This blog is courtesy of SallyAnn Kelly, CEO of Aberlour
‘Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in.’ Aldous Huxley
5 days away from the ‘day job’ including a residential weekend seemed like a big ask. 5 days of time with people I barely knew. 5 days on systems leadership. My initial thoughts on the invitation from the Life Changes Trust, to be honest, centred on how I might be able to say ‘no I’m just too busy’. For those of you who know me you will understand that was never actually going to happen, especially after I spoke with Heather Coady who kindly talked me through the thinking behind the course and what she wanted to achieve. I got curious, very curious, and was enthused by the prospect of bringing 16 people together from across the public, higher education and 3rd sectors to begin to imagine how we might play a role in shaping thinking and improvement in our systems for looked after children.
Day 1 of the course was like many other courses – a process of getting to know each other, building trust and challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones as well as testing the waters for much of what was to come in the residential weekend planned for just a short few weeks ahead.
That first day, though, differed in one important and profound way, for it was on that day that our true task was set, and set very clearly, by a group of care experienced young people. Quite simply, their ask was ‘how do we put love and relationships at the heart of the care system?’ Another pointed, but fair, question was ‘what are you actually going to do about making things better?’
Some answers to this challenge, we hoped, lay in the group and we knew that uncovering those potential solutions would involve a lot of introspection, honest conversations and respectful challenge to ourselves and each other.
Our residential weekend took place in the beautiful surroundings of Ardoch House, a picture perfect venue, made more so by the ‘taps aff’ weather we enjoyed.
Systems leadership encourages curiosity and people to actively notice what is happening around them. This was a welcome reminder from my perspective to consciously practice those techniques and reflect on how I can normalise them in my daily work. It was also an opportunity to begin to imagine what our own ‘brave new world’ of care could look like and what bold steps were needed to start us on our journey.
Our time in Ardoch saw us engage in a variety of different learning opportunities, including action learning sets, and drama workshops. All of this was aimed at how we can be the best possible version of ourselves.
The work took us into unexplored territory for some, and the approaches encouraged trust and understanding within the group. It was heartening to notice that the more introverted group members quickly found their voices. Our time together didn’t always feel like work, though, and there was much fun and laughter amidst the thoughtful reflections and soul searching that went on. I will be forever thankful for the memories from our last night when members of the group role played their ‘best selves’ in comedic styles. Kate Rocks – your OSCAR is on its way!!
The final day of our residential culminated in a presentation to the young care experienced group when four groups of the participants outlined our learning from the course and set out what our bold steps would be after the residential. Some great suggestions came through, all of which had children and young people at their very centre. These included how we put children’s rights at the heart of what we do and how we create more meaningful involvement of children and young people in inspection and improvement.
I’ve thought carefully about how I can articulate the learning from all that we have done over the four days we were together and I hope you have a flavour of some of what happened. My ‘take aways’ from the experience so far are around the deep connections that were made between people in the group. Whatever our brave new world looks like, one certainty is that the health of that world will be determined by the quality of relationships of those who inhabit it.
Effective change will always be driven by humans and human connection – systems leadership understands this well. If relationships are not at the heart of the wider system how can we expect them to be at the heart of our face to face engagement with children and young people? We talked extensively about positive relationships and the part compassion, nurture, empathy and guidance play in our development as humans and how we embed these values in our care system. We also talked about love and the need to resist the simplification of that as a concept, whilst simultaneously embracing all of the different aspects of that love. It seems to me that we have important choices to make as we move forward with our Review of the Care System.
I am reminded of a powerful quote from Bruce D Perry
‘Fire can warm or consume, water can quench or drown, wind can caress or cut. And so it is with human relationships: we can both create and destroy, nurture and terrorize, traumatize and heal each other.’
So with one more day to come together formally as systems leaders, I hope that we can continue to strive to be the quenchers, the creators, the nurturers and the healers – in doing all of that we will demonstrate what love is actually about.
This experience will prove, I am sure, to be a transformative one for many of us. It is one The Life Changes Trust should seek to repeat for other sector leaders.
SallyAnn Kelly, CEO, Aberlour