Can Scotland Be Brave

Margo Mackay Director Talking Mats  

John Swinney said that “The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill will revolutionise the way we listen to children and take their rights into account

The launch of our report, “Can Scotland be brave?” is a proud moment. It marks the conclusion of a journey that started in 2011.

I was working in Forth Valley NHS as a speech and language therapist supporting children and young people with additional support needs. I felt a growing dissatisfaction with the way target setting and future intervention was decided. Too often teachers, therapists and parents made decisions about future needs with little input from the young people themselves.

NHS Forth Valley research and development committee funded a pilot project supported by Dr Joan Murphy to investigate the use of Talking Mats in target setting. The results radically changed my approach.

I conducted Talking Mats interviews with 12 young people with additional support needs and asked them to tell me how they felt about different aspects of their lives.

I thought I knew those young people well and yet I had never previously given them space to share their views. They told me about their families, health, leisure, relationships and schoolwork. This was a game changer.

I soon started working part-time for Talking Mats and developed a holistic GIRFEC resource. I wanted to encourage everyone working with children and young people to look at the bigger picture first.

Skip forward to 2018 and the first review of ‘Ready to Act’: a plan with bold ambitions and a key focus on child participation. Around the same time the Scottish Government was making plans to incorporate UNCRC into law.

In preparation for this, the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, Chief Nursing Officer’s Directorate approved project funding for Talking Mats Social enterprise to investigate what was happening across our services in Health, Education and the Third sector. How much did practitioners understand about the obligations of UNCRC Article 12 and what were they doing to ensure child participation?

We chose 3 services who were already committed to upholding children’s rights. We wanted to share good practice and identify areas requiring further support.

  • Indigo childcare, a Glasgow based social enterprise. They support families with children from birth up to the age of 16yrs.They provide a platform for improved life chances for young people.
  • Langlees Primary school in Falkirk was working towards a Gold Rights Respecting Schools Awards and has an explicit focus on pupil wellbeing.
  • Children and Young People’s Occupational Therapists – Fife Health & Social Care Partnership were focussing on increasing the involvement of children and young people in therapy decisions.

Practitioners were trained in how to use Talking Mats within the framework of the Laura Lundy model of participation. Over three months they were asked to give children and young people a space to share their views.

We gathered all the learning and asked the children about how they felt. The overwhelming comment was “It was nice to be listened to

Many practitioners reflected that when CYP are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and are supported to come up with their own solutions, real change happens.

I’m sure John Swinney is right, one thing that will revolutionise our practice is by ensuring our services adhere to the three UNCRC core principles of Dignity, Equality and Respect. We can then incorporate those shared values to give space, voice, audience and influence to the views of our children and young people and that will radically change our approach.

Discuss the report and celebrate with us at our Twitter Chat on Thursday, December 10th from 7.30-8.30pm. Join here.


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