resilience and Trauma-Informed Care.

We have a challenge on our hands, and it is one we must find a way to tackle. As a country, we are trying to find ways to act on an area of science that is still in development. This is not unlike the challenge that society faced as evidence emerged of the impact of cigarette smoking. Should we have waited as long as we did to develop anti-smoking policies?

The question we are facing as a society right now is: how long should we wait to develop new policies on the basis of evidence we currently have about toxic stress? We have decided we need to act now, on the basis of what we do know. I think that is the right decision, given that people’s lives are at stake. But it means that we will need plenty of curiosity and conversation.

SallyAnn: For me, the ACEs approach is useful only at a whole-population level and should not be used as a mechanism for either screening or routine enquiry of children. I believe that everyone who experiences adversity can flourish with the right support, that relationships are key and that it is possible for Scotland to become a country that recognises and responds to adversity in all its forms.

For that to happen we need to see real system change and a fundamental shift to becoming focused on people and relationships across all of our systems, structures and organisations. Few people escape some form of adversity completely, and I believe we must ensure that we have the capacity and compassion as a society to support people who have experienced adversity in their lives.

This means understanding and recognising all forms of adversity that affect children, as well as the potential to experience trauma as a result of that adversity, and how we help people to heal. This will require greater collaboration across all sectors, as well as more resource and investment, if we are to become a truly trauma-responsive society.

We know that in countries where there are good relationships within society, where the value of human beings is separate to their capacity to create wealth and where human relationships are valued, there is the highest quality of life and lowest levels of adversity. This is the kind of Scotland we shall all aspire to create.

To read the rest of the conversation between SallyAnn Kelly and Suzanne Zeedyk, and the wide range of content in our early years issue, click here to buy a print copy or subscribe to the magazine for a year by contacting

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An ACEs residential

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Apply now to be one of our young board members

We're looking for two young people aged 18-26 to join our Board of Directors.

Want to improve the lives of children and young people?

Available to attend and contribute to board meetings?

Have relevant voluntary experience, for example in a campaigning or awareness raising or representative role within a children or young people’s organisation (e.g. Brownie Leader, YOYP Ambassador, Champion’s Board etc.)?

You could be perfect for the role!

As a member of the Board, you will work under the leadership and guidance of the Convenor, who makes sure that Children in Scotland runs in properly in partnership with the Chief Executive (Jackie Brock).

You will take an active role in making decisions about Children in Scotland’s work, and will strengthen the links between the board and our children and young people’s advisory group, Changing Our World.

The Board meets five times per year, mainly in Edinburgh and includes the Annual General Meeting in November each year (this is sometimes held outside of Edinburgh)

A term on the Board is four years and each Board member can be on the Board for up to two terms. Board members can leave the Board at any point during a term in agreement with the Convenor.

For this particular position we are looking for someone aged 18 to 26.

We welcome applications from people with a range of backgrounds, experiences and identities. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • care experience
  • disability (physical or learning)
  • minority ethnic backgrounds

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or concerns about your application or would require any additional support to carry out this role.

Responsibilities and criteria

To read the list of responsibilities and the criteria for applying to this role, click here.

What support will Children in Scotland provide?

  1. A support pack to explain how the Board works.
  2. Support from the Vice Convenor to take up your role on the Board.
  3. An existing member of the Board to act as a mentor. The mentor will help you to understand the different aspects and responsibilities of the role, including leadership and decision-making.
  4. Travel expenses to attend meetings and any other related events will be reimbursed

How to apply

To apply, please send a ‘cover letter’ – which you can provide in the form of your choosing, such as writing, video, song, or Instagram story – and a CV to by 30 June. Click here to see a sample CV.

Should you require any specific additional support to enable you to carry out this role, please let us know how what support we can provide.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions or concerns about your application or the role.

What happens next?

We will be holding interviews on the week commencing 8 July, supported by members of our children and young people’s advisory group. You will need to be free to come along to this.

We will pay for your travel to attend the interview.

Changing Our World

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Our Board

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More than witnesses: Recognising the impact of domestic abuse on children

24 April 2019

Responding to an interview with survivor and campaigner Luke Hart in the April -May edition of Children in Scotland Magazine, Roseanna MacDonald highlights the ways in which the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act helps to put the impact of domestic abuse on children on the agenda

In our work at Scottish Women’s Aid to end domestic abuse across Scotland, we encounter experiences like Luke and Ryan Hart’s all too often. While not all culminate in what Luke Hart describes as “the ultimate act of control” – an abuser murdering his partner or ex-partner and her children – the lifetime of control and coercion is one that children across the country disclose to Women’s Aid workers.

Since 1 April 2019, coercive and controlling behaviour against a partner or ex-partner is a criminal offence in Scotland. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 doesn't consider domestic abuse as a one-off incident, but as a pattern of control, intimidation and humiliation.

Luke Hart’s timely interview highlights just how much this change in law is needed. Misconceptions about domestic abuse are still widespread; the new law provides an important opportunity to change public attitudes and understanding about coercive control and its impact.

Luke’s story powerfully illustrates the extent to which children experience and are affected by coercive control. Children are not simply “witnesses” to incidents of physical violence; like Luke and his siblings, they are impacted by a range of coercive behaviours including financial control and isolation. Abusers may also threaten to harm children as a way of controlling their mother, or they may force or manipulate children and young people to take part in the abuse.

Abuse does not end on separation; in reality, for many women and children abuse continues or intensifies after separation, with child contact proceedings and arrangements a key avenue through which abusers continue to exert control. As evidenced with Luke and Ryan’s experience, it is also the time that women and children are at most danger of being murdered.

The Act recognises the harm to children through an aggravator which can impose harsher penalties if the abuser:

  • directs behaviour at or involves the child in carrying out the abuse;
  • is abusive in the presence of a child;
  • if a reasonable person would consider that the abusive behaviour is likely to negatively affect a child living with the abuser and/or the adult victim.

While the Act does not go as far as including children as victims in their own right, the aggravator is important for raising awareness more widely of how children can be impacted by domestic abuse beyond physical violence. This includes raising awareness amongst children themselves; as Luke highlighted, children may not identify coercive control as abuse, or even that their experiences aren’t “the norm”, resulting in them being far less likely to seek help and support.

It is essential that public awareness-raising around the new Act is inclusive of children. As our participation work on gender-based violence and justice with young survivors has highlighted, children want information about their rights, how to report abuse, and where to get support.

The Act is also important when it comes to professionals’ understanding of supporting children affected by domestic abuse. Focusing only on physical violence or whether a child has seen or heard abuse does not accurately reflect children’s lived experience and can lead to inappropriate interventions.

The Act also helps to make visible the abuser’s behaviour as the source of harm and risk to children. This is important because professionals sometimes identify abused mothers as at fault for “choosing” an abusive partner, for “failing to protect”, or for remaining in abusive relationships.

This perception fails to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse (including that leaving an abuser is a particularly dangerous time for women and children), wrongly places blame on women, and renders the abuser’s actions invisible. The aggravator reinforces that the impact of domestic abuse on a child should be understood as a consequence of the abuser’s actions and choices rather than the non-abusing parent “failing to protect”.

Luke also makes an important point in his interview about the gendered dynamics of coercive control. In Scotland, we recognise that domestic abuse is a cause and consequence of women’s inequality. This does not ignore that men can also be victims of domestic abuse, but recognises that abuse needs to be understood within the context of women’s unequal status in society, and that women and girls are at increased risk of abuse and violence purely because they are women and girls.

This understanding is critical when it comes to promoting and protecting children’s rights in Scotland. When women suffer, children suffer – gender inequality is a barrier to the fulfilment of children’s rights, and if we are to be effective children’s rights advocates, we need to be women’s rights advocates too. The Act, while gender-neutral (in that people of all genders may be prosecuted under its provisions), reflects the gendered dynamics of coercive control and the structural inequalities that can bolster abusers’ tactics.

Last but not least, as an organisation that supports children who have experienced domestic abuse to bring their views to decision-makers, we commend Luke and Ryan for not only shining a light on these critical issues, but as important examples of the strength and resilience of survivors. There can sometimes be unhelpful narratives about domestic abuse causing irreparable damage to children; in fact, with the right support, children can – and do – overcome their experiences.

As participation projects like Voice Against Violence (click to view), Everyday Heroes (click to view) and Power Up/Power Down (click to view) show, children are not passive, silent victims of domestic abuse; they are a powerful force for change. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act will be an important part of changing public attitudes and understanding, because it is rooted in the stories of survivors. We must continue to put their voices front and centre if we are to achieve Scotland’s aim of eradicating violence against women and girls.

If you think you might be experiencing coercive control from your partner/ex-partner or are worried about someone you know, contact Scotland's 24-hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234 to speak to someone confidentially.

Roseanna MacDonald is Policy Worker (Children and Young People) at Scottish Women’s Aid.

Scottish Women's Aid is a member of Children in Scotland. 

Children in Scotland magazine

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Rights at a price

Harsh immigration policies are tearing lower income families apart. To protect children’s rights, this has to change, argues Clare Simpson 

The Windrush scandal that broke last year brought the UK Government’s hostile environment firmly into the spotlight, making many of us aware for the first time of the unjust and pernicious impact that immigration policies were having on the Windrush generation. What is less well-known is how these policies are impacting on families far beyond Windrush. An estimated 15,000 children are separated from a parent because of the Minimum Income Requirement, introduced under immigration rules in 2012.

Most people are blithely unaware of these rules until they come up against them. For me, that was when my son and his partner announced they were expecting a baby. Given that they are both young and still studying, the road ahead wasn’t the easiest. What we hadn’t anticipated, though, was that their very right to be together as a family and to bring up their child together was under threat from the UK Government.

The Minimum Income Requirement requires a British citizen or settled resident to meet an income threshold to sponsor the visa of a partner or spouse from outside the European Economic Area. The base threshold is currently set at £18,600 earnings per annum or £62,500 savings. In addition to this, those applying for spousal visas need to pay visa fees (currently £1,464) and an NHS Health Surcharge of £400. There are further charges for each child (£3,800 for the first child and £2,400 for subsequent children). Many also use a lawyer to apply, ratcheting the cost up still further.

Usually, only the sponsor’s income counts towards meeting the threshold. Across the UK, 40 per cent of people would not be able to meet this requirement – it’s far above the minimum wage or even the living wage. This disproportionately affects women, younger people and people from certain ethnic groups who tend to earn less. And families have to meet this every time they reapply for a visa – every two and half years until they acquire settled status at either five years or ten years.

In 2015, a damning report, Skype Kids, by the Children’s Commissioner for England, found that since the rules were introduced in 2012, an estimated 15,000 children have been separated from one of their parents because their British parent could not meet the financial requirements. More recent calculations by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory put the figure at between 24,000 and 94,000 children over six years.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, along with academics from Middlesex University and researchers from the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants, have documented the effects on children of separation:

“Parents reported a range of behavioural and psychological problems, including separation anxiety; anger; aggression; depression and guilt; disrupted sleep; bed wetting; social problems with peers and changes to eating patterns.” 

Additionally, we know that high levels of parental stress can have a direct impact on children, and are linked to separation anxiety, attention deficits and depression in children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is very clear that children have a right to live with parents unless it is unsafe for them to do so, a right to know both parents, and that families whose members live in different countries should be allowed to move between those countries so that parents and children can stay in contact or get back together as a family. The Home Office argues that this obligation can be fulfilled by Skype and by occasional visits.

When called out on the discriminatory nature of the rules, the government’s only comeback is that the Supreme Court, in 2017, ruled that it is legal in principle for the government to set an income threshold. But what they are less keen to mention is that the judgement also found that “the MIR has caused, and will continue to cause, significant hardship to many thousands of couples who have good reasons for wanting to make their lives together in this country, and to their children”.

The judge also found that the rules discriminate against women, disproportionately affect people from ethnic minorities, and are harshly applied. In response to the judgement, the government paid lip service to making the system fairer by making a few grudging changes: those who can’t prove they earn enough can use other sources of income, like support from other family members, as long as the Home Office believes their circumstances are “exceptional”.

Laura met her husband while she was volunteering at a school in Ethiopia, where he taught English. They fell in love. When Laura became pregnant, they decided to move to the UK so they could have the support of Laura’s parents in raising their child. But as a recent graduate with a baby on the way, she couldn’t find work that paid over £18,600 a year.

Laura said: “Our child is nearly three, but he has never had a Christmas or a birthday with his father. My partner was denied the joy of
seeing our son’s first steps, of hearing his first word. There’s only so much connection a three-year-old can have with a photo, or with a voice over the phone. Why deny my son a hug from his father just because of what I earn as a single working mother?”

Even now, her job working with disabled children doesn’t pay enough for her to bring her husband, a qualified teacher who is fluent in English, to the UK to be with his family. 

After two and a half years bringing up her child alone,  Laura has finally managed to prove that their family’s circumstances are exceptional enough to deserve to be together. 

Thousands of others, though, are still falling victim to the Home Office’s hostile environment. All the major parties, except the Conservatives, acknowledge the damage these rules are causing, and are committed to change, which may now be possible with the Immigration Bill currently going through parliament.

My son and daughter-in-law may have had to endure the stress of a pregnancy where they didn’t know whether they would be able to stay together and bring up their child, a wedding that had to be cancelled the day before because of immigration complications, and untold stress and anxiety over immigration, but ultimately they are the lucky ones – they got to stay together and bring up their family. Too many other families are not that fortunate.

Clare Simpson is Parenting across Scotland (PAS) Manager

This article first appeared in Issue 191 (April - May 2019) of Children in Scotland Magazine

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Building a generation of equal citizens

The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD) is using Learning Disability Week as an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the importance of community. Libby Clement tells us more about their plans for the week and how national strategy is supporting a cultural shift towards inclusion

SCLD has been responsible for coordinating Scotland’s Learning Disability Week for the past four years, taking place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May this year. This is an important chance to raise awareness of the issues faced by people with learning disabilities and to effect positive change. It’s a chance to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a nation, and a chance for organisations from across the third sector to come together with focus and address problems.

We’re at a really important point in Scotland’s history. The generation of young people with learning disabilities today are the first in our history to grow up with an expectation of living as part of mainstream society – studying, working, volunteering, raising a family and being part of a community. 

In the not too distant past, people with learning disabilities grew up in long-stay hospitals and stayed there as adults, hidden away from Scottish communities. That means that a lot of change must happen across society to make sure that this population can feel welcome in the communities they were excluded from for so long.

Learning Disability Week is a great way to support this. Whether that means charities and community organisations taking the time to think about how they could use plain English in their signage, forms and resources to avoid unintentionally excluding people, or schools asking their pupils how they could better support them to reach their full potential, the week offers the space for everyone to consider the ways their community can be open and inclusive.

SCLD has distributed hundreds of free Get Involved packs to support communities across the country to host ‘Communitea’ events – from bunting and posters to teabags and stickers – through which we’re encouraging people to take time out to chat about what community means. For young people marking the week, Uno the Unicorn (a mascot for the week who represents the celebration of difference) offers a fun twist on the theme.

The week will also culminate in the annual Learning Disability Awards, where people with learning disabilities will be recognised for the contributions they’ve made to their communities as volunteers, artists, entrepreneurs and more.

All of this celebration takes place shortly after the Scottish Government’s strategy on learning disability has been refreshed. The updated strategy, ‘The Keys to Life’, focuses on a whole-system, whole -population and whole-person approach. It is systematic, stretching across local and national government, and the third and private sectors, to ensure the needs of people with learning disabilities are addressed across all relevant areas of Scottish Government policy. 

It focuses on the whole life journey, from childhood to older age, addressing key elements of that journey, from health and social care support, to education and the transition period between childhood and adulthood.

Whether through the work of the employability and parenting ‘task groups’, or the commissioned research which is making up for a lack of evidence about lived experience of learning disability, SCLD is working hard to join the dots between strategy, practice, and public awareness. Ultimately, all of this work aims to ensure our communities are welcoming and inclusive for young people with learning disabilities transitioning to the independence of adulthood. 

We’re at a crucial point in Scotland’s history – we need to get it right and make sure that present and future generations of people with learning disabilities are respected as equal citizens in whichever community they become a part of.  

Join SCLD this Learning Disability Week and celebrate people with learning disabilities as a valued part of communities across Scotland. 

Libby Clement is Digital Communications Officer at SCLD

> Interview by Lisa Clark 

What ENABLE Scotland said about Children in Scotland membership:

“Membership of the Children in Scotland network helps to keep us up to date with developments in the sector. This is increasingly important to SCLD, as ‘The Keys to Life Implementation Framework 2019 – 2021’ is taking a whole-population approach to learning disability policy.Membership of Children in Scotland is very important in connecting these policy priorities to a wider network of professionals within the children’s sector to help enact positive change for people with learning disabilities.”

This article first appeared in Issue 191 (April - May 2019) of Children in Scotland Magazine


Learning Disability Week

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Keys to Life

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Inclusion in Action: Call-out for inclusion resources to share internationally

The Inclusive Education in Action (IEA) website, a collaborative project by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (EASNIE), is looking for resources and case studies to feature.

The aim of the website is to provide an online resource base for policymakers around the world who are working to develop “inclusion, equity and quality” in education.

If you have resources or case studies which you would like to share, the people behind IEA want to hear from you so that they can enhance their bank of information.

This will support the project in its aim of aligning its website and content with the 2017 UNESCO publication  ‘A guide for ensuring inclusion and equity in education’ (click to read).

What IEA is looking for

The resource base includes national policy and legislative documents, guidelines, research policy papers and practical tools. It covers a variety of topics, from inclusive pedagogy and practices to professional development, curriculum, and the physical learning environment.

The case study section covers the following themes:

  • Specific policy initiatives for inclusive education
  • Inclusive curriculum development
  • Developing inclusive learning environments
  • Educational staff professional development

Get in touch

Scotland has been a member of the Agency since 1996 as part of the UK representation and then its own representation since 2007. The Representative Board Member is Mary Hoey, Assistant Director of Education Scotland and the National Co-Ordinator for Scotland is Sally Cavers, Head of Inclusion at Children in Scotland.

If you’d like to find out more about the Agency and Scotland’s membership look at the website and click here to get in touch with the representatives


Find out more about Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning

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Learn more about EASNIE

Find out more about the work of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education

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See what our 25 Calls campaign says about ASN

Call 12: Embed understanding of Additional Support Needs in initial teacher training and ongoing development

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