Transcript: A RIGHT blether with Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People (Part 2)

Katie outlines what children and young people considered to be 'Right Brilliant Things' in their lives and the result of the vote.

Podcast Episode: A RIGHT blether with Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People (Part 2)

Category: Young people 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

KB - Katie Brown

Part 2 of a talk by Katie Brown, recorded on 6th January 2012

KB So we had the ‘Tell Tam Tour’. So very exciting, very successful - there’s the man himself and there’s access to him.

Then we rolled out the next part of the journey which was called ‘Right Brilliant Things’, and this was focused on ensuring that we were asking children and young people not only about what they think should improve in the lives of children and young people, but actually what they themselves perceived as really important parts of their lives to celebrate - what they thought was happening really well for children and young people in Scotland. And we wanted them to tell us in a non-defined manner, so therefore we wanted them to use whatever form of communication they felt most comfortable with - whether that be drawing or painting, singing, constructing a model, writing, any way at all. And Tam invited children and young people from across Scotland to inundate our office with examples of what was right brilliant in their lives, and they did, and we had thousands of examples of what was right brilliant in their lives, which I will come back to in a little while, so I’ll tell you what we found out about that afterwards.

We were very lucky, at the very end of this whole journey, we were able to celebrate a lot of those by holding an exhibition at the MacRobert Centre, and looking not only at the wonderful ideas and thoughtfulness of children and young people - their amazing creativity as well, which was fantastic.

So Right Brilliant Things rolled on throughout the year, and then everything was focused on creating an opportunity for children and young people to take part in a very serious vote. What the vote was to be about was something that people were asking all the way through and we couldn’t tell them - because at the same time as running all these particular arms of this project, we were working with key partners like Scottish Youth Parliament, like Children’s Parliament, the Scottish Parliament itself through its youth events, and through some of our visits and special events that had been set up for Tam to really listen to children and young people who perhaps were not as well represented as others, to identify what turned out to be a collection of round about eighty key themes at children and young people spoke about the most. Those key themes, as I said were identified through these various discussions, gathered, collated, put into categories, and then were taken to another group of children and young people as late as October. Now when I’m talking about eighty themes coming from this conversation that was happening behind the conversation that Tam was having, I am talking about many, many, many, many, many, many thousands of children and young people being involved in these process. So we were confident that those eighty themes had been wholly populated by the views of children and young people. They had been drawn from all ages and stages and places across Scotland, and our help in gathering those was through and in the hands of experts. So we were really excited about what we had learned about that. So from those eighty key themes, we took them back to another group of children and young people who were drawn from various projects in Scotland, seventeen of them eventually and they were from the age of eight up to eighteen. And we had the most intense forty eight hours really - facilitated by a range of people, a range of adults who came from different service backgrounds. We offered those children and young people those themes, and using huge pizza pies with all those different themes written on different bits of coloured card in the shape of cheese or pastrami or whatever, those children and young people sorted those themes out against four different categories. One was “where I live”, one was “where I learn”, one was “my community” and one was “the country I live in”. And what they did is that they took a … they sifted these ingredients in all of those areas against a criteria. “Is the issue written on this piece of card or on this piece of cheese or whatever … is this something that the Commissioner can actually do something about?” “Is this a subject that could impact on children and young people, or is it just children or young people - is this something that is broader than just being a young person or just being a child”, in their view. Is this something that other people or agencies are already working very hard on? Those were the sort of criteria that children and young people sat for two days and worked through. And eventually, and it was incredibly hard work, and they were, I have to say, incredibly proud and enthusiastic to be part of that process, and therefore took the processes very, very seriously. Eventually, after that, they managed to identify three key issues in each of those four sections that they then spent hours and hours and hours trying to work out the wording and get it completely right. They were eventually given to Tam as children and young people’s suggestions for the questions that should populate the voting card. So possibly not robustly scientific in process, but certainly incredibly full of children and young people’s passion for the things that they believed were important. And in this instance, things that they felt needed to change on proof.

So we have got the balance, we have got our Right Brilliant Things, lots of questions in the background, lots of information passing, people getting excited. Then we have our Right Brilliant Things - and our Right Brilliant Things were about celebrating what is already great for children and young people and recognising what is already great for children and young people in Scotland - where their rights are being met, where they feel that they are being wholly supported were the things that they wanted to celebrate there. And then you have got what has now boiled down to three questions in four categories - what children and young people think should be improved and what Tam Baillie, as Commissioner, now that they are understanding his role, should be working on, making improvements over the next five years.

So the next part of the programme was to sign up as many partners as possible to actually become formal RIGHT Blether voting centres with their own voting cards or ballot papers, and remembering, if we go right back to the beginning of this story, the Commissioner’s ambition that there should be a minimum of 50,000 children and young people who actually are involved. Now at this point we have already got many thousands of children and young people involved, but we want to ensure that at least 50,000 children and young people actually place a vote. This is taking us into November - and at the same time what we are also doing, is asking people who are signing up to be voting centres to consider the positive and to also hold parties. So what we want them to do is to vote and at the same time celebrate the enormous importance of children’s rights for our world and the UNCRC. So we have also created a whole lot of resources and games, which are all set to improve understanding and to create a sense of fun and enjoyment around the issue of rights. And we have hundreds and hundreds of sign-ups. So right across Scotland, in the month of November in 2010, we have schools, projects, all sorts of other environments, all signing up - including some local authority areas at a very central level. There was a huge amount of support given - three central structures across all local authority areas - incredible commitment shown by senior officers, shown by people working day to day with children and young people and all over the country the colours of the Blether were popping up and there were banners in windows and all sorts of days or weeks committed to children and young people being able to vote. At the same time though, it started to snow. So while we were at that point very hopeful that we were going to meet our target, the snow came in and the schools closed and the trains stopped running, and everyone had to stay at home. So there was a feeling of, well we were quite dismal for a wee while … “what’s going to happen to the vote?” We extended the time, because of that, into December - I think it was into the end of the first week in December that we ran the actual opening time for the vote and then asked people to send us the results as quickly as they could, and we began the process of counting and analysing those votes thereafter in the New Year.

So a long time planning for this, building a lot of relationships between the Office of the Commissioner and people across local authorities and the voluntary sector … not that we didn’t have relationships before, but primarily our relationships traditionally are strongest with the children’s sector in Scotland. And what we wanted to do was to ensure that everybody, if they played a role in a child or young person’s life, whether that be professionally or personally, could see that they too were stakeholder in the implementation and roll out of the UNCRC in the lives of children and young people. And that is what we wanted to demonstrate. So our partners were as wide as that vision could be.

So the snows had come down and the schools had all closed and it was all looking at bit dreadful in terms of the vote result, and we were keeping our fingers crossed that we had managed, as the vote returns came in, that children and young people had understood the process, the adult facilitators had understood the process, that the questions hadn’t been too wordy, that people had maintained an interest right to the end of this process. And I am very pleased to say that at the end of the day, our total received votes were 74,059, which was fantastic, and at that point was the largest consultation ever undertaken in Scotland, which was very pleasing to us. However, what was more important than that was the content of the vote result, and we also didn’t know whether or not there was going to be huge disparity between different local authority voting areas, whether the issues in one area or another area were going to be completely different. However after a lot of analysis we were very pleased to be able to identify, very clearly, the outcomes that had been identified by the majority of children and young people, who said in terms of improvement that they wanted Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, to work on their behalf, for the next five years, on these issues. And this is how it came out. In the home, children were originally asked “to make children and young people’s lives better in the home, I think Tam should (a) help us all have a loving, caring home, (b) help us be safe and secure in our home, or (c) help us be able to keep things private”. And remember that these were all mulched down from about eighty key topics and then broken down and broken down by that incredibly thoughtful group of children and young people who applied the criteria to identify the best questions to take to the nation. And the result for that in my ‘Home’ category was “we want Tam Baillie to help us to be safe and secure in our home”. That was the most important thing - safe and secure. “Where I Learn”, the questions were - “to make children and young people’s lives better where we learn, I think Tam should (a) help improve the way our ideas are listened to and acted on, (b) help us have the same chances no matter how much money our families have, or (c) help to create more experiences for us to learn skills for jobs”. And the result of that, again very clear cut - the result from that was “we think the Commissioner should help us have the same chances where we learn, no matter how much money our families have”. The third category was “my Community”. The question was “to make children and young people’s lives better in the community, I think Tam should (a) help us feel safe and respected, or (b) help us have the right transport that doesn’t cost too much money, or (c) help us have places to go that are fun and cheap or free”. And the outcome of that category was “we think the Commissioner should help us in our communities to feel safe and respected”. The last category was “the country I live in, Scotland”. So this was the big question. “To make children and young people’s lives better in Scotland, I think Tam should (a) help everyone to include each other no matter how different we all are, or (b) help us so that we do not live in poverty, or (c) help us get extra support at any age if we want or need it”. And the outcome of that was “the Commissioner should help everyone to include each other no matter how different we all are”.

So we had our outcomes from the vote, of course how Tam the Commissioner was going to respond to that - and actually, all along Tam had made a commitment that the results of the vote would go back to all local authority areas and he would return again the following year to speak to Heads of Education and Heads of other Children’s services, and other people involved in the provision of children’s services at a local level to ask how the outcomes of this vote were going to or had impacted on children’s service planning in the area. We also did a local authority breakdown, so each local authority got their own report about the outcomes, and again as I was saying before, along with this illustration of the work that has gone on, you will be able to get a link to all of those reports and you will see yourself the disparity was minimal. So this was actually, it did prove in the end to be a very clear national conversation.

So the next challenge in relation to responding to the vote, which I will come back to in a wee second, was what was the Commissioner going to do with that? Now that we knew what was important, how was that going to translate into action and how was that going to impact not just on his practice, his strategic priorities, but the practice and priorities of others?

Before we go onto that, I want to come back to the Right Brilliant Things, to tell you what we found out there. It was a much lighter touch - there were fewer children and young people who were involved in this, but still large numbers. So therefore what we found out in terms of celebration was really worth listening to. From all the Right Brilliant Things that we received, from songs and pieces of music to poems, photographs, all sorts of things - the main themes that were identified were: activities were the most popular Right Brilliant Things overall at 39.36% of the overall amount of Right Brilliant Things we go. The younger, primary age group - there was 43% that identified activities as the most important and the rightest, brightest, most brilliant thing in their life, or access to activities - and these ranged from sports to the arts, dancing … interestingly enough, technology, while it was identified, came fairly low down in the list of priorities. And children and young people’s determination to live their lives to the full as being active was very clear. The next most important thing was relationships - and that made up around about 1/4 of the Right Brilliant Thing entries overall, in both the older and younger groups - and within that, the biggest group of relationships that was identified overwhelmingly as rightest, brightest, most brilliant, was family relationships. And of course that reflects other very recent and key studies which has explored how important positive relationships with your nearest and dearest are in terms of their own perception of their own lives as being valuable and important.

So those were the two key things - there were other things that came up too, which was very interesting. Identity and Culture, for instance, was the third highest category overall, particularly within the older group, nearly 20% of the older identified something within the context of identity and culture that, to them was really a right brilliant thing in their life. Wildlife, scenery, environment, places in Scotland ranked the highest within the context of identity and culture - up to 35% in the older age group, which again is really interesting, really interesting stuff. Youth Clubs and organisations - up to 10% of right brilliant activities for the older group, so that’s kind of more organised opportunities, and younger people - that wasn’t so important, play in all its different forms, was more important.

So you can see, you will be able to get access to this report and have a look at that. one of the lovely things that came out from that though, which again is something that I think is often underestimated in terms of importance, is how often pets were talked about, particularly in the younger group, as right brilliant things and how exceedingly important they were. And interestingly enough, and I will throw this in at the moment, because I might direct you to another report that will be available very soon - is that this year we have gone on from A RIGHT Blether, and we have developed A RIGHT Wee Blether, and that has been a national conversation with two to five year olds, and we have had over 10,000 respondents involved in that piece of work. And actually the whole subject of pets there again has been profound.

So here we are now - celebrating, looking at what children and young people find marvellous and wonderful, and that in itself can lead to questions about children and young people who of course do not have access to safe and secure relationships, and the impact on their lives, who do not have access to activities and do not have access to open spaces to play - all of those things … all of these things are what children and young people are telling us makes their life valuable, that they celebrate. So we have to ask ourselves “how can we maximise that for children and young people in Scotland”? At the same time, going back to the vote - one of the considerations that the Commissioner has to have is how his work can impact and have best value in relation to children and young people who perhaps are not as well represented or whose voices are not listened to in the same way as other children and young people who might have stronger infrastructures and stronger environments in which to grow up in.

The decisions, after a lot of consultation with key organisations and research, about the different areas that we could consider as an Office to take forward work on for the next five years - after all of that consideration, this is what Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, has committed to working on for children and young people - and that will be reported on regularly to adults and to children and young people themselves.

Voting category ‘My Home’ - the top results was “help us to be safe and secure”. The Commissioner’s response is that he will commit now to promoting early intervention and prevention of child abuse and neglect. And this has been refined to focus particularly on the issue of children and young people living with domestic abuse. Now an advisory group has been set up to drive that work forward, and from the focus of working on the issue of domestic abuse, that has now been drilled down to look at particular areas within the experience of a child who lives with domestic abuse. And there has a decision yet to be made about which part of that experience the Commissioner will bring best value to in terms of moving forward in that work. There is a whole range of possibilities including safe access, the child’s voice within the context of court hearings, education in relation to prevention - all those sorts of things, there is a whole load of them, and certainly we will be reporting very soon on what has been fully defined. And in the next financial year which is from the beginning of April 2012, we kind of hit the ground running in relation to the very active work that will fall out from that strand.

The same with “Where I Learn” - the outcome was “help us have the same chances where I learn, no matter how much money our families have”. Now that’s obviously a very challenging agenda, and one which we found out along the way of this big conversation with children and young people. Children and young people are not silly, and they had picked up a whole lot of anxiety about cuts, about the economic climate and about how that might affect the quality of access of opportunity. And one of the things, being at the heart of this process all along, what was very illuminating for me was actually the conversations that were being held with children and young people at every stage were very much about children and young people as a whole, it was very altruistic, children and young people are very generous about how they think of themselves. And this was a very important outcome. So Tam has committed to campaigning for more equitable access to opportunities for learning in formal and informal settings, particularly children and young people living in poverty, with low educational attainment. And I know Tam’s very keen to ensure that his work in relation to this field shines a very clear light on the success of children and young people, who despite challenges, despite barriers, are doing very, very well - and what we want to do is to learn about and understand better why that is, and how early interventions or opportunities need to be in order to maximise the potential of a child and young person, and help them grow to be all they can be, no matter what challenges are that they face in their lives. So that is actually a very hopeful agenda.

The third one, “My Community” - “help us feel safe and respected”. The outcome of this is that Tam will commit to promoting respect and challenge prejudice and negative perceptions of children and young people in society, which of course is huge, as we all know. The way that we are going to do this is that we are going to run a series of national campaigns, but children and young people are going to drive those campaigns and we are going to recruit for some very, very expert advisers to help us be as impactful as possible in relation to that and to create lots of positive new partnerships across Scottish society, in particular with the media, to say “enough is enough here, let’s do something about this and really challenge these negative perceptions”. So again, that is in the early stages of planning, and come beginning of the new financial year we will be able to tell you more about the exciting plans in relation to that.

And the final one “the Country I Live In” - “help everyone to include each other, no matter how different we all are”. The initial response is to commit to working to ensure that children and young people with disabilities have equal chances in all aspects of their lives. However, other groups of excluded children will form part of this response as the plan is developed. So basically what we are going to do is focussing very much on the life experiences of children and young people with disabilities, because you know, that children with disabilities face so many challenges and are so vulnerable - so that is the group that Tam is going to focus on. And again, there is an expert group has been set up that is advising on how to take that work forward and how best to add value to the fantastic work of that other people are already doing in this area. But also, what we are going to do, is we are going to ensure that we spend the next five years doing a lot of “Tell Tam” events, which basically will allow children and young people who have really particular big things to say, or children and young people whose voices just really don’t get listened to very easily at all - we are going to hold a series of opportunities for those children and young people to tell Tam all about it and for him to them advocate on their behalf at the highest, most appropriate possible level - so that might be parliament, or it might be to the local council or to their health board or whatever. So that is the work that is going to come out of this. And what we are hoping is that at local authority area, in terms of influence and local policies and practice, is that adults who are sitting in positions of power, even if it’s in a classroom or if it’s as the Head of a play project or in a hospital ward …. and we have had some fantastic conversations with health professionals in relation to this agenda, or the Chief Executive of a local authority or a health board. What we are hoping is that all of these people will continue to think about the results of this and will ensure that their local planning reflects, first and foremost, a commitment to ensuring that the voice of the child is heard at every level in their organisation, to working towards that, and to ensure that some of the themes that have come out of this big conversation are considered within the context of their own work and their own planning, particularly in this really difficult financial environment. What we are hoping is that anyone who has been touched by this or has been involved in this, really takes serious cognisance of the things that children and young people told us they can’t do without, and the things that should be improved. And we are committed to continuing to keep in touch with all of you and any new partners we can possibly make to find out what that means in real life for children and young people in your area. So good luck, there are lots of resources on our website, and you can contact us at any time, and please do. Thank you.

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