Exploring leadership opportunities for the care experienced community
For this Care Experienced Week we took some time with Barry Black, member of the National Leadership Network (NLN) steering group, and Gary Brown, NLN Development Co-ordinator to find out more about the NLN and how participation is at the core of how the Network works in Scotland, and with Sarah Rogers, Participation Associate at CELCIS, who tells us more about a partnership project between the NLN and CELCIS.
What is the National Leadership Network?
American author Helen Keller said ‘Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much’.
“This quote beautifully sums up the National Leadership Network’s journey to date.” begins Gary Brown, Development Co-ordinator at the National Leadership Network (NLN). “The NLN is part of Life Changes Trust's legacy work. It is a five-year initiative aiming to complement existing projects and networks and work with young people with care experience, their allies and supporters. It is led by the voices of young people and supports individuals with care experience to explore leadership in all its shapes and forms through engagement in opportunities that encourage personal and professional development, social activity, peer support, active citizenship, and democratic participation. Its main aim is to fund, signpost and develop a variety of leadership opportunities and experiences for the care experienced community. The steering group will look at bids for funding which aim to meet needs identified by people with care experience.
“Partnership working has been a golden thread running through the Network which started with ten grant assessors picking five organisations to host the Network. These young assessors commented that these organisations all had different skills and specialities and would be great together - Staf, the lead partner; the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ); Resilience Learning Partnership; Columba1400; and Who Cares? Scotland. The NLN Steering group, who are the main decision makers for the project, have often talked about the importance of partnership working.”
Barry Black continues: “As a member of the steering group, I and nine colleagues, are the decision makers regarding every aspect of the Network. This includes partnerships, advocacy and events, and most importantly funding of projects to support personal development and leadership skills in young people with experience of care. One thing which the NLN does really well is how it is set up and runs. There are no set rules around the group, and everyone has equal status. The recruitment into the steering group was an application based on what leadership meant to me, so while the organisation is predominantly dealing and interested with the issues around people with care experience, I, and other Steering group members, are not here only because we have care experience, we are here on merit. There are vast differences in age, experience and background, but it works really well and ensures that we get that diversity of background and experience coming through in our decisions.
“All of the processes around decision making, around meeting times, and around how we structure discussions are decided by the group and have not come from a staff member or a Board. This helps us to feel that we are equal participants, but actually it's more than just feeling it, we can see the results that show that participation within the NLN is there by design and not an afterthought - it actually came from the inception of the group rather than a retrofit. It’s not a box ticking exercise.”
Collaborating with CELCIS
Since 2022, the National Leadership Network has worked in partnership with CELCIS on work with a particular focus on participation. In this context, participation means involving people with lived experience of care from the beginning of a project’s development to include their voice and experiences. The most recent project involved the NLN supporting the facilitation of discussions in CELCIS on participation and how participation fits into organisational structures.
Sarah Rogers, Participation Associate at CELCIS, explains: “At CELCIS we have Participation Champions who work to embed and improve participation across CELCIS by sharing opportunities and practice. The supporting Champions act as participation advocates in their respective departments. True participation needs the ability to look at structures and ways of working with fresh eyes to try and open your mind to things that are probably outside the professional comfort zone for a lot of us, and it can be really nerve wracking adopting that critical approach. So, when the Participation Champions were trying to define what they were striving to achieve they decided to get the National Leadership Network involved to help by bringing in a different and sometimes challenging perspective.
"Often organisations feel a pressure to show the perfect end product and they don't want to show the messy working part of it, and to work together successfully, both the NLN and CELCIS needed to show that vulnerability. Sometimes to move forward you first have to go right back to the fundamentals to make sure that the approach is right.
“As a group we started to ask fundamental questions such as what exactly do we mean by participation? Why is this an important and ethical thing to do? How is it going to ensure we were more informed in help us achieving our objectives? And what is the implication if we're not doing participation well? Our Participation Champions joined in these conversations with a passion and willingness to improve how they work. This is ultimately not about the NLN, nor about CELCIS. It's about the people we work for, their needs. We’re not changing the world, but we are doing a little bit of something really good that will ensure the voice of lived experience is heard safely and meaningfully, which will have a positive impact for children, young people, and their families.
“If we maintain this spirit of flexibility and collaboration when thinking about participation then what we are doing now will set us up for the future - it's already having a positive effect for both of our organisations. It's really important to have a critical friend and also a creative friend, and we also have colleagues across the sector working on participation that are supporting work we do, so we’re not isolated and can share good practice.”
Gary continues: “Working with CELCIS has been such a fantastic experience to date and really feels like a two-way relationship, where both organisations are benefiting from the relationship. Staff from CELCIS and the NLN have started to share resources, thoughts, and ideas on how we are working and making sure that we are not being precious about the work we do from an organisational perspective. Like with many of our partners and allies we are keen to grow, learn, and develop together and make sure people with care experience are front and centre of what we do.”
Barry agrees: “Organisations I've been involved with are getting much better at listening to the voice of care experience - inclusion is not just a buzzword. Having different routes to be able to participate and ensuring that people actually have a say is important because that's when we are equal participants. Ask yourselves, why isn't your lived experience panel - or some of them - on your management board?”
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