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25 & Up: After a year of adversity, change is coming – and we know Scotland is more determined than ever to Keep the Promise

9 February 2021

Chair of the Promise Oversight Board Fiona Duncan revisits her original 25 Calls campaign call, updates on the Plan, and hails everyone who has campaigned so hard to keep the Care Review on track

It’s almost four years after the launch of the Independent Care Review, two years on from the start of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign, and a year since The Care Review published its conclusions and a vision for the Scotland that together we could be. Driven by the voices of thousands of care experienced babies, infants, children, adults and families as well as the paid and unpaid workforce, the demand was for a Scotland where every child grows up loved, safe and respected.

When I contributed to the 25 Calls campaign in autumn 2018, the Care Review had been running for 18 months. It had already listened to the experiences of care from more than 1000 infants, children, young people and adults across Scotland. Discovery Stage had concluded with the emergence of 10 thematic areas that required deeper understanding and the Journey stage of the work was underway.

The Care Review had also developed its 12 intentions which included supporting families to stay together; protecting relationships significant to infants, children and young people; aftercare available for as long as needed; children and young people’s rights and voices meaningfully impacting decision-making; understanding the financial and human cost of care, including what happens when people don’t get the help they need;  care services planning and working together; and tackling stigma in all its forms.

When it concluded, just over a year later, the change the Care Review called for was vast and urgently needed. Its challenge was met with equally all-encompassing support and enthusiasm: from the care experienced community, organisations and individuals across sectors and industries, politicians, community leaders and the press.

The Promise was made.

One year on and the world is different in terrible and unexpected ways. Our lives are dominated by restrictions and fear – fear of transmission, fear for loved ones, fear of what comes next. For too many life has become even more difficult.

But Scotland’s commitment to #KeepThePromise has remained. There is much still to be done and hard decisions and actions to be taken. But foundations have been laid and change is underway.

Despite unanticipated adversity, the schedule laid out a year ago in The Promise report called the plan (click to read) hasn’t slipped. Massive effort from organisations, individuals, government, and those who campaigned so hard for the Care Review have kept it on track.

Set up in July of last year, The Promise team has pursued the massive task of engaging and working with everyone who needs to #KeepThePromise and more than 100 organisations have outlined how they will change, including local authorities and community planning partnership, Children’s Hearings Scotland, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, the Care Inspectorate plus NHS trusts, charities and many, many more.

These commitments have shaped the draft of one single, multi-agency, cross-sector, collectively owned three-year Plan for Scotland, detailing what must happen for the promise to be kept. This will be supported by annual rolling Change Programmes detailing how this will happen, by who and when.

The Promise Oversight Board (click to find out more) – a 20 strong assembly, more than half of whom have care experience, and who will hold Scotland to account – has been recruited and met as a group for the first time.

The Promise Design School, which will pilot in the next couple of months, will give people with care experience the training and skills to collaborate and design public services. With the Pinky Promise Design School following closely afterwards to capture children’s ideas on change that can happen now.

The Promise Partnership, a £4m investment from Scottish Government, opened for applications on 1st February.

The care community called for change and Scotland answered the call. There is no place for complacency and some of the bigger, harder and more painful calls are still to come. But I am as full of hope as I was last year and I feel that hope reflected back in the actions of those who have pledged to #KeepThePromise. Hope fuels change – and change is here.

Fiona Duncan is Chair of the Promise Oversight Board

About the author

Fiona Duncan is Chair of the Promise Oversight Board

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The Care Review

The Independent Care Review published its conclusions in February 2020

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"Support the Review's aims and its work"

Fiona Duncan's original call was part of our 25 Calls campaign

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Hope in hard times

The Care Review informs themes and approaches in our 2021-26 Manifesto

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"The Care Review lays down a challenge"

Jimmy Paul responded to Fiona Duncan's 25 Calls piece in a 2019 blog

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"Collective support the key to delivery"

Last year we responded to the Review's publication by expressing our total support

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25 and Up: The ‘old normal’ meant acceptance of injustice for too many families. We can’t go back to it

9 October 2020

In a special blog for Challenge Poverty Week, Clare Simpson revisits her 25 Calls contribution, arguing that UNCRC incorporation and the work of the Care Review provide the scaffolding for change Scotland’s families need

Back in 2018 when we made our call for relationship-based whole family support (click to read), addressing the poverty blighting the lives of too many of Scotland’s families, the world was a very different place.

Things felt more hopeful. The Scottish Government had just announced its commitment to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law. The Independent Care Review was at the beginning of its Journey towards its final Promise. The need for better support for families, along with the acknowledgement that this could not be done without tackling poverty, was really gaining traction. And perhaps most importantly, we weren’t living through a pandemic with all its consequent disruption of families’ lives.

Families have been thrust right to the forefront during the pandemic, their essential role suddenly visible and prominent where once it was just background. We thought we no longer had a village to raise our children. But we realised when they were taken away that family and friends, education and other services were that village and that without them families were left horribly exposed.

But families’ troubles were not due solely, or even mostly, due to the impact of the pandemic. Years of austerity had already created a society riven by inequalities. Too many families had been swept away by a rising tide of poverty and many more were teetering on the edge. A forthcoming report by Barnardos and the NSPCC, Challenges from the Frontline Revisited, puts the stark reality of life for too many families under the spotlight. The pandemic has highlighted what was already too many families’ everyday reality.

Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Scotland was already living in poverty. The numbers are predicted to rise. Many families were living in poverty regardless of whether they worked or not. Approximately four in 10 people were experiencing in-work poverty (Poverty in Scotland 2020, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, click to read). Insecure employment and zero-hour contracts left many at the mercy of unregulated employers while inadequate social security levels meant that those who were forced to resort to benefits were far from socially secure.

After lockdown, the number of working hours in Scotland fell sharply, with low-paid workers more likely to lose jobs and pay. Universal Credit claims doubled in the six months from March 2020 with areas with higher poverty rates pre-pandemic most significantly affected (JRF, 2020). While many were able to weather the storm and cut back on spending, those living in poverty, especially private renters and younger people, already spent the vast majority of their income on essentials and were unlikely to have savings to fall back on, according to the ONS.

It can’t be fair that some of us can take out a Netflix subscription and buy a comfort takeaway to make life easier during these COVID days, while others can’t afford to keep up rent payments and need to rely on foodbanks to feed themselves and their children.

The call that we made back in 2018 has become more important than ever. Relationship-based whole family support is essential to ensure that every family has the resources to ensure their children can thrive. When families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, to pay bills and put meals on the table, inevitably mental health suffers, stress levels soar and bringing up children becomes so much more difficult. We need to talk about supporting families rather than about family support, working alongside families to make sure they are not cast adrift in a rising tide of poverty.

Article 27 of the UNCRC states “Every child has the right to a standard of living that meets their physical and social needs and supports their development. Governments must support families who cannot provide this.”

It is a beacon of hope and a mark of a civilised society that Scotland has committed to incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law. Properly resourced and used as a framework to support families, incorporation has the potential to be a gamechanger for families who, through no fault of their own, cannot provide an adequate standard of living for their children. Alongside the strong commitment made to supporting families in the Independent Care Review’s the Promise and its Ten Principles of family support, UNCRC incorporation provides the scaffolding for the change that Scotland’s families need.

But effecting that change will require proper resourcing and genuine cross-departmental working at national and local government levels. It will mean help with work and employability, more affordable homes and more income support for families.

It simply isn’t right that we leave so many families unable to provide for their children. We have to get this right for Scotland’s families. Please don’t let the new normal be the same as the old normal.

Clare Simpson is Manager of Parenting across Scotland

About the author

Clare Simpson is Manager of Parenting across Scotland

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Poverty in Scotland 2020

This report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was published in October 2020

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25 Calls, 25 and Up

Find out more about our campaign in partnership with organisations across the sector

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"Whole-family support is needed"

Clare's 25 Calls campaign call focused on the need for meaningful support for families

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Incorporation 'to the max' welcome

Find out why we back full incorporation and read our consultation response

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25 and Up: In the wake of the pandemic, our call to boost family incomes is more urgent than ever

3 June 2020

Launching a new series revisiting our 25 Calls, John Dickie, co-author of Call 15, argues that the Scottish Government’s child poverty targets, delivery plan and new Scottish Child Payment must inform every aspect of our country’s approach to renewal

The world has changed for Scotland’s children in ways none of us could have foretold when we called for a top-up of child benefit (click to read) as part of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign in autumn 2018.

The good news is that that campaign, thanks to the support of Children in Scotland and many others, bore fruit with the Scottish Government’s commitment to a new Scottish child payment.

While not a universal child benefit top-up, the £10 per week payment for children in families in receipt of universal credit (or equivalent legacy benefits) is a game-changer in the fight to end child poverty.

An increase of £10 a week for each child, with children under six benefiting from 2021, will make a real difference to families struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and pay for school trips, sport and other activities that are fundamental to a decent childhood.

It was a landmark recognition of the role the Scottish social security system must play in ending child poverty.

The increase was projected to lift 30,000 children out of poverty, reflecting the benchmark set by the child benefit top-up campaign, and reducing the relative child poverty rate by an estimated three percentage points once fully rolled out in 2022.

The harsh new reality facing Scotland’s children

The bad news is that, even before the coronavirus crisis hit, nearly one in four– approximately 230,000 of Scotland’s children – were locked in poverty. The impact of the Scottish child payment was already counterbalanced by cuts to the value of UK social security that look set to increase child poverty by 50,000 by 2023.

Even without the impact of Covid-19, reaching the statutory 2030 Scottish child poverty targets meant lifting 140,000 children out of poverty. More was already needed if progress against these targets was to be made.

The harsh reality is that the coronavirus has exposed the precarious vulnerability of low-income families to economic and health shocks, and the subsequent dangers to child wellbeing.

There is increasing evidence that households with children, which were already at greater risk of poverty, have been disproportionately affected by the financial impact of the pandemic.

While it is too early to measure the impact on numbers of children in poverty, IPPR Scotland analysis (click to read) finds that since lockdown almost half (49 per cent) of households with dependent children in Scotland find themselves in the two most serious categories of financial stress – ‘in serious financial difficulty’ or ‘struggling to make ends meet’. This is compared to 30 per cent of all households in Scotland reporting the same levels of financial stress.

Children’s charities report increased financial stress and associated anxiety, loneliness, and more complex mental health problems amongst the families they work with (click to read). The charitable hardship funds they operate have come under massively increased pressure.

Children, young people and parents have also highlighted their struggle to find the resources to engage with school during lockdown (click to read). The long-term risks to children’s education are great.

Families across Scotland are fighting to stay afloat. Those already more likely to experience poverty – such as lone parent families – are being particularly impacted. They are being pulled deeper into poverty.

Our call to boost family incomes is more urgent than ever

In this new context our call to boost family incomes using social security powers is more urgent than ever.

The Scottish and UK governments have taken unprecedented action. They have increased the standard allowance in universal credit and the Job Retention Scheme at UK level, and doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund and investment in the Wellbeing Fund here in Scotland. But, to date, there has been no additional financial support aimed directly at families with children.

That’s why the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue to prioritise the Scottish Child Payment is so important.

Serious consideration must now be given to accelerating roll-out and, importantly, increasing the value of the payment in light of the additional pressure on family incomes.

But in the short-term, existing delivery mechanisms need to be used to provide emergency financial support to all low-income families.

This was called for by an extraordinary coalition of more than 100 children’s charities, trade unions, faith groups and thinktanks in an open letter to the First Minister in May.

The current crisis is a stark reminder of why the call to boost social security support for families is so vital. The pandemic has exposed the acute financial vulnerability facing Scotland’s families.

The approach to recovery must now ensure that all children grow up in families with genuine financial security and protection against economic shocks.

The Scottish Government’s child poverty targets, delivery plan and new Scottish child payment provide a hugely valuable asset. They must now inform every aspect of our country’s approach to economic and social recovery.

John Dickie is Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland
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Child Poverty Action Group Scotland

John Dickie is Director of CPAG Scotland

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Call 15: Top up child benefit by £5 a week

Read the original call made by John Dickie and Peter Kelly of the Poverty Alliance

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"Change the language of poverty"

Young people contributed the number one call, about dignity, to our campaign

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Catch up on our 25 Calls campaign

Find out what we and 200+ partners have called for

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“We can't witness another generation going through this”

Our response to new research showing a marked rise in child poverty rates across the UK

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End Child Poverty

We are members of the coalition discussing Scotland-specific policy and legislation

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"It's your business to tackle child poverty"

Professor John McKendrick contributed Call 2 of our 25 Calls campaign

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In a time of cuts, job insecurity and social isolation, Scotland must step up to provide consistent, relationship-based support for families

Shelagh Young, Home-Start UK Director of Scotland, responds to call 21 of our 25 Calls campaign, which argued that Scotland must invest in relationship-based, whole-family support'.

What sort of parent needs what Clare Simpson calls “holistic, relationship-based family support” in order to do the right thing for their children? The answer is, of course, every parent, because no one is a perfect parent – certainly not from day one – probably not ever. And childhood can’t wait. The good news for Scotland’s children and future generations is that many of us still get what we need from universal services combined with our own well-rooted social connections. But what about those who don’t

Home-Start sparked into being in 1974 because our founder could see that not every parent can get it right for every child without some kind, non-judgemental extra help. Home-Start often works with parents who haven’t had warm, consistent parenting themselves while others are just sideswiped by mental health problems or have become isolated and don’t have reliable, trustworthy friends and family around to support them. Sadly, we also meet destitute parents whose income cannot meet family needs and other parents, so battered by adverse life events, that they cannot even get what they need from the so-called universal services many of us take for granted.

'Talk to most supported parents and they will tell you first about the human being, rather than any scheme or a programme, who helped them transform their lives'.

The Scottish Government knows this and much of its policy looks gold standard. But is it working on the ground? For example, we hear a lot about the Health Visitor Pathway which defines frequency of visits and areas of focus as well as an investment in increasing health visitor numbers.

But talk to any Health Visitor and they are likely to tell you that without Third Sector agencies to take up their referrals we will see more families falling deeper into distress, more children’s lives seriously damaged and even greater strain on overstretched social work teams. Despite this the traditional source of family support funding, local authorities, are making cuts year on year. Talk to most supported parents and they will tell you first about the human being, rather than any scheme or a programme, who helped them transform their lives.

Instead of moving towards Clare’s call for a Supporting Families Strategy that ensures sufficient resources reach local authorities to fund strengths focused and relationship-based family support we are heading in another, altogether more worrying direction. A shift towards national investments in targeted and time-bound interventions is already upon us. For example, the highly targeted Family Nurse Partnership programme – your own special expert friend if you happen to be having your first child aged 24 or under but unavailable if you are 25 plus, pregnant with your third child and, for example,  recently bereaved.

Parenting programmes like Triple P – subject to an excoriatingly negative evaluation in Glasgow - do work for some. But if you were feeling pretty hopeless as a parent, or, as one parent said to me recently, unable to think about anything but how frightening and embarrassing it is to not know where your child’s next meal will come from, would you feel up to being plunged into a roomful of strangers? Wouldn’t you want the next best thing to a trusted friend to spend some time with you till you felt secure enough to start working on becoming the better parent you always wanted to be?

As public health expert Sir Harry Burns puts it, consistent parenting, which enables children to grow up feeling safe and loved, reduces sickness and is the key to making Scotland healthier.

'Lost community networks and social structures are creating a crisis of self-worth. And if parents feel worthless what does that tell a child?'

Wellbeing is complex, but Sir Harry makes it clear that it is more than not being ill “it is about being in control of one’s life, one’s own decision making. It means you have a purpose in life, you have an optimistic outlook. You are adaptable and resilient and feel safe and secure.” According to Sir Harry Burns lost community networks and social structures are creating a crisis of self-worth. And if parents feel worthless what does that tell a child?

At Home-Start we see this crisis played out in family homes every day. What Clare calls for is what Home-Start’s staff and trained volunteer support for parents shows can happen - when help is provided in the context of meaningful relationships the future will be brighter for many more children. But to get more parents feeling helped, rather than as I’ve heard it described, under the thumb of “some faceless government department”, the help must be offered in ways which reduce stigma. That’s why universal services matter as well as who is offering them and how.

Time to build trusting relationships with families is becoming harder for the Third Sector to fund as flexible, long-term reliable core funding drains away to be replaced by unreliable incomes derived increasingly from philanthropists, lottery ticket and scratch card sales. Is this really the best Scotland can do?

Shelagh Young is Home-Start UK Director of Scotland.

Click here to visit the Home-Start website

About the author

Find out more about the work of Home-Start in Scotland.

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Call 21

'Invest in relationship-based, whole family support' – Clare Simpson, PaS

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25 Calls

Visit the main 25 Calls page to find out what change others are calling for

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Trans students can't afford a delay on GRA reform

NUS Scotland responds to Call 8 of our 25 Calls campaign which called for GRA reform, stressing that transgender students can't afford to wait and deserve to have the same legal protections and recognitions as anyone else. 

Call 8: Reform the Gender Recognition Act and give trans young people the chance to live full, happy lives

For years we have been told that Scotland is one of the best places to grow up if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

However, the toxicity surrounding the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (2004) has called into question that claim: that in Scotland you can love who you chose to love and be who you really are without impediment, fear or hatred. Mistruths, misinformation and division has, sadly, tainted the debate and now the process of reform.

That is why Call 8 from Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls – the call to reform the Gender Recognition Act – is incredibly important for young people across Scotland. We must not overstate the importance of listening to the lived experiences and voices of those striving for recognition and equality.

'The lives of our transgender students are too important to be used as a political football.'

In pursuit of equality and on behalf of transgender and non-binary students throughout Scotland, NUS Scotland made their voices abundantly clear in responding to the Scottish Government’s initial consultation on GRA reform.

A consultation which was open for four months received in excess of 15,000 responses, the majority of which indicated clear support for reforming the Act. This was a full, thorough and widely advertised consultation.

NUS Scotland and Children in Scotland are united in their belief that to eliminate discrimination and injustice, we must articulate the voices of those young people impacted by the delay in GRA reform.

It’s disappointing, therefore, to note the Scottish Government’s decision to kick gender recognition reform into the long grass. Any delay in reform equates to a delay in progress – NUS Scotland, the Scottish Government and partners from across Scotland have worked incredibly hard to progress that.

Students, activists, campaigners and even the Scottish Government all agree – we must get this right. The lives of our transgender and non-binary students are too important to be used as political footballs. Trans rights – the right of identity and recognition – are not an agenda item nor a point of discussion. We can’t allow another generation of transgender students to be subject to the same intrusive discrimination that has blighted their previous generations.

This same right – the right of identity and recognition – should have been extended to 16-  and 17-year olds too. The Scottish Government has rightly prided itself on ensuring the rights and protections of Scotland’s young people are upheld – the right to vote at 16 for example. It’s wrong to deny those 16- and 17-year trans students their right to legal recognition.

We were also disappointed to see the government fail to move forward with legal recognition for non-binary people. Lack of legal recognition means forcing non-binary people to identify as something they are not.

'Lack of legal recognition means forcing non-binary people to identify as something they are not.'

While we support the government’s move to set up a working group exploring non-legislative ways to recognise non-binary people, this must accompany a robust, legal right to recognition.

NUS Scotland has already made clear the specific difficulties trans and non-binary students encounter whilst within further and higher education. Our campuses should reflect a thriving environment for our students, offering safety and security, free from rejection or discrimination.

Whilst we have a way to go to ensure uniform standards and policies are in place throughout all of Scotland’s institutions to ensure trans and non-binary student inclusivity, we need our Parliament to show the way too.

We can start by ensuring all trans and non-binary people have the same legal recognitions and protections as anyone else; that the process is non-intrusive and accessible for all; that the same right and protections be extended to 16- and 17-year olds; and that the Scottish Government continues to ensure progress, safety and security for all trans and non-binary people across Scotland. We deserve no less.

Blog written by  Ethan Cain, LGBT Officer, and Ethan Wilson, Trans Officer, at NUS Scotland.

Click here to find out more about NUS Scotland

NUS Scotland

Find out more about NUS Scotland, which represents around 500,000 students in Scotland.

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Call 8: Reform the GRA

Reform the Gender Recognition Act and give trans young people the chance to live full, happy lives

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Trans rights flag

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'GRA reform is a fundamental equality issue for trans young people. So why delay it?'

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Scottish Trans Alliance

A project to improve gender identity and gender reassignment equality, rights and inclusion in Scotland

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25 Calls campaign

Find out more about the 25 Calls campaign, view press coverage and read further responses

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In parental disputes, let’s support all family members – mums, dads and children

Responding to Call 21, Ian Maxwell says changing the culture of dispute resolution will rely on Scottish Government family law reforms being shaped by the UNCRC

In call 21 of Children in Scotland’s 25 Calls campaign, Clare Simpson from Parenting across Scotland makes the case for families to be supported by the state in order to benefit children.

At Families Need Fathers Scotland we see particular need for support to be given to all family members in situations where parents are separating or already live apart. That's not just material support but moral and administrative and institutional support. In short, a cultural change that accepts that a child's 'family' continues even when the parents do not live together.

The Scottish Government is committed to incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scottish law. A consultation on the practicalities of doing so is under way. Article 9 of the UNCRC states: “Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this could cause them harm.”

'Our experience isn't only with fathers. All the parents who contact us are struggling with situations in which it is difficult or impossible for them to see a child or children''

Unfortunately, we hear too often of institutional assumptions that where parents do not live together one will be perceived as a 'main' parent and the other, most often but not always the father, as an 'add on' to the family.

That might make the job of some professionals easier and their relationship with the 'main' parent more cordial, but it does not start from the perspective of the child as the UNCRC will require.

Too many professionals don't make the same effort to get to know both parents. Too many don't make any effort at all. A recent conference of social workers heard from a researcher who referred to her experience of “ghost fathers”. By that, she told the audience, “You have to believe in them before you can see them”.

Our experience isn't only with fathers. All the parents – fathers and mothers and other family members - who contact us are struggling with situations in which it is difficult or impossible for them to see a child or children.

We urge them to exhaust all other options before considering going to court. Contact and residence cases can become very expensive, prolong the process of resolving disagreements about sharing parenting time with children and too often create entirely new animosities between parents. All of these can be at the expense of the children they both love and want to support.

Obviously, not everybody ends up in court but nearly 13,000 families were involved with cases last year. According to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Rethinking Legal Aid - An Independent Strategic Review by Martyn Evans – Feb 2018), the cost of these court cases in 2016-17 was £18.2 million in legal aid plus an unquantified cost for privately funded cases and the associated court costs.

This mixture of public and private money is spent to decide disputes and provide children with protection when necessary. It far outstrips the amounts of public funding available to help parents to resolve differences through relationship support, mediation and family therapy, even although these processes are usually more constructive and less damaging to families.

In Australia the state has invested large amounts of money in 65 Family Relationships Centres (FRCs) across the country, which provide information, referral and individual sessions free of charge. Initial joint family dispute resolution sessions are free and subsequent sessions have no charges for people on low incomes.

An evaluation in 2009 showed that “there is more use of relationship services, a decline in filings in the courts in children’s cases, and some evidence of a shift away from an automatic recourse to legal solutions in response to post‐separation relationship difficulties”.

Although Australia hasn't created a perfect system for supporting separated families, their work since 2005 to provide readily available help well before cases hit the courts seems to be proving cost-effective and producing better results for children and their parents.

In our submission to the consultation on Family Law Modernisation we have drawn to the Scottish Government’s attention the positive role that can be played by Family Coordinators in helping resolve the difficulties that often arise after the judge or sheriff has made a decision and closed the case. Parents who have been battling in court need to win the peace and can be assisted in that process by an independent input into remembering to put their children first.

Our message to the government is simple: prioritise constructive family support over destructive court-based family dispute resolution.

We are expecting the Scottish Government's family law modernisation proposals to be set out in a bill in Holyrood within the coming months. The UNCRC, not least the Article 9 provision, must breathe life into the family law modernisation legislation if it is to change the prevailing culture that sees children as prizes rather than individuals with rights.

Ian Maxwell is National Manager of Families Need Fathers Scotland. He is responding here to call 21 by Clare Simpson, manager of Parenting across Scotland: “Invest in relationship-based whole-family support”.

About the author

Ian Maxwell is National Manager of Families Need Fathers Scotland

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Wanted: strengthened rights, greater equality

Find out more about our campaign to improve children's lives

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Latest news

Read our latest news pieces of relevance to children in Scotland.

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Call 21

Read the original call to 'Invest in relationships-based whole family support' by Clare Simpson

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25 Calls response: An ACE-aware nation? Yes, but let’s be arts-aware too

20 February 2019

Responding to Starcatchers’ call on the need for children to access the arts from the earliest age, writer and poet Tom Pow explains how creativity can kindle hope in the midst of adversity

Call 24: Ensure all children can participate in high quality, innovative arts experiences from the earliest age

If the term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is new to you, the best place to start would be Dr Nadine Burke Harris's TED Talk (available on YouTube) titled 'How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime'.

In it, she describes how toxic stress in childhood, led by a number of key drivers, such as abuse, neglect, alcoholism/drug abuse of a parent, has led to the identification of ACEs as one of the leading factors in early death in the world. Even if the abuse happens before memory is formed, the body remembers.

At a major conference, in September last year, which stated the ambition of 'Making Scotland the World's First ACE-Aware Nation,' John Swinney told the audience that “ACEs are about everything”. He answered his own question, “Why is the Scottish Government committed to being ACE-Aware?” with, “Because it can't afford not to be.”

In other words, the cost of supporting, often incarcerating and healing those whose resilience has been weakened by ACEs, is enormous. In a day rich with telling anecdotes, Swinney told of an adult who had had a troubled life due to language problems. “If we'd spent money on speech and language therapy when he was two...” He also saw the issue as a “moral purpose”, asserting that we should all “grow up, loved, safe, respected and able to fulfil our potential”.

"If the Scottish Government cannot afford not to pay attention to ACEs, it cannot afford not to fund creative experiences for our youngest children – for all our children – and for those damaged by adverse early experiences"

There was recognition throughout the day that no single agency can affect change: rather that cumulative and collaborative action by multiple partners is necessary. But Nadine Burke Harris also urged individual action: “Start where you are. Do what you can. Hope to inspire conversations, but above all action.” In terms of individual intervention, she advised, “Ask children what's happened to you rather than what's wrong with you.”

One of the most eloquent speakers, and certainly the most compelling storyteller of the day, James Docherty, told how, when his life was in utmost despair, he met someone who enabled him to reflect on his life, to understand his violent responses, and to find compassion for himself. He told the audience not to “mould children, but to return them to what they are and to love that”. Bruno Bettelheim wrote something similar about the aims of Freudian analysis: “Where it was, there should become I.”

I hope I have given an idea of the richness of the day, the commitment and sense of possibility that spread from the stage and enlivened conversations in the large hall. But what confounded me more and more as the day went on was the absence of any explicit consideration of the role of the arts in all of this. There were a couple of poems read, a recording of a song played, a play described, yet there was nowhere an acknowledgement of the crucial role that the arts (can) play in nurturing the ideas and emotions that were expressed in words and phrases throughout the day: “the healing power of connection”; “compassion”; “conversation”; “curiosity”; “empathy”.

Relationship-based practice can of course be grounded in any discipline. But the arts, I would argue, offer the greatest opportunities for the amelioration of ACEs. Within the safe space inherent in creativity, ideas can be both expressed and explored, emotional landscapes opened and, with proper intervention, transformed. This softening of the toxicity of ACEs can happen at any age – James Docherty is proof of that – but, as John Swinney recognises, for obvious reasons, it is best achieved in the early years.

It is because of the importance of the arts within the context of Making Scotland the World's First ACE-Aware Nation that I write most urgently to support Call 24 of Children in Scotland's 25 Calls for change. The call, from Rhona Matheson, Chief Executive of Starcatchers, Scotland's National Arts and Early Years Organisation, is to 'Ensure all children can participate in high quality, innovative arts experiences from the earliest age.' ('...onwards' is silent but implied after that last phrase.)

Matheson writes of the importance of the creative processes involved in artistic activities, experiences which 'facilitate deep learning, allowing children to explore the world around them, developing curiosity and imagination, and stimulating dialogue, connection and empathy.' If the Scottish Government cannot afford not to pay attention to ACEs, it cannot afford not to fund creative experiences for our youngest children – for all our children – and for those damaged by adverse early experiences.

The arts show that there are more ways to be; other choices to make; they can kindle hope. As another speaker, John Carnochan, who oversaw the innovative Glasgow approach to knife crime, said, “Hope changes everything”.

Tom Pow is an award-winning poet and writer. He is Creative Director of A Year of Conversation 2019 - a collaborative project designed to celebrate, initiate and explore conversation through the creativity of those who live in Scotland and beyond.

He is responding here to call 24 of our 25 Calls campaign, 'Ensure all children can participate in high quality, innovative arts experiences from the earliest age' by Rhona Matheson, CEO of Starcatchers. Click here to read the call

Click here to find out more about A Year of Conversation

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About the author

Tom Pow is Creative Director of A Year of Conversation 2019

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Read Call 24

'Ensure all children can participate in high quality, innovative arts experiences from the earliest age'

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25 Calls

Read all 25 of the calls made as part of our campaign to improve children's lives

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Find out more about Scotland’s National Arts & Early Years Organisation

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Call 23: Let’s make Scotland a nation of Unfearties!

By Rona Blackwood, Chelsea Stinson and Juliet Harris

What is an Unfeartie?

Unfearties are people who are courageous in discussing children’s issues, make a difference in children’s lives, and speak up for them so that children growing up in Scotland are healthy, happy and safe. Anyone with an interest in children’s rights is invited to become an Unfeartie. As an Unfeartie you will adhere to six basic principles:

• Listen to children and view them as capable assets to their communities.

• Strive to ensure children’s voices are heard and challenge infringements of human dignity.

• Help children and adults learn the values of honesty, empathy, respect and social justice.

• Promote greater awareness and understanding of children’s rights.

• Support children who want to be children’s human rights defenders.

• Speak up about the Unfeartie role and spread the message about how to join our movement.

Where did the movement come from?

The Unfeartie movement started in early 2017 to mark the 21st anniversary of the Children’s Parliament and to provide an opportunity for adults to champion children’s rights.

We want to create a world where all children grow up in an environment of love, dignity and respect. To achieve this, we need a culture change in how adults value and listen to children in every walk of life.

Much is going on across Scotland to give us hope that this culture change is possible. More children and young people are learning about their rights, and many are keen to become Human Rights Defenders, to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others.

Many adults – from community workers and school bus drivers through to police officers and politicians – are Unfearties’ in practice and take every step they can to uphold children’s rights.

Whilst the Scottish Government has made a number of welcome commitments to support children’s human rights, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) is clear that  further tangible action is needed to make rights a reality for every child. This should start immediately with the full incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law - making children’s rights binding, not guiding.

For example, Article 31 of the UNCRC enshrines every child’s right to rest, play and recreational activities and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. This means that children’s rights need to be at the centre of decisions that aren’t always associated with children.

For example, decisions made about transport and planning can have a real impact on children’s right to play – affecting the amount of green space around their homes and schools, and their ability to get to places where they can play safely.

Participation in action

Children’s Parliament has worked with the A9 Community Group in Dunkeld & Birnam to include children in the planning process for the dualling of the A9.

Children from the Royal School of Dunkeld explored their vision for the future of their community, what they valued now and their hopes for the future. This led to the development of five ‘billboards’ that highlighted their key messages which included safety, intergenerational connections, the natural environment, equality and respect, and opportunities to explore interests and talents.

The children’s billboards were used as a touchstone with members of the community, Transport Scotland and Jacobs (the contracted engineering consultancy) to develop route options together.

Children’s Parliament facilitated workshops for children and young people to explore different ideas for the road and junctions in the area, and one Member of the Children’s Parliament (MCP) came up with a differently shaped roundabout for the Dunkeld Junction:

“An eggabout wouldn’t take up much space and it would keep the trees. And it could have a guinea pig reserve in the middle!”

Member of Children’s Parliament, aged 8

This idea was so clever (and cleverly named!) that it made it through to the next stages of the process, and was mentioned by former Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown in a committee meeting in the Scottish Parliament.

Over the summer, Children’s Parliament supported more than 40 children and young people to vote in the Big Decide, an event where the community voted on its preferred route option. When the result was announced, the community chose the same route option that was preferred by children and young people – Route A combined with Junction 1.

This option includes the ‘eggabout’, although there’s no news yet on the guinea pig reserve! This work in Dunkeld and Birnam demonstrates the impact of listening to children. They offer a unique insight into the world and their ideas can help shape developments in infrastructure, policy and practice. It also highlights what can be achieved when adults embrace a rights-based approach and value children for what they can offer the world.

Children want to be a part of the solution and are keen to share their experiences and views with adults – we just need to listen! So join us, become an Unfeartie today and make Scotland a happy, healthy and safe nation for children.

Click here to learn more about the work in Dunkeld & Birnam

Click here to join the band of Unfearties

Follow #25Calls to see which organisations have endorsed this call.

Articles 12 and 42 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: '...the right to be listened to and taken seriously...'; '...make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike...'

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Call 24: Ensure all children can participate in high quality, innovative arts experiences from the earliest age

By Rhona Matheson, Starcatchers

It was during a performance of Hup, our live classical musical and theatre experience in an Aberdeen nursery, that a two-year-old girl who had been selectively mute since the death of her mother spoke for the first time.

It was whilst adventuring in foam-filled jungles and embarking on trips to the moon in homemade space suits that a kinship carer participating in our Creative Kin project found “the chance to bond as a family”.

And it was after working with an artist to embed creative approaches in an early years setting that a practitioner described how the experience had “completely revolutionised” her practice.

These examples are a glimpse of the transformative impact that participation in high quality arts experiences can have on children and their families.

This participation might be experimenting in a playful, creative and colourful way with different materials, dancing, making music or experiencing live theatre. It is the process that matters. All of these experiences facilitate deep learning, allowing children to explore the world around them, developing curiosity and imagination, and stimulating dialogue, connection and empathy. They bring about powerful physical and emotional responses that will have a lasting impact, even in the very youngest babies.

The arts enable all of us to express ourselves. For children, particularly those who are pre- or non-verbal, this freedom of expression gives them a voice. Indeed, the right to participate freely in cultural life and the arts is enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). However, it is still viewed as a nice ‘add-on’ rather than a fundamental part of our development.

Over the next 25 years Scotland must build on existing foundations and take a bolder, more strategic approach to the development and delivery of arts and creativity within families, communities, education, social care and early learning and childcare. We need arts and creativity to be embedded at every level in every community.

This will require a system of funding that connects across sectors and provides long-term, consistent support.

Through Starcatchers’ live performances we’ve seen the instinctive, joyous response all children can have to the arts and the possibilities for learning and development that stem from that experience. Scotland needs the resources to ensure the very best professional theatre, dance and musical experiences can be accessed by all.

Through our community engagement projects, where professional artists work directly with vulnerable children and their families within communities for sustained periods of time, we’ve seen participants’ confidence grow, relationships become stronger and increased wellbeing and parental capacity as a result.

We need to embed these projects in our communities for the longer-term, with families supported through participation in artist-led activity over a number of years.

Our Creative Skills programme, in which professional artists deliver artist-led training for early years practitioners, teachers, childminders and voluntary sector staff has increased professional confidence and understanding of how the arts can be embedded in pre-birth to three and Early Level Curriculum for Excellence to improve outcomes for children – and we’ve seen positive changes to delivery as a result. We need to take this further and embed practical expressive arts skills into initial teacher education, early learning and childcare training programmes and continual professional development.

These steps value the arts as a fundamental part of every child’s earliest experiences. The pay off for our children and for society as a whole far outweighs the cost.

Click here to follow #25Calls to see which organisations have endorsed this call.

Click here to read an update to this call from Starcatchers and 11 other arts organisations, published in August 2020.

Article 31 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: '...the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.'

25 Calls

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Campaign update

In August 2020 we published an update on this call from Starcatchers and 11 other arts organisations

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Find out more about Scotland’s National Arts & Early Years Organisation

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Blog: Village Storytelling project

What happens when you share stories with a young child?

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 31: "...the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities..."

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Call 25: Cut cars from school drop-offs to boost active travel and improve air quality for our children

By Alex Quayle, Sustrans Scotland

The chaotic scene of cars jostling to drop children off for school will be familiar to many. We believe it is unsafe, unhealthy, and unnecessary. So many children being driven to school causes congestion, increases air pollution around schools and raises concerns about road safety.

A YouGov survey, carried out for Sustrans in spring 2018, polled more than 1,000 children aged five to 16 on what they thought about their journey to school. It found that less than one in four children wanted to be dropped-off by car near the school gates and more than half wanted to travel actively; on foot, by bike or by scooter. Troublingly, however, 39 per cent of children identified traffic as a barrier to walking or cycling to school.

Cars around the school gates are a key reason why more parents or guardians choose the car for the journey to school. But, each car only increases safety concerns, meaning more people think they need to drive. We cannot expect change when traffic is only encouraging more cars. But there is a simple solution to this problem – close the road to traffic.

Since 2015, Edinburgh has closed roads around 11 primary schools for drop-off and pick-up. Results are promising. There was an immediate reduction in cars around school gates as the  number of children who were driven to school decreased. Speeds on nearby roads decreased without an increase in congestion. In fact, there were 2,259 fewer vehicles on the road as a result of the street closures – more than 200 fewer per school.

“Nitrous oxide inflames lungs, increases respiratory problems and hurts young people”

More children were allowed to walk as the road closures tackled two of the biggest factors for parents and guardians: dangerous parking and fast traffic. Some schools, those that decreased traffic by the most, saw walking increase by up to 10-12 per cent. 

It gets better. Motor vehicles are responsible for as much as 80 per cent of nitrous oxide pollution in urban areas. Nitrous oxide inflames lungs, increases lung infections and respiratory problems, and disproportionally hurts young people. An evaluation of the school street closures by the City of Edinburgh Council showed they resulted in consistently reduced overall nitrous oxide levels, often by more than 50 per cent.

This is not a call for a complete ban on cars around schools. Each school should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and we appreciate that often it may not be practical for children to walk to school as many parents juggle school drop-off with getting to work. However, schools need to work with parents and guardians to prevent the drop-off moving to a busier road nearby and to ensure that children, parents and caregivers who cannot travel actively are not excluded.

This is a simple, inexpensive and quick measure that is proven to make a difference to road safety, congestion, children’s physical activity and air quality. It’s time for all of Scotland’s local authorities to make this change for children.

Follow #25Calls to see which organisations have endorsed this call.

Article 24 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: 'the right to good quality health care, clean water and good food... Children should be able to live in a safe and healthy environment...'

image of boys playing in school playground


Find out more about the work of Sustrans, the charity that's making it easier for people to walk and cycle.

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Why getting active today can change a child's life

Jacqueline Lynn, sportscotland’s Head of School & Community Sport, on the impact of participation programmes

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25 Calls

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 24: “Children should be able to live in a safe and healthy environment...”

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Our projects

As part of achieving our vision that all children in Scotland have an equal chance to flourish, we undertake a wide range of work.

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