Claire Burns, Director (Acting), CELCIS – Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection, marks the first anniversary of The Promise.

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As we mark the anniversary of the publication of The Promise, my sense that making our commitment to The Promise of the Independent Care Review last February was a galvanising moment of hope, drive and purpose for us at CELCIS has not diminished.

What we didn’t know then was that a force as impactful as a global pandemic would expose the needs and vulnerable situations and contexts of so many across the world.

Over the course of this crisis I have often said that it has thrown a spotlight on so much of what we already knew: the pandemic was not the cause of poverty, family pressures, isolation, domestic abuse, digital exclusion or any of the other challenges that have attracted increased attention under its spotlight. I make no apology in consistently relaying the same message: living through another lockdown at the start of 2021, we can all recognise that the circumstances which cause difficulties and inequalities for families and communities existed before the virus and, unless we take action, they will outlast the virus.

These experiences of the last year have further reinforced the powerful evidence and findings published in The Promise of the Review: families want to know that if they need support this can be easily accessed, at an early stage. That this will include access to practical support (including money) and support for their wellbeing, with opportunities that allow them to support each in their own communities and, where this is not possible, that support is provided through universal services, in ways that don’t feel stigmatising.

The response to the pandemic has created new opportunities to address some of the most fundamental, cultural and structural challenges involved in making the changes we need to see. One of these is the conversation around ‘vulnerability’. Defined as vulnerable, under the pandemic restrictions some children and families were to get extra support, such as places in school hubs. But what we witnessed is how and why families may not or may not wish to associate themselves as being ‘vulnerable’.

The focus was put on individual families and their children, with the public messaging that schools were closed to all children except for the children of key workers, or who were vulnerable. How then might children and their families have navigated that identification in a way they had never had to before? Preconceived, pervasive public and political notions and language around the causes of poverty and responsibilities - ‘benefits’ rather than welfare, questions that are framed around parents not being able to feed their children rather than the structures and circumstances that cause such ‘vulnerability’, are wholly stigmatising, with the risk that those who need help and support may not know where to turn to or will do so.

These are important conversations. Fragile family environments can develop anywhere, at any time, to anyone, due to external pressures and inequalities and the pressures of the pandemic are likely to have this impact on many more. The support of family support services needs to be there when people need it.

Despite the vital but upending priority of the need to protect life from the virus, the efforts to improve the support for children, young people and families have continued. Organisations and decision-makers have readily responded during the crisis, giving new hope for the political will and public support that the fundamental changes of The Promise requires. There have been examples of greater flexibility and discretion within services for practitioners to circumvent existing bureaucracy, enabling support and services to more immediately help children and families, and empowering people by placing increased trust and autonomy in practitioners to understand and respond quickly to the needs of children and families, has shown just how possible it is to adapt.

We have even more impetus to make real change and we have identified that changes put in place to address the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions have meant new solutions and forms of support and engagement that have worked better for some children, families and services, and there is public will to see change – just look at the public momentum and discourse behind ending food poverty. We continue to hold on to this, to acknowledge and share the learning and examples of change, to be open to new ways of doing things. Only this way can Scotland Keep the Promise.

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