Why we must keep the promise to Scotland's children - Fiona Duncan
On 5th February 2020, after three years of careful listening and detailed research, the Independent Care Review published its findings, in the form of seven reports with The Promise, reflecting what thousands of care experienced children and adults, families and the paid and unpaid workforce had told the review.
Guided and shaped by those with lived experience of care, the Care Review findings demanded change – and told Scotland what had to change.
I remember the hope felt that day and the overwhelming support too; from the care experienced community, politicians, organisations, sectors and the press. So many stepped forward, raised their hand and vowed to Keep The Promise to our children so that they would have the childhood they deserve.
Although only a handful of months ago, February feels like another, different life - no masks, no lockdown, no limits on seeing loved ones. We’ve been forced to alter our lives in unexpected ways and cope with challenges we couldn’t have anticipated at the beginning of the year.
Many have swapped their workplace for their kitchen table or bedroom, while others find themselves with no work at all. Isolation, loneliness and poverty all exacerbated. It’s easy to feel despondent – and easier still to write-off age-old problems as new and Covid-19-related.
I was appointed Chair of the Promise, the body responsible for driving the change demanded by the Care Review, at the beginning of the pandemic. I can’t pretend that Covid-19 didn’t have an impact, but thankfully, for the most part it was logistical; practical considerations like accessing office equipment and progressing recruitment. The work of change the Care Review asked Scotland to undertake in February remains the same; aggravated by the health crisis but not caused by it.
Despite the past eight months, I remain as optimistic for the change Scotland can make than I was on that day in February. In part because I see no abatement of the commitment and enthusiasm from those who are part of or adjacent to the ‘care system’. But mostly it’s because the care experience community continue to give their voices, energy and expertise to changing Scotland so every child grows up safe, respected and nurtured.
The plan to keep the promise to Scotland’s children will involve everyone, including central and local government, third sector and care providers. For Scotland’s ‘care system’ and all its adjacent parts, isn’t a system at all. It’s a giant jigsaw which, to show the whole picture, requires every moving part to connect firmly to all the parts around it. Gaps in the jigsaw create fractures for Scotland’s infants, children, young people and families to fall into.
For it to properly come together, it requires all those who are a part of it to shape themselves around the big picture; the people and families at the heart of Scotland’s system and services.
The care community gave so much to the Care Review, including difficult recollections and experiences. So many selflessly shared painful stories so that life would be better for those who came after. They told their stories so that Scotland learns to do better. As Chair of The Promise, I intend to make sure that happens - and to do so, I will continue to need help from the care community. Now I ask that these skills, thoughts, expertise and insight are used to make sure our country becomes the parent it needs to be for every child.
The Care Review happened because the care community demanded it and reached the conclusions it did by listening to the voice of care experience at every stage– and the Promise will continue this approach.
Right now, The Promise is recruiting members for the Oversight Board, a key component of its structure. The board will hold Scotland to account - not only to ensure it makes the change required but that it does so at speed. It will consider and approve a single, collectively owned multi-agency plan for change and track progress nationally. It will report to the care community and parliament on Scotland’s pace and performance.
There will also be local oversight boards which will work together and with the national board. Located across the length and breadth of Scotland, they will track change in local areas, across stakeholders and report into local structures. There is work taking place now to create the Promise Design School, which will train Promise Design Champions to make sure families and care experienced children are at the heart of all future service design, decision-making, service delivery and evaluation. They’ll play a key role in continually driving local and national change and improving standards for participation, ensuring children and families and care experienced people are ready, able and supported to play their vital role in delivering the Plan.
The Promise needs people with the skills and experience to do all of this work, and there is no experience more important than lived experience of Scotland’s system of care. It will be this involvement that will make sure Scotland is able to transform how it cares for its children.
There are many who are already clear on their role and responsibility and acknowledge the need to change, including in their practice and culture. The wave of commitment across Scotland to Keep The Promise shows clear willingness and readiness to get on with the programme of change. But only those at the centre of the jigsaw, the care community, will decide whether what is done is good enough. Children and families will never again be asked to change to fix the failings of the system – instead, they will rebuild care in their own image, for better, for everyone.
Fiona Duncan is Chair of the Promise, the body responsible for ensuring the findings of the Independent Care Review are implemented, and CEO of Corra