In response to an Independent Care Review of Scotland’s care system, a promise was made by the Scottish government to every child in Scotland that they could grow up loved, safe and respected. It was called The Promise.

As a leading family support charity, The Promise resonates closely with Home-Start’s work and we’re equally committed to keeping it. Roz Hinds, Home-Start UK’s Promise Development Officer, is supporting local Home-Starts in Scotland to apply The Promise across all aspects of our work. Here Roz shares how, by keeping The Promise, we can do so much for the families we support across the UK.

“The Promise is a ten year programme that will run to 2030 to deliver possibility and hope to every child regardless of their family circumstance. The significance of this is huge and not just relevant for those in Scotland.

The Promise offers Home-Start an opportunity to develop our work with families to ensure the best possible start for children. Much of what’s detailed in The Promise is very familiar territory for Home-Start.

The value of early intervention, the need for a flexible approach that recognises all families are different and the importance of families being meaningfully involved in what happens to them are all principles that guide and inform our work.

But, by embedding The Promise into our work with families, we’re improving and strengthening our impact, especially around making our services as accessible as possible, listening to the voices of children and ensuring everything we do is underpinned by children’s rights.

To help us to do this we’ve developed a Promise delivery group with representatives from seven local Home-Starts in Scotland who meet regularly to review progress. This group have been testing new approaches to service design and delivery through our new ‘Tests of Change’ programme. So far there have been 10 Tests of Change pilot projects, with more planned for this year.

Pilot projects developed by local Home-Starts focused on increasing accessibility of services, hearing the often marginalised voices of dads and children, and trialling changes to extending referral criteria by supporting children beyond the age of five.

It’s been incredible to see how these small scale changes to services can have such a big impact on our ability to support families. We recently secured £100K of funding from The Promise Partnership to do some project work to scale up some of the successful pilots.

We’re also planning to share learnings so that other local Home-Starts can learn and benefit from this work. For me this is a wonderful example of how keeping The Promise is helping us to build capabilities in the Home-Start network. Using my observations I created a support plan and was able to chat to mum about different approaches to responding to his needs and child-led strategies for behaviour management.”

Giving children a voice

With funding from The Promise Partnership in January, Home-Start Leith set-up a three month pilot project to create an observational tool to listen to the voices of young children.

Amanda Balloch, family support coordinator at Home-Start Leith explains: “Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHCR), we have a duty of care to provide children with the ability to be heard. We wanted to explore how we could develop ways for very young children to communicate their feelings. Naturally we’ve always been focused on the child, but through this project we wanted to see how we could listen to their own individual voice to frame what we do.

Typically the adult advocates for young children and becomes their voice. This pilot was an opportunity for children to have their own voice. It’s so easy for a professional to go into a family home knowing the history of the family and make assumptions on behalf of the child. This was about creating an approach to allow the child to communicate the impact that family life, or indeed any intervention, has on them.

We’d discussed a number of approaches on how to listen to children’s voices from using puppets to putting stars on charts or using feelings scales. The information we received had to be meaningful and help inform our work with the family.

In my previous work as a health care play specialist I used observations on the child to inform their care plan. We decided to pilot a similar approach in families’ homes, where I’d observe a child using the Leuven scale for emotional wellbeing and involvement. The findings would be linked to UNCRC articles and evaluated to then inform an action plan.

It was important for me to explain to parents what I was aiming to achieve through these observations. I chatted to them about the importance of giving the child a voice, even when they’re not able to talk. I shared how I was simply there to watch the child in their own environment and see how they’re feeling and how they express themselves. That it was entirely informal and without judgement.

Children communicate through many different languages, so by observing them we can see how they express their feelings, thoughts and preferences. It also shifts emphasis on regarding children as important sources of information about their own lives so that they can inform decisions that affect them. Listening to children can challenge assumptions and provide unique insights that may otherwise have been missed.

One of my observations was on a two year old boy. I was very familiar with the family and knew they were under a lot of stress. When the little boy dropped a cupcake he was told off. He started crying and shouting and throwing objects out of bags. I was looking out for his body language and if he was doing anything to self soothe. Using my observations I created a support plan and was able to chat to mum about different approaches to responding to his needs and child-led strategies for behaviour management.

By having these observations it really helped our discussions to be focused on the child. Our next step is how to develop this further into a tool we can use with all our families. It may be that we do an observation at the start, and then later on once we start supporting the family – to see the child’s response to our support and what’s happening in the family home.”

Read next - The Home-Start cycle of support 

Subscribe to receive Family Matters magazine for FREE in the post