Being Brave – change we must…


When the First Minister announced in last week’s Programme for Government a new £500m Whole Family Wellbeing Fund I felt genuinely optimistic about what that will mean for families across Scotland. Too often we have heard warm words from government and policy makers on how we should be supporting families but matched only by tepid actions.


The level of investment in this new fund goes some way to recognising the scale of the task at hand if we are serious about realising the rights of children and families across Scotland of getting the right support at the right time. It is also supported by a commitment from 2030 to at least 5% of all community-based health and social care spend directed to preventative whole family support measures that will enable us as a country to continue to Keep The Promise.


Together these commitments offer a fantastic opportunity to honour the hopes and dreams of the families who have been brave enough to share their experiences. To improve support to those whose relationships have been fractured by a system that hasn’t paid enough attention to the rights of brothers and sisters to see each other when the state has intervened to remove them from their parents.


To support women who have experienced violence and trauma but are bounced around systems that cannot see their deep pain and need for compassion and instead experience a relentless process of re-traumatisation with decisions being made that make their survival ever more precarious. For families to finally get the right support at the right time from a system that has compassion and dignity at the core and has removed value judgements and compassion fatigue from its culture.


The key question is how all of us work differently to realise this – real, lasting, meaningful change that fundamentally improves the lives of individuals and addresses the well-being of families across Scotland.


I have worked in children’s services for over 30 years – in Local Authorities and in the Third sector. I have always gone to work wanting to make a positive impact – and to pursue justice and fairness. But alas I have concluded that I have been part of the problem within systems at times. I have at times contributed to the lack of change and progress by protecting narrow professional or organisational interests. I think if others took time to reflect on their contribution they might reach the same conclusion as I have.


The challenge, then, is once that fact is acknowledged we need to consider what we are going to do about it. We can’t neatly file it away and revert to how we have always done things. We need to embrace our vulnerability and bravely move forward with a different mindset. One which is unafraid to acknowledge failure; humble enough to be open to learning; and wise enough to know that the richest learning will be found in listening to the experiences and views of the people trying to navigate the messy complex systems we have constructed.


I have been privileged to lead an organisation that has undertaken transformative change over the last 6 years. Change that has been informed by being honest about our shortcomings and a relentless focus on the strengths of the children and families we are privileged to support.


We have much further to travel and have much more to do but we are prepared for what lies ahead – an acceptance that we will need to stop doing some things to make way for different approaches. A realisation that our ultimate ambition, given we were founded to provide support to those children worst affected by poverty, should be a scenario where we are no longer required because families are supported by a society that allows and encourages them to thrive.


Meantime, though, Aberlour is committed to making sure that children, young people and families are at the heart of everything we do. Families shape the support they receive, and they play an equal part in finding solutions to the challenges they face. Families are the experts in their own lives. They know best what works for them and that must always be a fundamental principle of any work we do to help and support families in any circumstances.


And that then takes us to the crux of the opportunity and challenge that the announcements in Programme for Government present.


Let’s use this opportunity to embolden families with hope and purpose.


By leading with children, young people and families at the front and centre it will mean we can achieve great things. If families are not at the heart of this then we are doing it wrong. We must guarantee the time, spaces, and places that will allow families to lead, to own, and to feel like whatever this looks like for them – that it is ‘theirs’.


We will only be able to do that if we abandon organisational thinking which too often prioritises narrow self-interests. We must embrace a new approach that ensures children, young people, and families are supported and empowered to lead in truly collaborative ways – that result in them being able to live a life in which they thrive.


It should not matter which organisation, be it public, private, or third sector, is delivering a service or providing support for families. It should not be about service models or programmes. At all times families should feel that any response to what is happening in their lives is on their terms and that they are part of the solution to the challenges they face.


We can’t revert to how we have always done things because it doesn’t work. We also shouldn’t expect families to become clones of the professionals who hold the money and the power and somehow bend themselves into professional processes. We can’t expect children, young people, and families to be part of ‘committees’ and ‘steering groups’ which we design and operate on our terms.


As professionals, decision makers, and policy makers we must be open and willing to step outside of our comfort zone into a place which supports participation and collaboration equally and authentically on families’ terms. The Care Review and the Promise provide us with a blueprint for what authentic people-led change looks like.


As a Children’s Sector let’s collectively take that to the next stage and resist the temptation to form orderly (or more likely disorderly) queues for access to that £500million. Let’s collaborate and be humble enough to be led by those who know what will work best for them – the children and families we seek to serve.


– SallyAnn Kelly, CEO Aberlour

SallyAnn Kelly, Aberlour CEO