Under the spotlight of COVID-19: Real change is possible
Claire Burns, Director of CELCIS (Acting), reflects on the last six months.
For all of us involved in supporting children and families, there has been limited space in the last six months to stop and reflect.
As I now take a moment to do so, what strikes me is how much we have learned that we didn’t know before, and yet how this crisis has thrown a spotlight on so much of what we already knew.
Making our commitment to The Promise in those few weeks before lockdown had been a galvanising moment of hope, drive and purpose for us. We shared its vision for a new ground-breaking approach to support children and families, and it’s provided us at CELCIS with a renewed determination to play an important part in helping to deliver on the national and local collective change required.
Then something unexpected happened.
The pandemic was not the cause of poverty, family pressures, isolation, domestic abuse, digital exclusion or any of the other vulnerabilities that have attracted increased attention under its spotlight. 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.
What the impact and restrictions of the last six months have done has given new exposure to what our children and families need and want, further bolstering and reinforcing the powerful evidence and findings of the Independent Care Review.
Families want to know that if they need support this can be easily accessed and at an early stage, it includes access to practical support (such as access to money) as well as support for wellbeing. Parents and families also value opportunities that allow them to support each other first and foremost in their own communities, and where this is not possible that support is provided through universal services, in ways that don’t feel stigmatising.
To see many volunteers, organisations and decision-makers so readily respond in this way gives new hope for the political will and public support that the fundamental changes of The Promise will require.
Through our work and partnerships at CELCIS we now have a stronger understanding of what the learning from the crisis has been and even more insight from children, young people and families about the kind of support they find most helpful. And this has strengthened our resolve in the changes and improvement we want to support, in the knowledge of what’s possible.
We can see real change is possible
Across Scotland there have been examples of greater flexibility and discretion within services for practitioners to circumvent existing bureaucracy, enabling support and services to more immediately reach and benefit children and families. Empowering people by placing increased trust and autonomy in practitioners to understand and respond quickly to the needs of children and families has also shown just how possible it is to adapt.
So too has there been increased recognition of - and trust in - the strengths and resilience of children, families and communities, working together with them to find solutions. And throughout it all we have seen the inherent passion, commitment and determination among services, practitioners and volunteers to work above and beyond to meet the needs of children and families.
The clear examples of where voices and experiences have been recognised, valued and integrated into the help provided demonstrate ways to do this well. We have seen this particularly across efforts to support connections and decision-making for children, and that when done well, this ensures that children can keep in touch with family, friends and others who are important to them.
For us at CELCIS, we have continued to develop and strengthen the ways in which we integrate the voice and experience of babies, children, young people and families. The findings of the Independent Care Review through The Promise have strongly and rightfully reinforced the value and necessity of effective, meaningful and safe participation. We remain committed to working with others, such as our close partners in the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, Children’s Hearings Scotland, Social Work Scotland, the third sector and others, to listen and be responsive, empathetic and compassionate in decision-making.
How we strengthen the voice of experience within CELCIS also matters greatly. We have ambitious plans to ensure the voice and experience of babies, children, young people and families influences the direction of our work. We are ensuring that through our Strategic Advisory Board and across our programmes and projects we involve lived and professional experiences to inform our insight, our work and how we do our work.
Building for the future
This is essential when we consider the implementation gap that so often thwarts attempts to improve services - what people have to say from their own experience needs to be built into making change happen.
Our implementation and improvement programmes will build on lived experience as well as target the barriers to change: the leadership required; the ability to use evidence and data to inform decision making; effective supports for the workforce and the licence to test new ideas.
As we complete our PaCE (Permanence and Care Excellence) programme, closing this chapter of our extensive cross-Scotland programme with local areas to support stability and permanence, there is so much we can apply from this and our other work to the challenges set before us all, including the implementation of The Promise.
It means taking what we have learned from our work with partners to develop early family support so that families get the help they need to stay together. It means knowing that relationships between family members, including brothers and sisters, must remain central.
And, where children are unable to live at home, it means using dedicated, embedded support and learning to enable family members, carers and workforces to ensure consistent and high quality care.
Though we may see more need for support as a result of COVID-19 and the impact of restrictions, nothing about the goal, commitment or ambitions of The Promise in February has been fundamentally changed by the events of the last six months.
And yet, as we Build Back Better, we have even more impetus to make real change. Some changes have worked better for some children, families and services.
We must hold on to that.