Good morning everyone, I am delighted to be opening today’s conference and to see so many of you - lots of familiar faces and some who I am seeing for the first time.
The role of Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping The Promise is a role that I feel truly honoured to hold. It is deeply personal to me and very close to my heart.
It is a role that is about supporting the generation that will follow in our footsteps – the people who will be sitting in the seats that you are sitting in now in the years to come. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that they are not talking about what could have been done but instead celebrating what has been done.
I continue to be grateful to have the opportunity to meet and listen to the children, young people, families, adults and the workforce who have told us so clearly, and so well, what we must change. Your individual and collective commitment to Keeping The Promise is inspiring and your stories, which are always told with courage, tenacity and honesty further strengthen my resolve to Keep The Promise. It’s important to me to continue to ensure that those voices are heard.
I know that everyone in this room shares this resolve, and together we know that listening to and working with those with care experience is absolutely fundamental to effective and lasting change.
However, let’s not forget to listen to each other too. I hope, I really hope, that today will provide you all with the opportunity and space to learn from each other and to make positive and lasting change.
Now, as has been highlighted, as we’re all here today. Today is the fourth anniversary of The Promise. An important moment to pause and reflect back on progress.
And we continue to move in a positive direction. We’ve learned lessons, we’ve worked together to find solutions to some really extremely, difficult challenges. And it is that joint working that gives me the confidence to say that we will Keep the Promise by 2030.
And for that I thank all of you.
It’s progress that is reflected in a 12.9% reduction in the number of children and young people in care since The Promise was published. From around fourteen and a half thousand children in July 2020, to around twelve and a half thousand in July 2022.
And it is progress that we must continue if we are to help meet our collective ambition to keep families together where, of course, it is safe to do so.
Its progress that must ensure that we do all we can to keep brothers and sisters together and connected and that their relationships are cherished and protected.
Ensure exclusion from school is used only where there is no appropriate alternative;
Ensure that we successfully embed a trauma informed care approach that addresses the use of restraint and ensure that we do all we can to prevent homelessness within our care experienced community by supporting children and young people at every stage of their lives to become thriving adults.
Now, there is so much good work happening but there is so much left to do. Let’s share our stories, let’s build our networks and let’s turn that good practice into common shared practice.
At a national level the Scottish Government continues to look to support this change through our activities including our support to families through our commitment to investing £500 million in Whole Family Wellbeing Funding. The Year 1 final evaluation report published just last Wednesday tells us how this has so far afforded the autonomy and the flexibility needed to tailor support activities to local needs and align them with that broader children’s services work.
Our support to our carers through the introduction of the Scottish Recommended Allowance for kinship and foster carers which will benefit over 9,000 families.
Our support to young people as they move on from care through our commitment to a £2,000 Care Leaver Payment.
Our support to our children and young people engaged with the justice system through Bairns’ Hoose and the Children's Care & Justice Bill.
And our support to care experienced adults through our roll out of trauma informed training, and our wider policy supports including further education and employment.
Now, while I am proud of these achievements, I am very, very clear that our focus and pace must be sustained, and in some areas it must be improved. We know that there are areas that need particular attention going forward and I do not shy away from that fact.
Now, the theme for this conference is Stories of Change and I really, really like the narrative that this provides for us. What are our stories so far and how do we continue both nationally and locally to bring them to life?
I have had the pleasure of visiting a range of projects and seeing excellent examples of how change is having a truly positive impact on the lives of children and families.
Our focus on supporting families on the edge of care backed by that commitment to Whole Family Wellbeing Funding, is allowing us to see in action how the right guidance and help can benefit families, change outcomes and avoid crisis points.
The case for prevention over reaction is not a new one, but I know it is a difficult one in the context of delivering services on a daily basis. And I wish to acknowledge and thank the hard work and devotion across all our workforce.
In short, The Promise sets out so clearly the case why if we think, act and invest differently, we can transform the lives of so many people in Scotland.
This is something that I saw first hand when I visited the Aberlour Intensive Perinatal Service in Falkirk. I spoke to new mums getting to grips with the changes and the challenges that being a new parent can bring and they really valued the support and the space this service gave them. Holistic support in their local area that meets their needs.
I saw this in practice as well at Musselburgh East Community Learning Centre where Whole Family Wellbeing Funding has supported the positive work led by East Lothian Children’s Services Planning Partnership and the National Support Team.
The Education workshop later this morning will hear about the work of North Lanarkshire Council’s Virtual School which again I had the privilege of visiting last year with Councillor Tony Buchanan.
That visit was the first time that I heard about the Keeping the Promise Awards. North Lanarkshire Council, the original creators of the Award, kindly gave their permission and supported The West Partnership Promise Team and Education Scotland to further develop their resources into an Award Programme for anyone working with children and young people in an educational setting in Scotland.
This Award programme was created as a vehicle to raise awareness and understanding around our national commitment to improve the learning experience and educational outcomes of our care experienced children and young people.
Although not officially launched yet, a number of regions, local authorities, and individual schools have all chosen to become early adopters of the Keeping the Promise Award programme.
And I am delighted to take this opportunity to congratulate Benarty Primary School in Fife as the first school to achieve the ‘We Promise’ Award. Argyll and Bute Council’s Care Experienced Education Team have also achieved the ‘We Promise’ Award, and Clackmannanshire Council are well on track to being the first local authority to achieve the award with more than 70% of schools engaged.
I have seen so many examples of best practice like this, and I am so keen to put these together to build a more informed story of that positive change across Scotland.
Now, the work underway to develop Plan 24 -30 provides this opportunity to recognise and to draw on the work underway and set the next steps in the direction of travel to Keep The Promise. It must set our ambitions into a delivery focused route for action; and it must carry the voice of all in order to make this a reality.
The Scottish Government absolutely must lead from the front and you have that commitment from me and my colleagues. The Scottish Government will publish an update to our Keeping the Promise Implementation Plan this Spring providing a full review of progress on the actions and the commitments that we will take and the next stages of the work that’s required – engaging and informing the development of Plan 24-30 as we go.
Now for me, a huge priority is to increase public awareness and understanding of care experience and what The Promise means.
I believe it is absolutely crucial that we can demonstrate and explain the positive change that our investment, resource and focus is making to care experienced children, young people and adults’ lives.
Increasing understanding and public support of the journey that we are all on here, is only going to help us achieve our shared goal of Keeping the Promise.
So let me just conclude by confirming - it is within our gift to succeed and I truly believe that we will if we all play our part. I am up for the challenge and I know that you are too.
So let’s work together and continue to drive the change that our children, our young people, our adults and our families require us to do.
I would like to wish you all a fabulous and productive day.
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