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  • Writer's picturePaula McNeil

The Promise: Scotland’s ambition that children and young people grow up loved, safe, and respected

What is The Promise?

In October 2016, the First Minister made a commitment that Scotland would “come together and love its most vulnerable children to give them the childhood they deserve.” She announced a new Independent Review of Care which would be driven by those with experience of care.

There was a firm belief that things needed to change in the care system and those who have been in care needed to be given a bigger voice. The Care Review had to be different, starting with a commitment to ensure the care experienced community would be at its very heart.

It was important to ensure a full and proper understanding of how it feels to be in the care system and what it is that children and families really need to flourish. Only those who have experience of the ‘system’ know that.

The Promise is responsible for driving the work of change demanded by the findings of the Independent Care Review and the research took place between 2017 - 2020. At the point of concluding, the Care Review had listened to over 5,500 experiences. Over half of the voices were children and young people with experience of the ‘care system’, adults who had lived in care, and lots of different types of families. The remaining voices came from the paid and unpaid workforce. It was these people’s stories that guided the Review and it is their experiences that have shaped everything the Care Review has concluded.

The Promise will appoint a team to support the change programme and recruit an oversight body. At least half the members of this new body will be people with lived experience of Scotland’s care system.

The Promise will work with all kinds of organisations to support shifts in policy, practice and culture so Scotland can #KeepThePromise it made to care experienced infants, children, young people, adults and their families - which is that every child grows up loved, safe and respected, able to realise their full potential.

The Promise is built on Five Foundations:

Voice: Children and young people must be listened to and meaningfully and appropriately involved in decision making about their care, with all those involved properly listening and responding to what they want and need.

There must be a compassionate and caring decision making culture focussed on children and those they trust.

Some children spoke to the longlasting pain that being removed from their families did to them. Others wanted to leave but weren’t able to. Scotland must ensure decision making is based, first and foremost, on what the child needs and wants and where a child will

find a stable, loving home. We need to listen to those close to them who know them well to build a bigger picture of that child’s life.

Family: Where children are safe in their families and feel loved they must stay – and families must be given support together, to nurture that love and overcome the difficulties which get in the way.

It means also ensuring Scotland has a more holistic understanding of risk that includes balancing the risk to the child of removing them from their family with the risk of possible harm of not having stable, long term loving relationships.

Poverty is the main cause of addiction and neglect. We need to tackle poverty at its root.

Care: Where living with their family is not possible, children must stay with their brothers and sisters where safe to do so, and belong to a loving home, staying there for as long as needed.

Carers and adoptive parents need to be better supported in provided loving nurturing relationships for those children they work with. Less emphasis should be made on qualifications and more emphasis on employing loving caring people. Children should be able to stay in touch with their carers after they turn 18. Professional boundaries are preventing the loving relationships that children require to feel safe and flourish. Staff tend to err on the side of caution to protect themselves.

Restraint should also no longer be used. Some children have been left traumatised by it and others have sadly said they liked it as it was the only contact they had ever had from an adult. Carers need better training on reasons for behaviour that results in requiring restraint.

People: The children that Scotland cares for must be actively supported to develop relationships with people in the workforce and wider community, who in turn must be supported to listen and be compassionate in their decision-making and care. We need to focus on recruiting people with the right ethos and qualities rather than qualifications

Children must be able to have relationships similar to that of grannys and aunties and have sleepovers just like children who aren't cared for.

Scaffolding: Children, families and the workforce must be supported by a system that is there when it is needed. The scaffolding of help, support and accountability must be ready and responsive when it is required.

Words such as contact and cared for should be removed and children should be able to be dropped off in staffs own cars to save the stigma of being seen in taxis etc

Children should be encouraged to build relationships in the wider community such as with teachers or activity leaders. These people can shape children’s lives but unfortunately too many times, notions of professionalism have got in the way of the development and maintenance of relationships.

All relationships should be built around the child with the child at the focus.

The Vision

The roots of the care system are underpinned by 44 pieces of legislation, 19 pieces of secondary legislation and three international conventions covering six out of nine Scottish policy areas. This is not a ‘care system’, it is a complicated, dated tangle of legislation, policy and practice reflective of how rules and systems have evolved over decades. It does not reflect the needs of Scotland’s children or their journeys into adulthood.

It was hard to find much negativity in response to the promise. The only worry I encountered was the concern that by removing certain professional boundaries this could potentially be exploited by some adults with bad intentions. I feel that this is where positive risk comes in. The chance for a child to have a loving, nurturing relationship with an adult who could shape their life needs in my opinion to outweigh the risk that certain adults may choose to abuse this privilege.

I look forward to seeing the Promise develop in Scotland and hopefully making a positive impact for all our children and families.

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