Last month Scotland celebrated its first ever national Adoption Week and, as a champion for our young people, this is a topic close to my heart.
I recently spoke at an event hosted by Staf, a charity that supports looked-after children and young people. (A child is looked after if they are in the care of the local authority.) My piece was well received – but the personal testimonies of the young people themselves were so much more powerful than anything I could articulate.
The Scottish Government’s commitment is to make Scotland the best place in the world for all children to grow up. That includes young people in care accessing the same opportunities enjoyed by their non-looked-after peers. Outcomes for looked after children are improving – in education, in positive destinations on leaving school and in the numbers of children and young people adopted. But we need to accelerate progress – currently, we are taking action and creating policies that aim to: prevent poverty; support families early on to prevent the need for children to become looked after; undertake a root-and-branch review of the care system in partnership with young people with experience of care; and create legislation that means looked-after young people in Scotland are now encouraged to delay their departure from care until at least 18.
So far, so good. Much of this is traditional Civil Service work – updating and creating new policy, reviewing regulation, establishing fresh legislative frameworks, measuring policy intervention, analysing data and evaluating progress. But much more of it is about encouraging and supporting institutions, agencies, third sector organisations, public sector bodies, professionals and families to work together, all putting the child at the centre. That requires different skills and a different style of collaborative leadership.
This different style is human, inclusive, open, agile and authentic. Collaborative leaders walk in each other’s shoes– but they don’t pretend to know all the answers. And they share a forensic focus on the compelling outcome that unites them – and an unwavering and passionate commitment to realising it. As civil servants we need to protect time to invest in the relationships required to make collaborative leadership coherent, effective and impactful.
Undertaking this kind of deep, practical collaborative leadership is required to ensure that every looked-after child in Scotland has a secure, safe, stable, loving and permanent home at the earliest opportunity. A recent tweet described what every looked-after child should hear: “I believe in you, I value you, I love you.” Not perhaps traditional government territory – but something every child deserves.