Without a doubt, how bairns fair in 2017 will depend on the continued tremendous support of all those working to improve the wellbeing of children, towards young people and their families who experience adversity.
The passing of 2016 was met with sighs of relief. Brexit, the US election, and the inordinate number of deaths of musical legends will be remembered. But for children, there were many significant developments impacting on their lives, which also caught public attention.
The changing nature of risk, and specifically children engaging in online conversations, was highlighted through Police Scotland's campaign, involving Barnardo's, NSPCC Scotland, and Children's 1st. This communicated the warning signs that children and families should look for. The use and misuse of technology in protecting children is an emerging theme, but more of that later...
Child abuse has a lifelong impact. What's important is that we learn lessons from the past and make sure these mistakes never happen again. The historical child abuse inquiry in England and Wales, as well as Scotland's own separate inquiry, are set up to do just that.
The NSPCC raised alarm bells when it reported a 58% rise in calls to ChildLine over the last three years. The rise is believed to be due, in part, to a number of high profile child sex abuse cases.
The Scottish Government made a commitment to raise the minimum age for criminal responsibility from eight to 12, news particularly welcomed by colleagues at the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice. The big messages from their research remind us about the power of good practice: one study showed how understanding the impact of trauma and bereavement on young people in custody, and providing them with the support they need, can have a positive impact on their lives. A further study found better relationships between the police and young people, wider support for residential workers, and clearer communication could reduce criminalisation of young people in care.
And this was timely, as the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a 'root and branch review' of the care system in Scotland.
In Scotland, there are approximately 15,000 looked after children (including children looked after at home), and some simply do not experience enough stability. CELCIS is committed to ending the unacceptably long waiting times for a permanent home – in Scotland that can mean a number of options - adoption or fostering, kinship care, residential care or returning safely home. For us, 2016 marked a year of success for our Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) programme. PACE is a partnership with the Scottish Government and local authorities aimed at whole-systems improvement approaches to reduce 'drift and delay' in decision making. The programme is being rolled out across Scotland.
Those working in closely to support children and their families know better than anyone what the issues surrounding children's wellbeing are and there are no quick fixes. This is why in 2017 our message is unwavering: we want to make, positive, lasting differences in the lives of children living in and on the edges of care, their families and care leavers. Our remit is, however, evolving and expanding.
CELCIS is contributing to Scottish Government's Child Protection Improvement Programme, developing a plan of action, to build on and strengthen how we all protect children.
We're extending our work looking at children on the 'edges of care'. Services and resources have traditionally been focused on children in care, but we will look more closely at the support available to children who remain at home, and to their families.
I am personally enthused about the potential of the Institute of Inspiring Children's Futures, a new venture between the University of Strathclyde, CELCIS and the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice, and I have the privilege of being its Executive Director. Our vision is simple, and chimes with the passion and drive of many in the children's sector: we want to create a society where all children and young people globally have what they need to reach their full potential; particularly children who experience adversity.
The impact of stigma on the life chances of young people is an emerging theme of the new Institute. We'll work in collaboration with local authorities, the third sector and other universities. The programme, initially funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, will bring together the real-life experiences of young people with professionals and academic knowledge, to promote positive change for children experiencing stigma and marginalisation.
Given that the University of Strathclyde is a leading international technological university, we want to draw on this expertise to look at the role that technology (mentioned above) can play in enhancing a child's life, education and career chances, as well as what it means for child protection.
We are concerned not only with what Scotland can learn from the rest of the world, but also what the rest of the world can learn from Scotland. I believe there is a lot to share, in both directions.
In January, the European Commission is launching a series of CELCIS reports, undertaken with the support of SOS Children's Villages International, looking at the circumstances of children and families in relation to the 'in care' systems across Asia, African and Latin America. This research will contribute towards the EU's global strategy to improve systems of public care for children.
Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government's poverty advisor, recently called for a 'second chance narrative' for early intervention for older children and young adults experiencing adversity – challenging the rhetoric that it's only the earliest of years impacting on future prospects. This should be celebrated, and Scotland has an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of children across childhood and into early adulthood. A philanthropic donation given to our new Institute will allow us to focus on this issue.
There are many challenges facing the children's sector in Scotland. Like you, we will work tirelessly throughout 2017, and in the years ahead, to improve the lives of children. But we can't do it alone. With help from you, your organisation, and colleagues, we are securing a better future for the bairns on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis. My belief is that in working together, we can make a real difference.
The article was first posted on Third Force News.