A lot of blood, sweat, (and some tears) went into pulling the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant and its Agenda for Change together, and we in the Covenant alliance group (cross-sector partners) are collectively and suitably chuffed! We’re a committed bunch and we’re really proud of what we’ve produced – an inspiring, aspirational and action-oriented document.
Despite great contributions, there was still a sense of anxiety in how something this new would be received when it launched six months ago, but already it’s being endorsed, referenced, and used in corporate parenting plans by a wide range of Corporate Parents.
The list of over 365 signups to endorse its principles is really heartening, from local authorities, colleges and universities, independent and third sector care providers, MPs and MSPs, and individual practitioners representing pretty much the whole range of corporate parenting bodies. A great start.
We know of local authorities who have signed up as a direct result of listening to the voices of their care-experienced young people, where young people have taken the Covenant to their Champs Board for example, and persuaded leaders and managers that this is a good thing to do and be part of.
But, its early days and we know that signing up is only the start – we need to see the ‘promise to act’ turned into action on the ground. We want Corporate Parents to address the policy ‘implementation deficit disorder’ that often afflicts our vulnerable young people. Closing the implementation gap is the main reason we developed the Covenant – we’ve got a solid track record in Scotland of producing forward-thinking childcare legislation and policy, particularly with looked after young people and care leavers.
The ‘ah but’ is our collective weakness - we routinely underestimate how difficult it is to get policy into practice, and tend not to commit the time, energy and resources to see the job through.
Our ‘Ah but’, is that we have Dr Melissa Van Dyke our National Implementation Advisor based at CELCIS. Melissa co-hosted three workshops for us in February, helping local authorities and other Corporate Parents develop a clear approach to implementing their key priority actions. With well over half of Scotland’s local authorities attending alongside over 40 other national organisations, we’ve been able to offer expert guidance, share learning, solve problems together, and build momentum for change.
We always envisaged that this work was far more than just producing a nice glossy document. The only raised eyebrows we’ve had so far are around timing– ‘how can we do this at a time of budget cuts and austerity?’ Well our answer is that care leavers are one of our most vulnerable groups, and as austerity measures and cuts to services are likely to impact harder on them, there’s no better time to launch the Covenant and Agenda for Change. It's our aim to make sure the legislation is fully implemented – not just to the letter of the law, as in the bare minimum, but in the full spirit of the law – no half measures.
The Alliance group continues to meet regularly to progress strategic actions at national level, trying to remove barriers or improve pathways to services, to help create the enabling contexts for local Corporate Parents. And, we continue to support Corporate Parents at local level to integrate the principles of the Covenant and the agenda for change into their corporate parenting plans. We want consistency for care leavers no matter where they live or grow up.
Creating a ‘new norm’ for care leavers needs sustained effort with coordinated activity, by multiple players. There’s no simple answer, no ‘silver bullet’. If you’re familiar with James Anglin’s work you’ll know about the importance he places on congruence, and the same principles apply here.
Producing the Covenant and Agenda for Change aims to support a change in both practice and culture for Scotland’s care leavers.
We’ve made a solid start, and we’re optimistic – a decent opening chapter if you like, but for the story to develop and have a happy ending, we need to acknowledge that change won’t happen by itself. We need to work collectively, using every opportunity we have to make improvements in how we support our looked after young people and care leavers.
We’re in the process of an initial impact evaluation and we’ll soon have lots of good practice examples to share of how Corporate Parents are using the Covenant to inform and improve support and provisions, and the lives of their care experienced young people.
To paraphrase a quote from the late, great Iain Banks:
“Everything makes a difference, but nothing makes all the difference. We build better lives and a better world slowly, painstakingly, and there are no short cuts, just lots of improvements: most small, a few greater, none…decisive.”
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