What does new research tell us it will take to keep The Promise?

05 February 2024

Topic: Active implementation
Author: Dr Heather Ottaway

Picture of family in living roomDr Heather Ottaway, CELCIS’s Head of Evidence and Innovation, and Principal Investigator of the Children’s Services Reform Research study, considers what this new research means if Scotland is to keep The Promise.

With the fourth anniversary of the publication of The Promise of the Independent Care Review and a little over a month since we published the Children’s Services Reform Research study, I have been further reflecting on what it will take to realise the aims of The Promise. The aims and vision of The Promise are clear: that Scotland becomes the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up in, where they feel loved, safe and respected. It is intended to support and drive one of the most ambitious transformational reform programmes ever to be developed in Scotland. It’s a promise made to all our children and young people in response to the experiences and perspectives that were shared by people with experience of care, children, their families and their carers, during the course of the review. It’s a promise that must be kept, with the voices of children, young people and families underpinning all our work.

Four years on, the commitment to keeping The Promise remains as strong as ever from the organisations who work to support children, young people and families and from across the political spectrum. However, whilst change is happening, it is clear that there is a long way to go, and doubts and uncertainty are beginning to surface about how, and whether, The Promise can be fully met by 2030.

The evidence from our research has a lot to offer about what it takes to successfully achieve major transformational reform. Asking the question “what is needed to ensure that children, young people and families receive the help they need, when they need it?” we reviewed national and international evidence to understand other countries’ experiences of transformational reform in children’s health and social care and we heard from over 1400 members of the children’s services workforce in Scotland across health, social work, social care, early years, education, youth justice and the third sector.

Our research identified that a series of inter-related foundations needs to be in place to support transformational reform.

The Promise inter-related foundations to support transformational reform..jpg

Many of the of these foundations are either in development or already in place when it comes to the efforts to keep The Promise: long-term cross-party support, understanding that transformational reform takes many years, local and national implementation staff and having governance arrangements in place.

Getting the foundations right

The challenge now is how to attend to all the foundations needed and how The Promise Plan 24-30, which is currently in development, can be a ‘road map’ which translates the aims and vision into clearly articulated and sequenced actions, detailing what actions need to be taken, how these should be done and why, who needs to take the actions and by when.

Several clear messages came through from the research. Change is a contested process. People and organisations can be resistant to change, especially when it involves letting go of particular ways of working, and/or if there are concerns about new ways of working and different models of service delivery. Too much change can also result in ‘transformation fatigue’. In Scotland, the children’s services workforce is engaged in or facing a number of transformational reform programmes at the moment, including work to implement The Promise, the Children’s Hearing re-design work and the proposed development of the National Care Service. A weariness around continuous change and improvement initiatives coupled with the current crisis around recruitment and retention across the children’s services workforce, and the considerable pressures on the workforce as a result, is exacerbating this fatigue. These are far from the optimum conditions required to ensure that children, young people and families can get the support they need, when they need it.

Implementation within the current context in Scotland requires adequate financial and people resourcing which goes beyond the foundation of dedicated implementation resources. Continued investment at a national level will be needed, including ensuring that there is a sufficient, skilled and supported workforce, and that the right services are available to support children, young people and families when they need them, particularly those which focus on early help and support.

It is also clear from our research that practitioners valued national and local leaders who were knowledgeable about and skilled in change work, and who would provide clear direction, communicating the reasons for the changes clearly and ensuring that practitioners had the local resources and support needed to implement change. Given the depth and complexity of the changes needed to Keep the Promise by 2030, it is vital that leaders at all levels are sufficiently supported to drive this vital transformational reform programme. This key foundation of the value of skilled transformational leadership locally, regionally and nationally, is vital and is not a component that can be overlooked or skipped.

And what of the timescale? Is the 2030 Promise timescale achievable? From our study’s evidence, it is clear that transformational reform is a complex, prolonged and challenging process that takes many years to develop and implement. Many examples showed that the period of making change took a decade and that it takes even longer than this to then see the impact of these changes. With The Promise’s 10-year period for implementation, evidence suggests that the impact of the reforms for children, young people and their families may take longer than that to be fully felt, seen and understood.

Keeping The Promise by 2030 is going to require time, energy and continued focus. While the challenges are considerable, we must all work to keep The Promise, supporting a plan and the workforce to achieve this, so that Scotland can become the best place in the word for children and young people to grow up in.

More information about the Children’s Services Reform Research and all the findings and reports can be found on our pages about the study.


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