Caring for our children and young people: corporate parenting update 2018 to 2021

Second national report on corporate parenting by Scottish Ministers. In this 2018 to 2021 report, we provide an overview of corporate parents’ activities over the last three years, and how they have delivered their duties to support children and young people with care experience.

Chapter 9: Learning from 2018-21 Activities – Enablers, Challenges and Future Priorities


In Chapters 3 to 8, we have set out the wide range of activities progressed by Scotland’s corporate parents between 2018 and 2021. In presenting these activities we recognise that these do not just happen in isolation. Instead the impetus and delivery of the activities are shaped by the contexts in which staff and organisations operate. In some cases, changes in leadership, organisational factors, and national and local policy developments will have been supportive and enabling; while in others, the context will have been challenging and frustrating, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adding to this.

In this chapter, we aim to better understand the operating context by first highlighting the enabling factors reported by Scotland’s corporate parents, before considering the challenges encountered. We finish the chapter with a forward look by setting out the priorities that Scotland’s corporate parents stated they will progress in the 2021-2024 three-year activity cycle. All three sections are written with reference to Scotland’s corporate parents as a whole, rather than breaking down the sections by different organisational type, because we found considerable overlaps in what corporate parents conveyed. However, we have also included and made clear where an enabling factor, challenge or priority is distinct for a particular organisational type.

Enabling Factors

We asked corporate parents to consider what had helped them to deliver their corporate parenting responsibilities. Noting the overlap across different corporate parents, the key factors put forward in their survey responses were:

  • The participation, drive and energy of care experienced children and young people via a range of interactions (including Champions Boards) has improved organisations’ understanding of the supports and services that matter, helped identify any gaps or weaknesses in provision, and made supports more visible to those who need it. This is a two-way process dependent on trusting relationships whereby organisations showing genuine interest in the views and experiences of care experienced children and young people, and children and young people being willing to engage with professionals.

“The contribution of our current and former (care experienced) students has been the most influential factor in advancing our corporate parenting activities. Without our learner community providing feedback, being open to share their often personal experiences and generally being magnanimous in their contributions our corporate parenting offering would not have developed as it has – nor will it continue to progress into the future at the same rate without continued learner support” (Edinburgh Napier University).

  • Strong and enthusiastic leadership and governance of corporate parenting responsibilities that has helped to drive change and improvement, including permissions to trial new approaches, to benefit care experienced children and young people. Such leadership stemmed from the multi-agency Corporate Parenting Boards in place at a local authorities or community planning partnership area level, through to named senior leadership positions and groups within individual organisations. The role of elected members as ‘champions’ was in particular highlighted by some local authorities, and other corporate parents noted the importance of senior leaders directly engaging with care experienced children and young people as a means of stimulating new ideas and activities.
  • Having a ‘live’ Corporate Parenting Plan that provides clear vision and direction on what activities are to be taken forward. While we found in Chapter 3 that a number of Plans lacked detail and were out-of-date, some corporate parents did recognise the importance of Plans remaining ‘live’ and reviewed on an ongoing basis to monitor progress and identify issues to respond to. The collection and analysis of data relating to care experienced children and young people was viewed as a key aspect of reviewing the effectiveness of Plans.
  • Collaborative working between organisations to share good practice, increase understanding of and access to specialist supports and services delivered by different partners, and (above all) working together to establish seamless, joined up supports and transitions for care experienced children and young people. The emphasis here is on collaboration between organisations but it can equally apply to different teams and services within an organisation.

“Collaborative working) has not only allowed us to share best practice, but also to help make transitions from schools and colleges to university more seamless for care experienced students coming to study at Stirling” (University of Stirling).

  • Taking collaboration to a more intensive, day-to-day working, co-location of staff between different services and multi-agency partners that enables the needs of care experienced children and young people to be more immediately assessed, understood and met.
  • Dedicated corporate parenting staff roles (e.g. a ‘Corporate Parenting Lead Officer’ or ‘Promise Implementation Lead’) that hold responsibility for key activity and help coordinate activities across different partners. These staff were found to go ‘above and beyond’ in their dedication and commitment to meeting the needs of care experienced children and young people.
  • Time and space for staff learning about corporate parenting through access to learning and development opportunities, networking and collaborating with other corporate parents, building relationships with care experienced children and young people, and the sharing of good practice.
  • The availability of sources of expertise that has helped to stimulate and support changes at the local level for the benefit of care experienced children and young people. Organisations that were referred to included Who Cares? Scotland, Life Changes Trust (which has been instrumental in the setting up of many Champions Boards), MCR Pathways mentoring programme, CELCIS (including its delivery of the PACE programme), the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum, and the Scottish Government.
  • The availability of external funding streams that corporate parents and care experienced children and young people could access. These included the Scottish Government’s Care Experienced Young Person Fund, the Connecting Scotland programme to support digital inclusion, and the Care Experienced Student Bursary (particularly with its removal of the upper age limit of 26 years old).
  • The impetus and permissions to do things differently offered by, for example, the Independent Care Review, The Promise, UNCRC, Health and Social Care Standards and the Commission on Widening Access. The COVID-19 pandemic, while in many ways a challenge, was also referred by some as an enabling factor as some staff and organisations had greater flexibility in how they met the needs of care experienced children and young people, and corporate parents are keen to retain examples of effective practice.

Challenges Faced

Across all corporate parents the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted as a significant challenge, and this is returned to later in this section. However, we begin by considering the wider (and often longstanding) challenges reported by corporate parents in their ability to progress corporate parenting activities and support care experienced children and young people. These were:

  • Differing levels of understanding and ownership of corporate parenting roles and responsibilities, with this a greater issue for organisations who do not provide services directly to children and young people (e.g. Special NHS Boards and bodies such as the Scottish Legal Aid Board and Accountant in Bankruptcy) and organisations who engage with only a small number of care experienced children and young people(e.g. specialist colleges and universities). Some local authorities also noted that corporate parenting can have a lower profile and priority relative to child protection.
  • Linked to the point above, turnover of staff and leaders in key corporate parenting positions, allied to organisational restructuring, impacts on the continuity of activities and the levels of expertise within organisations. The recruitment of skilled staff was also reported as being increasingly difficult and, where recruited, there is then the resource demand of training and upskilling new or inexperienced staff around corporate parenting responsibilities.
  • Lack of or out-dated Corporate Parenting Plans which can bring delays and inactivity as staff lack direction, while monitoring progress is also difficult if measures and indicators are not agreed.
  • Managing competing demands, priorities and responsibilities within the context of limited resources, with corporate parents noting the emergence of other priorities such as public health, mental health, digital poverty and exclusion, period poverty, inclusion of individuals at risk of discrimination, which creates challenges on how best to utilise available resources. This includes weighing up the value of the time and resource staff allocate to participating in different thematic groups.
  • In addition to the emergence of other priorities, services are increasingly responding to more complex cases and greater demand across its populations (e.g. for mental health, financial, housing and wider supports). The increased pressures on services, which may then negatively impact on the supports available to care experienced children and young people, their families and carers as well as the wellbeing of staff.
  • Short-term funding cycles, on top of the resource pressures referred to above, have particularly impacted on some local authorities’ ability to invest in preventative services that can have a long-term impact on children, young people, families and carers. The ending of Life Changes Trust funding may also impact on the long-term sustainability of Champions Boards.
  • Non-disclosure of care experience: children and young people have the right not to declare their care experience and can choose not to for a variety of reasons. However, this inhibits or impedes the bespoke levels of support and opportunities available to them in education, health, employability, housing, legal and financial support and more. Non-disclosure also impacts on the level and quality of information that corporate parents can use to help them inform, change and enhance their supports for care experienced children and young people.
  • Different interpretations of and access to financial support for care experienced young people, which impacts on their ability to take up opportunities. Some local authorities counted the Care Experienced Student Bursary as ‘income’ and as a result reduced the financial support young people were entitled to. The need to evidence a young person’s care experienced status was also highlighted as a challenge to accessing financial support.
  • Difficulties navigating and understanding the ‘care system’ with its scale, complexity and range of partners impacting on some corporate parents’ ability to identify meaningful activities and mechanisms for supporting care experienced children and young people.
  • Ensuring the needs of younger care experienced children are also being recognised and met, as many corporate parents are primarily supporting and have responsibilities for young people aged 16–26 years old.

Layered on top of the challenges discussed above has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was at the forefront of many of the survey responses. Impacts on corporate parenting activities ranged from:

  • Restrictions on travel and meeting people from other households affecting services’ ability to engage with and support care experienced children and young people in face-to-face and participation work. However, it is also important to add that some services continued face-to-face visits and meetings, while others maximised the opportunities that digital technologies provided. “Keeping young people connected and engaged very quickly became a priority and we were fortunate enough to secure funding and mechanisms to reach young people through different means of technology. We also provided funds for young people to purchase data (for their mobile devices) when it was required” (East Dunbartonshire Council).
  • The immediacy of responding to the pandemic and adhering to changing restrictions and guidelines inhibited organisations’ ability to progress longer-term, strategic developments and improvements. Some planned corporate parenting activities have consequently had to be paused.
  • Focusing on specific COVID-19 response priorities, such as health protection and digital connectivity, to the detriment of activities related to wider health, wellbeing and relationship building with care experienced children and young people.

Two quotes from corporate parents help to illustrate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“As a corporate parent our initial reaction has been to ensure the health and safety of our young people. As a result of this our relationships have been predominantly about health protection... Previous research has shown that the softer side of health and social care and relationships in general is a key component which must exist for young people in care to feel healthy and cared for. This year has undoubtedly had an impact on the way corporate parents have been able to provide this essential side of human relationships and how we recover and build on this must be considered” (NHS Ayrshire and Arran).

“We’ve all missed the ability to interact face-to-face with young people and to use that to build relationships; and a number of initiatives have been delayed as they require face-to-face work” (Argyll & Bute Council).

Priorities for 2021-2024

Looking forward, it was clear from the survey responses that corporate parents remain committed to delivering on their responsibilities and to bringing about improved outcomes for care experienced children and young people in 2021-2024. We found that corporate parents are keen to learn from their activities and experiences to date to bring about improvements to their understanding of, and supports and services for, care experienced children and young people. However, the connection with and learning from past activities was not always apparent, as some priority areas had limited context as to why priorities had been chosen.

The development of Corporate Parenting Plans for 2021-2024 was widely referred to. In these Plans, we expect that many of the priorities outlined below are included but also hope that each

priority and activity has sufficient detail so that there is clarity on what is to be taken forward and how progress will be measured.

In our review of the priorities set out by Scotland’s corporate parents for 2021-2024, and similar to the analysis of the enabling and challenge factors, we found that many were common to all corporate parents. These are set out below, with reference to specific groups of corporate parents where applicable.

  • Ensure corporate parenting duties and responsibilities are embedded in organisational strategic planning:
    • Update and review organisation’s own Corporate Parenting Plan to reflect changing operational context, achievements and progress made, and future priorities. For some corporate parents, this will be their first Corporate Parenting Plan.
    • Embed corporate parenting within wider organisational strategic documentation, so that corporate parenting duties and responsibilities are core to the organisation and its activities. This will help ensure that the organisation’s Corporate Parenting Plan is delivered.
  • Deliver on key national policy developments:
    • Promote and commit to the five foundations of The Promise. This includes: a review of strategic plans, services and activities to ensure their alignment with The Promise; further building of relationship-based practice; and (most relevant to local authorities) increased investment in preventative, intensive family support services to help keep children with their families.
    • Embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), with some corporate parents seeking to bring together the priority agenda of corporate parenting, rights and inclusion.
    • Renewed focus on and reinvigoration of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC), noting the connections between GIRFEC, The Promise and the UNCRC.
  • Continue to collaborate with other corporate parents and related stakeholders:
    • Co-produce or align Corporate Parenting Plans with those of other key national and local corporate parents, and explore opportunities for joint funding bids.
    • Ensure alignment of Corporate Parenting Plans with related national and local policy priorities, including mental health, digital inclusion, employability and housing policy developments and opportunities.
    • Broaden networks and links with external organisations and agencies to ensure sharing of best practice and keep developing and improving the supports available to care experienced children and young people.
  • Increase participation and inclusion of care experienced children and young people:
    • Continue to invest in participation and advocacy activities to help ensure children’s and young people’s voice is truly heard in the planning and decision making relating to their individual lives.
    • Further enable care experienced children and young people to contribute to the development of services and practices designed to meet their needs, through providing supportive opportunities (e.g. via Champions Boards) where they can increasingly understand, influence and co-design services and practices. This is critical if care experienced voices and experiences are to be at the heart of refreshed Corporate Parenting Plans and strategies and policies designed to implement the objectives of The Promise.
    • Listen to and learn from care experienced children and young people about what is required in response to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Review and improve the language used within Child’s Plans and other documentation. Aberdeen City Council, for example, are adopting ‘Write Right About Me’ as a multi-themed approach to improving how corporate parents narrate the experiences of care experienced children and young people in documentation about their care and support.
  • Continued promotion of care experienced children and young people, and opportunities available to them:
    • Promote opportunities and supports available to care experienced children and young people through different fora (e.g. websites, social media, podcasts, prospectus, and open days).
    • Contribute to and publicise national events, such as Care Experienced Week.
  • Investment in staff, leadership and data:
    • Ensure strong strategic leadership around corporate parenting, including embedding the aims and activities of local Corporate Parenting Plans within other strategic and operational areas.
    • Deliver corporate parenting training that builds and reinforces staff knowledge and confidence around their responsibilities as corporate parents, which is particularly important given turnover of staff and leaders.
    • Build and embed understanding of trauma-informed and nurturing practice across staff working with care experienced children and young people.
    • Review and enhance corporate parenting-related data and aligned self-evaluation and quality assurance activity, with a particular focus on understanding the effectiveness of existing services (including establishing measurable corporate parenting ‘outcomes’) and a dynamic sense of future need.

The priorities above largely refer to improvements to internal organisational practices and governance, but corporate parents also referred to a wide range of improvements to the supports and services for care experienced children and young people. These are outlined in Figure 1 below, noting some activities will be more specific to some groups of corporate parents than others.

Figure 1: 2021-2024 Priorities – Enhanced Supports for Care Experienced Children and Young People

Local, family-based placements: Invest in and increase the number of sustainable local, family-based placements for care experienced children and young people, with focus on recruiting new foster carers; providing holistic supports for foster and kinship carers; and keeping children with brothers and/or sisters together where appropriate

Health assessments: Improvement work to reduce timescales between notification of a change in a child’s care circumstances and receiving a health assessment, and (in some cases) to improve the service model for health assessments to ensure better engagement with children and their families and carers

Clinical services: Development or improvements that would particularly benefit care experienced children and young people, such as psychological support for expectant/new mothers; shortening CAMHS waiting times; recruiting more school nurses; and trauma-informed training for staff

Digital inclusion: Enhance digital access (data, devices and digital literacy) for care experienced young people so that they are not disadvantaged or disconnected compared to their peers

Mental and physical health: Attend to and meet the mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of care experienced children and young people, while also promoting the benefits of good physical health

Mentoring: Commit to and increase mentors for care experienced children and young people. Some colleges and universities referred to connecting care experienced students with prospective applicants and alumni to offer peer mentors and role models

Additional Support for Learning: Invest in and provide bespoke, relationship-based learning supports for care experienced children and young people to deliver on ‘Getting It Right for Every Learner’

Increase vocational, life and employability skills: Invest in work and wider ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ experience opportunities, and CV writing and job seeking skills, thus connecting with the Scottish Government’s Youth Guarantee commitment

Employment opportunities and career pathways: Increase availability of work experience and traineeship opportunities; guaranteed interview schemes; financial support for interview clothing; and Modern Apprenticeship and other employment opportunities

Summer financial support: Enable care experienced students to financially manage over the summer months, either by providing financial supports during summer, or support to prepare for and manage no real-time funding over the summer months

Housing: Continue to invest in and increase the housing options available for young people leaving care to support their transition to independent living

Transitions into adulthood: Ensure supported transitions for care experienced young people into adulthood and, where appropriate, into adult services

In Summary

Throughout this report we have provided examples of how Scotland’s corporate parents have delivered meaningful and impactful activities across all six Section 58 duties. That they have done so is testament to key enabling factors both internal to organisations (e.g. high quality leadership and staffing) and external or multi-agency in nature through commitment to collaborative working. At the same time, corporate parents have identified a number of challenges that have inhibited the scale and impact of their activities, the majority of which were identified in the previous 2015-2018 review. Taking action on these challenges will be crucial if corporate parents are to work together with care experienced children and young people to deliver on their priorities for 2021-2024 and the vision set out by The Promise.



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