Last week I was truly inspired.
I was at our Gathering PACE: A passion for permanence event in Edinburgh and heard so many stories of real improvements in reducing drift and delay when making permanence decisions for children. Meaning they get to a long-term settled, secure and permanent place to live quicker.
The nine local authorities that are currently involved in the Permanence and Care Excellence programme (PACE) were all represented there. And, as PACE is built around a whole-system improvement approach, social workers, Children’s Hearing members, colleagues from education, health, legal and data services, Children’s Reporters, adoption agencies and Scottish Government also told their stories.
There was so much sharing of change ideas and ‘light bulb’ moments, and a real determination and belief in the room that real improvement to these young lives comes from everyone around the child working together to make a difference and cut delays.
So I was inspired - and heartened, but we still have so much more to do…
Children who experience the care system, whether looked after at home or accommodated, tell us clearly that they want to get on with their childhoods and teenage years with as little disruption as possible. When I worked with children in temporary and long-term foster care, over and over again I would hear them say that they didn’t want the uncertainty that at any time they might have to move from their (latest) family, school, friends and local area. The impact of multiple moves left them feeling different, confused and insecure. Their emotional and physical roots became increasingly fragile each time they moved, and their ability to believe and trust adults increasingly diminished.
As usual, the children are right!
When a child’s wellbeing is compromised within their birth family, for whatever reason, we need to act early with thorough and robust assessments, sensitive parent and child support and effective decision making. The clock on that child’s childhood never stops ticking and it’s all of our jobs to ensure alarm bells keep clanging all the way to early physical, emotional and legal permanence.
I recently wrote in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care about Keiran, whose permanent placement was long-term foster care. The team around Keiran worked hard with him, his family, his foster carer and his teachers to make the move as smooth as possible, and was managed in such a way as to minimise distress or trauma for him. There was fantastic whole-system working, but it had taken Keiran several years to be settled in his family of permanence.
What we need to do is make early permanence happen for all children – this should be the rule, not the exception!
The Scottish Government’s strategy document Getting It Right for Looked After Children and Young People spells out the blueprint for what is needed to achieve early permanence and also why. There’s further hard data evidence of the extent of current drift and delay in achieving permanence for Scottish children and young people in the December 2015 research produced by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.
These documents communicate the compelling reasons and a road map for early permanence.
What children tell us is backed up by plentiful research on just what is needed to achieve wellbeing through permanence. The evidence base for our PACE programme is clear on this and signposts our priorities in our local improvement partnership work. These include:
We need to keep talking, connecting, and acting to improve processes, procedures and whole-system decision-making at the core of best permanence practice.
Priority topics we’re grappling with focus on aiding a deeper understanding of permanence legislation, agency roles and responsibilities, and how each impacts on decision making for permanence. The role of multi-agency assessment leading to thorough and robust permanence decisions is paramount.
We’re working on understanding what makes for the most helpful content in reports and presentation of information to Children’s Hearings and how to maximise these meetings to make sure child-centred decisions are made. It’s all about enabling multi-agency understanding of permanence and the impact of trauma on children and young people that results from drift and delay.
It was clear from the Gathering PACE event that there's strong motivation and commitment to improving permanence for children. There are exciting, creative and energetic initiatives happening, and working, in local practice throughout Scotland through the PACE programme and other local permanence work.
But there’s still a long, long way to go to ensure we are getting this right for every looked after child and young person.
It’s all of our jobs to ensure early permanence for children, so please join me and be passionate about permanence!