Living in the room for improvement

03 September 2018

Children running towards camera

“I would like to change it, for kids not to be separated, so that if they can get placed together they are ... or if that’s not possible, if they get contact as regularly as they can. That would stop them from losing the bond that they’ve got.”

It seems like common sense, but what Shannon from Kilmarnock is talking about here is ensuring that siblings who are taken into care don’t lose touch with each other.

She is now getting her message across to East Ayrshire Council social work staff as a member of Connecting Voices, a participation group of care experienced young people.

Ending separation of brothers and sisters is one of the many issues this group is working on to make positive changes for other looked after children and young people, and you can hear from Shannon about that work in this issue of our digital publication, REACH.

The Connecting Voices group and others like it are doing great work, and yet there is still plenty to do to ensure young people’s lives are free of the kind of challenges Shannon encountered, and indeed free of anything which prevents them from growing and developing into the people they want to be.

This issue of REACH shines a light on great examples of where evidence gathered through experience, research and data, is helping to change practice, both from our own work here at CELCIS and from the wider sector.

Projects from across Scotland are providing momentum to find ways to improve lives for children and families. In education (Parents in Partnership), foster care (Secure Base) and social work (Family Group Decision Making) interventions are having a real impact, and, as we know through our Permanence work, data is providing a new understanding of patterns and barriers in processes, in turn igniting and revealing new ways to prevent poor outcomes for children. For instance, twenty of Scotland’s thirty-two local authorities are now systematically using their databases to understand their children’s journeys, in a way they have never done before. This hugely benefits the decision-making process for determining what improvements need to made, all with the interest of securing a better future for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.

The experiences and voices of young people, carers, parents, and professionals are making an essential contribution to new learning, sharing on what is working well and what isn’t.

Through REACH we always try to provide a platform for the myriad of inspiring ideas, initiatives, approaches and thoughts across the spectrum of the issues and work involved in creating better outcomes for children, young people and their families.

Putting evidence into practice 

How we use such evidence and experience to drive positive change in our care system for the better is the best challenge we should all be taking on.

As someone involved in providing a range of learning experiences for residential child care staff across Scotland for many years, I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact of supporting the workforce to increase their knowledge and the evidence base they work from. It helps staff to question their own values and assumptions, to have the confidence and courage to advocate for young people, and challenge decisions and to understand and respond positively to young people's behaviour in the context of their development and the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It is through such learning that we can more readily ensure that young people's voices are heard and considered, their rights and safety are promoted and we practice in ways, both individually and as teams, that is more considered, intentional and impactful. 

All too often we see instances where young people’s voices aren’t being heard. Earlier this year CELCIS published a research report, in partnership with the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), looking at contact in the Children’s Hearings System. From this research, we now have a better understanding of how and when children and young people’s views are considered: this revealed that they are not consistently reported, just 36% of children’s wishes related to contact were recorded in official paperwork for hearings. Information such as this provides an opportunity for panel members, social services and the Children's Hearings Improvement Partnership to consider how to ensure we do better by our young people.

We know how powerful evidence can be when improvement is required. Aberdeen City Council’s services have managed to reduce the time it takes for a child’s case to come to its permanence panel by three months. This significant change has been brought about through scrutiny of the full process and identifying the barriers and opportunities throughout children’s journeys. Previously the process would have taken over a year: for an infant this could affect so much of their early life and development. 

We are all working in a virtual room for improvement together. We are all dependent on each other here: those working with children and young people and their families have real insight and everyone benefits when knowledge and experience is shared. We should always want the best for those we support so it stands to reason we should always be asking: What do we know? How do we know if this is working? What impact is this having? Can we do things better? We owe it to Shannon, and all those we work for, to always be seeking evidence of all kinds to answer these questions in order to improve services to support children, young people and their families in the most appropriate and effective ways we can. 

I hope you find the stories in this edition of REACH as inspiring and thought-provoking as I have.

Claire Burns is the Director of Programmes at CELCIS.

What's next in REACH?

Find out how a Maori model of improving care has been transformative for a family in Glasgow in Karen Frew's blog post.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of our funders.

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