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Comment: More agency must be given to children with experience of parental separation

Posted 5 April 2022, by Jennifer Drummond

Ian Maxwell (pictured) highlights the findings of new research into the reflections of young people who experienced the break-up of their parents’ relationship during childhood, and why we need to listen to what they have to say.

The Voice of the Child began as a call to give agency to children whose life is affected by a range of adverse experiences, including separation or divorce of their parents. I know no-one who doubts the importance of hearing and acknowledging what children may be trying to communicate. But we have to be careful. Any concise phrase intended to capture an important insight, over time, risks becoming just a slogan – an oversimplification that risks closing down the very debate it opened up.

Last year, Jamie Wark, a psychology undergraduate at the University of Glasgow did work with us, funded by the Robertson Trust, to obtain the views of young people whose parents had separated during their childhood.

When parents separate and can’t agree on arrangements to share the responsibilities, as well as the rights, of parenthood their children may feel their choices are limited. The certainties they have known disintegrate around them. Jamie conducted a survey amongst fellow students and other young people about their experience of family separation and their subsequent involvement with their parents when they were growing up. This was followed with interviews and focus groups.

His findings have now been published in our report “Sharing My Parents” (click to read).

The project breaks new ground in Scotland by asking young people directly about the effect of parental separation on their own life. It gives agency to a perspective missing from the previous debates in Scotland – young people whose experience is recent but who no longer feel constrained in what they can say.

The young people whose parents had separated reported that they had spent most of their time with their mothers (83%). Most indicated that they would have liked to have spent more time with their fathers.

"I would have liked to have visited my dad more but I was often a bit worried that it would upset my mum as my dad left my mum for someone else" revealed the loyalty conflict faced by one respondent.

A focus group participant actively looked for support during her parents' break-up. She felt unable to speak to her parents because of their emotional involvement in the situation but was left disappointed by her experience seeking support externally. She commented: "I went to a school counsellor, and I hated it and never went back”.

Another interviewee said that she couldn’t talk to even her sister about the separation until they were both adults and had left the family home. Only then did they realise that they had both been experiencing the same struggles.

Given that at least 30% of Scottish children will experience family separation, a lack of adult insight into its impact is of great concern.

Research shows that frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict is harmful to children with potential life-long consequences.

It will help legislators, professionals and, most importantly, separated parents themselves, if they take time to listen to what these young people say, putting aside their own emotional needs or political priorities.

We have long argued that in our adversorial system, parents are pushed into decisions about arrangements for sharing (or not sharing) meaningful time with their children at the point of break-up when they are least able to apply the perspective that puts their children’s long-term interests first. The same applies to children who are asked for their views in the midst of conflict.

There are some things happening already to support parents. Local services within Relationships Scotland run very useful Parenting Apart training sessions (click to view), helping parents to appreciate how they and their children can move forward positively.

In addition, Shared Parenting Scotland has brought New Ways for Families online training and coaching to Scotland (click to view).  Developed in the USA by the High Conflict Institute, we have adapted this training programme for parents to also support children and young people.

Recent Scottish legislation such as the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the move to incorporate the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law putting increasing emphasis on the need to take children’s views into account when important decisions are made about their lives, including family separation.

Listening to the voice of the child is an important step forward in Scottish policy and practice but, as Jamie’s ground-breaking work shows, there are often many nuances that must be acknowledged, especially when it comes to family life. We must really listen to the voice of children and be careful not to oversimplify their experiences, which may be just as damaging as the previous deafness to it.

Ian Maxwell, National Manager, Shared Parenting Scotland

Click here to find out more about the Sharing my Parents research, by Jamie Wark for Shared Parenting Scotland

Shetland childcare provider wins small business of the year accolade

23 February 2021

A childcare provider supported by the Access to Childcare Fund has won a major business award in recognition of how it responded to the challenges of coronavirus.

Hame Fae Hame, based in Scalloway on the Shetland Islands, won the Times / Lloyds Banking Group Small Business of 2020 Award, beating UK-wide competition.

The centre was rewarded for the creative and robust way it responded to the pandemic, strengthening childcare support for frontline workers and deepening outreach work with the local community.

Manager and owner Kaye Sandison says she and her colleagues “feel privileged and valued” that their work during lockdown has been recognised.

Hame Fae Hame is one of 15 providers awarded grants last year by the Access to Childcare Fund, which is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Children in Scotland.

“Our Access to Childcare grant has definitely helped to strengthen our out of school staff team, with the appointment of an assistant manager and senior practitioner,” says Kaye.

“It’s also allowed us to make adjustments to our facilities so that we can offer a better, more easily accessed breakfast club and canteen when things are able to open up fully again.”

Kaye feels the pandemic has significantly raised the profile of high quality childcare across Scotland and the UK, with more people realising its fundamental contribution to communities, family life and equality.

Alongside welcoming this shift in societal attitudes, she has high hopes for what the centre can achieve in 2021.

“It will be important to get back to full opening and to refocus on our plans for developing our outdoor spaces, and continuing to work with our ELC and community partners on enhancing our provision,” she says.

“We will also continue to build resilience into our services and develop our staff team and our management capacity. And we look forward to working with Access to Childcare partners to learn from each other on how our various projects are contributing to policy development for the childcare sector!”

Click here to find out more about Hame Fae Hame

Click here to find out more about the Access to Childcare Fund

Hame Fae Hame

Find out more about the award-winning Shetland childcare centre

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Strengthening access and affordability

The Fund provides grants focusing on priority groups most at risk from poverty

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Families need services that are 'here to stay'

The final report of our CHANGE project sets out how to improve local childcare

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2021-26 Manifesto

Improving childcare for families is a key part of our Manifesto for the next parliament

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All local services providing childcare or play for children and young people need to be ‘here to stay’: funded on a long-term, secure basis, major four-year project finds

4 February 2021


The final report of a major Scottish childcare project makes a series of calls about how to improve childcare in local communities and through changes to national policy.

CHANGE (Childcare and Nurture, Glasgow East) was set up in 2016 to create a sustainable childcare model with family and community involvement at its core.

Work on the project involved gathering the views of children, parents and local services; setting up a Hub to strengthen local collaboration and challenge childcare barriers identified by families; championing community initiatives and the need for more universal family support; and supporting ‘crisis’ childcare and food provision.

Following four years of work, the project’s final report, ‘It’s our future’: Childcare in Glasgow East, makes a series of recommendations about how to improve childcare, including:

  • All local services that provide childcare or play for children and young people need to be ‘here to stay’: funded on a long-term, secure basis
  • The number of available childminders should be increased so that families have more choice about how and when their child is looked after
  • Out of School Care services must be treated as a core service for it to be sustainable. This should include considering school and community buildings as everyone’s spaces
  • More opportunities for families to play and learn together must be made available, with all food-related work funded to be part of the mainstream offer
  • Parents and carers need childcare to enable them to attend emergency appointments and access public services
  • Families need to be able to access information about childcare that is easy to find and understand. The childcare and family support available must be made easier to navigate for both families and practitioners.

CHANGE found in its project work that local people frequently expressed fatigue about previous interventions that have not improved their lives, and that local staff dealing with stretched resources were often exhausted.

CHANGE staff were also conscious of how issues of class and poverty associated with the project area have been consistently framed in negative terms.

The report calls for the many positive aspects of life in the East End of Glasgow to be celebrated and better understood.

Sally Cavers, Children in Scotland’s Head of Inclusion and CHANGE project lead, said:

“The CHANGE project has sought to address fundamental problems about childcare including fragmented provision, cost, and the need for real community ownership and empowerment. We hope that this report captures the complexity and challenge these issues have presented – but also how much commitment, positivity and expertise communities in Glasgow’s East End possess in answering these problems.

“In terms of improving childcare for families, we need to be focused on the qualities of kindness and dedication we found in the community, and recognise that locally and nationally, we are making progress in improving access to affordable quality childcare.

“However, culture change and real transformation is still required for local services, and huge societal pressures exist for families and services, even more so following a pandemic that represented one of the biggest challenges for generations.”

“As we state in the report, it is our hope that the essence of Glasgow’s East End, combined with effective local and national policy drivers and the possibility of post-pandemic transformation, will result in local community childcare and support services that can thrive.”

The CHANGE project follows work and key recommendations by the Commission for Childcare Reform, which published its findings in 2015.

Click here to download the report

Click here to watch the short animated film and hear community voices on what needs to change

Media contact:

Chris Small,

Further information:

Click here to read more about the CHANGE project
Click here to find out more about Children in Scotland

We Know What We Need

Watch a short animation and hear community voices on what needs to change

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CHANGE project: final report

Read ‘It’s our future’: Childcare in Glasgow East

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CHANGE project: aims and background

Find out more about the project's ambitions, remit and achievements

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CHANGE project: views and expertise

Read blogs about CHANGE, including comment from Senior Project Officer Robert Doyle

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CHANGE project: partners

Partnership working has been key to CHANGE's approach

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Hope in hard times

Proposals for early years policy development drawing on the work of CHANGE feature in our 2021-26 Manifesto

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Commission for Childcare Reform

The CHANGE project was informed by some of the Commission's key findings

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New film shares learning from early years family support partnership project

8 December 2020

A new film about the learning and recommendations that emerged from Children in Scotland’s Open Kindergartens early years family support project is available now.

Click here to watch the film

The Open Kindergarten (OK) approach, widely used in Nordic countries, involves parents, carers and their young children meeting regularly in family centres.

The groups are supported by trained early years staff and specialists who develop parents’ skills, confidence and knowledge.

Children in Scotland’s project saw the charity working with Parenting across Scotland and the University of Stirling for a year from April 2019 to emulate and test out the OK Kindergarten approach here.

The three partners worked with Midlothian Sure Start and the City of Edinburgh Council to pilot the project at two contrasting early years settings in Edinburgh and Midlothian.

In the film, key contributors examine how learning from the project should influence early years policy and practice in Scotland.

It includes perspectives from early years workers based in Mayfield in Midlothian and Tromsø in Norway, and insight from a researcher at the University of Stirling.

David Mackay, Policy and Projects Manager at Children in Scotland, and the charity’s lead for the OK project, said:

“The Open Kindergarten pilot told us a great deal about the value of embedding such an approach in Scotland, what works and what doesn’t, and why family support and early years support are so vital and interlinked.

“The ideas and feedback that came from the pilots in Midlothian and Edinburgh, combined with the experiences we know of in Norway, form important evidence about how we can develop early years policy here.

“We hope this film offers a useful overview of learning from the project and will be of interest to professionals, practitioners – and anyone with an interest in early years family support in Scotland.”

Clare Simpson, manager of project partner Parenting across Scotland and a contributor to the film, added:

“For many families the early years can be a difficult time – parents are often isolated and unsure of who to go to with any queries.

"Open Kindergartens have proved to be a popular way of providing this support. It would be fantastic to see them become available to more families throughout Scotland.”

The Open Kindergarten pilot project was supported by the European Social Fund.

Click here to find out more about the project

"Fulfilling an important need"

The OK Kindergarten film hears from partners about key learning from the project

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Project overview

We produced an infographic explaining the Open Kindergartens approach

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Evaluation report

The University of Stirling published a report analysing the project in the context of improving family suppport

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Filling a gap in early years services

Find out more about the background to the project

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From Drumchapel macaroni to white bread myths: what I’ve learned from four years of Food, Families, Futures

9 June 2020

Elaine Kerridge on how our food project has deepened her understanding of inequality – and the impact the clubs have had on health, relationships and sense of community

I have been involved in our award-winning Food, Families, Futures project since 2016 and I am pleased to say that part of my role has been to help support the evaluation of the Food, Families Futures clubs and hear from children and families. I have been lucky enough to travel across Scotland and see the clubs in action.

I have danced in Tranent, made floral artwork in Methil and played Human Hungry Hippos in Clydebank – apologies again to my colleague Jane for grazing her arm in the pursuit of the win!

I have made macaroni cheese in Drumchapel, 'fakeaways' in Prestonpans and tuna pasta bake in Blairgowrie. (Who knew cornflakes could be used for anything other than in a bowl of cereal or in a chocolate crispie cake?)

So what have I learned?  What is my takeaway (pardon the pun) as this project draws to a close?

For Jamie Oliver it was turkey twizzlers. For me it was the ubiquitous white bread cheese sandwich. We make assumptions about other people's lives, including in this context what children will eat.

Over the past few years I have often heard 'Children will only eat white bread'. But our Food, Families, Futures clubs have shown this is not true; it is an unfounded fear. Children who have attended the clubs tell us 'I tried new things like tuna pasta' and 'I love fruit!'.

The opportunity to develop the activities and menus together, then cook and eat together, means everyone is engaged, people develop life skills, try new food and waste is reduced. Practitioners recognise 'The kids eat things they don't usually if they see someone else doing it' and parents tell us 'They are quite fussy but they have eaten wraps, sandwiches and soup'.

Certainly my understanding of the poverty-related issues many families living in Scotland face has increased. As has my understanding of the stigma attached to these issues and the further negative impact this can have on children and families.

Too often we hear about 'poor families', coupled with stock images of shoeless children. This is, at best, unhelpful and shows a complete lack of understanding of the experience of families across Scotland.

I have also learned a lot about food and the complexities of inequalities related to it. It seems accessing healthy and affordable food is indeed a postcode lottery.

The current Covid-19 situation has taught us many things, not least the importance of that very human experience that supports our health and wellbeing in so many ways – the opportunity to share food and quality time together.

Children, families and practitioners have told me the positive impact the Food, Families, Futures clubs have on health and wellbeing, relationships and a sense of community because 'It brings the community together'.

I look forward to a time when Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 - Zero Hunger is realised: 'End hunger, achieve food security and adequate nutrition for all' so all children in Scotland have an equal chance to flourish.

Our commitment to participation

Elaine is Policy Manager and part of our participation and engagement team

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Positive change alongside families

Elaine has written a practical report for strategic leads capturing key FFF learning

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Challenging food insecurity

Our five-year food partnership programme addressed a major societal issue

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Food, fun and family learning

Shelagh Young's independent review of FFF looks at the project's impact and successes

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Participation guidelines

Our publication can help put children's voices at the heart of your participation work

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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
Click here to find out more about their work

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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Why our third sector deserves first class support

26 May 2020

In advance of next week's launch of our new Supporting the Third Sector Project, Vicky Wan explains why we want to support organisations to become equal partners in Children and Family Services – and be ready to respond to any future crisis

In her recent blog (click to read), our Head of External Affairs Jacqueline Cassidy reflected on the vital role of the third sector during the health pandemic and its phenomenal response to the challenges of COVID-19. This was later evidenced in the Scottish Government’s COVID-19: Supporting vulnerable children and young people – data intelligence report (click to read). The large range of examples in the report clearly demonstrate the third sector’s ability to sustain its local and national services by changing the model of delivery within a short space of time.

In her 8 April open letter to third sector organisations , Iona Colvin, the Interim Director for Children and Families of the Scottish Government, emphasised the critical role the third sector has in supporting the needs of children, young people and their families (click to read). But she also recognised that the third sector has an enormous amount of knowledge and intelligence about the communities it serves.

“Third sector organisations are uniquely well placed to help us to understand the nature of the challenges that children, young people and families are facing in their homes and communities at this time" - Iona Colvin, Scottish Government Interim Director of Children and Families

One of the reasons why third sector organisations are able to respond to the emergency rather efficiently is largely because of their long-established relationships with the local communities and their understanding of the challenges families continue to face.

Third sector organisations use their professional knowledge to swiftly adjust their own services. They know what the families need and more importantly what will work. Not only that, they share their skills and expertise with partners in the statutory and in the third sector, so together they are able to offer support in a whole-family holistic approach.

A support worker of a charity told us:

“I’ve been supporting this disabled young person for a while. The family was coping well before the outbreak. Since the lockdown, mum became very anxious that her disabled son would be infected with COVID-19 if he fell ill and had to go to the hospital. Dad is a key worker. Her younger son is now home-schooling but she doesn’t have time to help with his learning because she has to care for her older son nearly 24/7. She feels very guilty and stressed.

Through the local children’s services forum, I found out about a befriending service. Mum is now being supported on the phone every day. I also found out about a peer learning group organised by another charity. The younger son is now learning with other children of similar age.”

The benefits of collaborative working are apparent. However, an effective collaboration takes time to develop. Organisations need to have good awareness of services available in the area, a reasonable level of trust in the quality of each other’s work, and referral protocols without unnecessary bureaucracy.

In Scotland, we already have structures in place to support partnership working for many years.

The local children’s services networks, which are usually facilitated by the local Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs), bring organisations together so they can support their peers, exchange good practice, share resources, develop collaborative working arrangements and help shape local services.

Thanks to this established relationship before the outbreak of COVID-19, we can quickly and efficiently mobilise the third sector to deliver and maintain support to children as part of multi-agency plans during the pandemic. Also due to the communication channels already established via the networks, local organisations can continue to feed their experiences and concerns to inform strategic planning at national level, while they concentrate on meeting the needs of families at this difficult time.

Taking the learning from this, while it is important to continue to invest in the frontline service delivery to children and families, we should not undermine the importance of the structures that support and strengthen the third sector. If we do not resource and fund the local networks sufficiently now, are we confident that we will be able to respond as well, if not better, in any future emergency situation?

Our role

Children in Scotland is committed to supporting the Third Sector Interfaces and third sector organisations to become equal partners in Children and Family Services. This includes increasing local third sector engagement and strengthening local support structures through our new Supporting the Third Sector Project.

Supporting the Third Sector

Vicky Wan is Project Manager and part of our PPP team

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Strengthening the sector: learning online

We're running a series of webinars covering all your CPD needs

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Confronting the crisis

Jacqueline Cassidy asks if the sector is punching above its weight during the pandemic

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Latest podcast

Discussing the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and planning the best way forward

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Responding to the need for connection

Karin McKenny on how we've adapted our training to support the workforce

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Our services

From ASL advice to ELC inclusion funding, find out about what we offer

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