Kindness: simplicity and complexity

Whether it is in our personal or professional lives, we all know the fundamental importance of relationships – but how do we encourage and enable kindness?

Ben Thurman is Policy and Development Office Carnegie UK Trust

We recently asked a group of young people what kindness means to them. In the discussion that followed, Laura* reflecting on multiple interactions with public services asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if people started by telling you their name?’

It is a question that at once highlights both the importance of trust and relationships in young people’s interactions with public services and the sheer simplicity of kindness. And that, despite the significant efforts of campaigns like #hellomynameis, too often public services don’t provide the space for people to authentically connect.

We all want to be kind, and no-one would seriously disagree with the Scottish Government’s ambition for a society that treats everyone with kindness, dignity and compassion.

But our work has found that there are very real and very important barriers that inhibit professionals’ ability to act in kindness. Over the past 30 years, attitudes towards risk and regulation and the drive for efficiency, combined with the more recent impact of reductions in public expenditure, have minimised the opportunities for relationships and human connections in our public services.

For very good reasons, we have created systems with clear rules and boundaries; and our focus on performance management has enabled us to radically improve our public (and commercial) services. But in minimising risk and maximising efficiency, we have crowded out the flexibility that enables people to respond to human needs. And, at times, this can lead to some increasingly transactional and impersonal experiences for people like Laura.

Our work has led us to the conclusion that we need to do more to encourage and enable kindness; and that, crucially, we need to place greater trust in our teachers, nurses and social workers to be instinctive and responsive to human needs. But it is here that kindness becomes far more complex than it first appears. How do we do this in a way that delivers equality and accountability; that offers value for money and doesn’t depend on already-stretched staff ‘going the extra mile’?

Responding to this challenge is of critical importance for all of us – but particularly for those, like Laura, who have multiple interactions with a range of services.

These debates also map onto other important discussions about children growing up in care. The Carnegie UK Trust is privileged to be part of the Independent Care Review’s Journey group on Love. Like kindness, everyone understands the simple yet fundamental importance of love. We can all recognise that every child – including those who grow up in care – needs to feel safe and that they belong, that they are cared for and listened to.

And yet, embedding love in ‘the care system’ appears to stand in opposition to important frameworks that ensure safety and fairness for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children and young people. How does love fit alongside professional codes that are designed to minimise risk by maintaining appropriate boundaries and distance? How can we ensure that every child has someone who loves them? Just like kindness, conversations about love show it to be far from simple. But if we are to create a Scotland where every young person knows what it means to love and be loved – and a Scotland that recognises the importance of relationships in public services – we need to embrace that complexity.

* Laura’s name has been changed to protect their anonymity

Twitter: @CarnegieUKTrust /@Ben_CarnegieUK  

Young Carers’ Rights

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force in April 2018, has the potential to change young carers lives, making it easier to identify them and allowing them to have a childhood similar to their non-carer peers.

Educational disadvantage can deprive a young carer from attaining their true potential. Education staff have a powerful role in addressing this and in advancing children’s human rights.

Máire McCormack is Head of Strategy, Office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.

The recent Young Carers Awareness Day gives us a useful opportunity to discuss the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the key role that people working in educational settings can play in supporting young carers.

Our office’s statutory duty is to promote and safeguard the rights of everyone under 18, or to 21 if the young person is in care or care experienced, paying particular attention to groups of children and young people who may find it difficult to make their views known, such as young carers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is at the heart of our work as is the views and experiences of children and young people.

Numerous CRC rights are relevant to young carers, including article 28 the right to education and article 29 which states that education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

At the Young Carers Festival last August, young carers talked about how teaching staff could support them at school. The overall view was they should be more carer aware. Some reported that school provided welcome respite to their caring role, others were less positive, finding school to be stressful and not all teachers sympathetic. Of concern was how few of them were aware of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and the new rights contained within it.

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force in April 2018, has the potential to change young carers lives, making it easier to identify them and allowing them to have a childhood similar to their non-carer peers.

There are signs that can indicate that a pupil is a young carer – absences from school, unfinished homework, poor attainment, non-attendance at parents’ nights, limited peer networks at school and anxiety. Young carers support services, however, note some preconceived ideas of what a young carer is and does: some children with additional support needs may have brothers and sisters providing care, some will be caring for a parent with an illness, disability or addiction. Support may be practical and/or emotional.

With more than 44,000 young carers in Scotland, those working with children and young people are uniquely placed to make a major difference to these young peoples’ lives. Training and support will give them the confidence to recognise the signs – especially at an early stage, to avoid crisis intervention later – and ensure the barriers young carers so often face can be removed.

There is much good practice in Scottish schools, often when the young carers service has a staff member to support teachers and schools in their area, helping to increase awareness of the issues affecting young carers. Good practice examples include:

  • A young carers card, removing the need to explain, for example when the young carer is late or has to leave the classroom
  • A drop-in service initially marketed as helping to draft the school’s young carer’s policy, but also providing mutual support
  • A dedicated young carers noticeboard
  • Safe spaces in school.
  • Checking in occasionally with the young person
  • Allowing mobile phones to be on.

Everyone working within education can play an important role in raising awareness of young carers’ rights under this Act and of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In so doing, they will increase their own awareness and understanding of their rights obligations and be able to support young carers better.

Definition of young carer: A young carer is defined as an individual who provides (or intends to provide) care for another person and is under 18, or 18, but still attending school. The focus is now on how the caring role is affecting the young person, rather than the hours spent caring.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland is Bruce Adamson. He works with his team to protect the rights of children and young people:

Twitter: @cypcs

Inclusion and Children Who Sexually Harm Other Children

Stuart Allardyce, National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland, describes his experience of working with children who display harmful sexual behaviour and discusses why appropriate responses, that assess the risks and respect children’s rights, must be found.

The last year has seen increasing public attention around sexual harassment, violence and abuse perpetrated by children in school. The Young Women Lead Committee recently completed a report on this difficult subject that was debated in the Scottish Parliament. It confirmed what many of us have known for some time: the issue is widespread and serious in schools across Scotland, we don’t have the right kinds of measures in place to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, and we often don’t respond to it effectively after it comes to light.

Most UK and international surveys looking at maltreatment in childhood find that around one-third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by children and young people themselves. In my 15 years of working with children and young people who display harmful and problematic sexual behaviour, I’ve seen many young people who have abused others in schools, as well as in family contexts and other situations. Sometimes the victims are peers, sometimes much younger children, and sometimes even adults. Some children who abuse have intellectual impairments, while others would be described as high performing members of the school community. There is no one type of adolescent who abuses; it’s a strikingly varied group.

I’ve learnt a few key things in those 15 years. Firstly, these are children, not mini-adult sex offenders. The vast majority don’t persist with such behaviours into adulthood, but grow out of it with the right support. Few children abuse because of issues around sexual deviance. Some have had negative childhood experiences themselves, or are influenced by peers or online experiences. Many are opportunistic, immature, or curious, lacking in inhibition and empathy, and misunderstanding what is acceptable, age-appropriate behaviour.

In my experience, the vast majority are temporarily or permanently excluded from school because of their behaviour. Sometimes that’s the right decision. But sometimes it’s disproportionate, and not linked to an assessment of risk. I once worked with a young person who abused small children in the community and was immediately excluded from high school when he was charged. There was no evidence he presented a risk to peers, but with both parents working, he was left unsupervised in the community where he did pose a risk.

Clearly, when the abuse is of a pupil in the school, difficult decisions must be made and the safety and views of the victim are paramount. But often for adolescents charged with sexual offences, the abuse will be of a younger child not at their school – a family member or child in the community. Most young people I have worked with in this situation are struggling with peers and often have difficulties with social interactions. Removing them from the routine of school and labeling them as a sex offender can go against the support we need to offer.

We must recognise that these perpetrators are also children first and foremost, who have a right to protection, nurture, learning, and peer interaction. Clearly, they need the right support and restrictions to ensure that these rights are realised in a safe way; keeping a child in school where possible and appropriate can be of huge benefit.

Sexually abusive behaviour perpetrated by children is an emotive and difficult subject. We urgently need more training for teachers and school staff so that they understand how education and school life can contribute to prevention. But most of all, if we are to get things right for everyone after abuse has happened, we need decisions about inclusion to be made by schools in partnership with social workers, health colleagues, police and other relevant organisations.

Stuart Allardyce is National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland. He is the co-author of ‘Working with Children and Young People who have Displayed Harmful Sexual Behaviour’ (Dunedin Press) and is a member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Amongst Children and Young People. 

Twitter: @StopItNowScot

Young Women Lead Committee 2018 report on Sexual Harassment in Schools can be accessed here:


Love in Early Learning and Childcare

Jane Malcolm, a final-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Edinburgh, explains why love is central to her study and professional practice. Here she talks about her research into ‘love-led practice’.

It’s without doubt that the idea of love is very complex. Having tried to conceptualise and define love in early years in my doctoral study, I finally got to a point where I reluctantly admitted it was too complicated. However, analysing the language used by the participants in my study revealed that love is already there in practice. What needs to catch up is the language used in the policies and practice guidance that support the management of love. From my research, I have developed a framework that represents what I have called “love-led practice”. The framework defines what makes up love in practice and supports detailed reflection of how love is delivered.

Personal experiences of love also impacted upon practitioners understanding and feelings around delivering practice underpinned by love. It can be hard to turn the spotlight on yourself. However, we know love is hugely important to the child’s development, therefore practitioners must take the time to reflect upon their own experiences and understanding in order to ensure they are delivering practice which has love embedded within it.

My research showed that practitioners are reticent to admit to delivering love-led practice. Getting to the heart of the reasons for this became the core of my research study. Examination of key documents in early learning and childcare in Scotland shows that, whilst love was in evidence, there was much more emphasis put on safer words such as “nurturing” and “attachment”. This needs to change for lead professionals to be free to deliver love-led practice with professionalism and integrity.

Within Scotland there has, however, been a significant shift in thinking, with the current government’s 2018-19 programme stating that: “We want all our children to grow up in a supportive environment where we invest significantly in their future – not just financially – but also with time, energy and love”.

Now is the time to capitalise on this shift in thinking and really push to embed love, not in a tokenistic way but really get it at the heart of our early learning and childcare policy in Scotland.

Jane Malcolm blogs and tweets @JaneMalcolm7

Gender matters in disability: Why Engender is researching disabled women’s experiences of parenting and reproductive services

Gender matters in disability: “There is a clear and urgent need for vastly improved training for professionals who are responsible for the delivery of RSHP health, social care and education services to disabled women and girls”

Catriona Kirkpatrick, Development Manager at Engender Scotland, talks about their research on disabled women’s experience of parenting and reproductive services, and the findings so far.

Engender has been working on a project with disabled women to learn more about their experiences of reproductive and parenting services. In the past, disabled women have told us that their experiences can be quite different from those of non-disabled women in these areas. We wanted to speak to more disabled women to learn about their experiences and get a better understanding of the situation in Scotland today.

After receiving funding for the project from the Government’s Tampon Tax Fund last year, we held two consultation events and ran an online survey (and will soon be running a series of focus groups). The events and survey provided a forum for disabled women to tell us about their experiences, good and bad, parenting and reproductive services. Through a series of roundtable discussions. we also spoke to the professionals who work with disabled women and girls.

Although our information gathering is not yet complete, we can already see a number of common issues that are regularly raised as concerns. One of these is a presumption that disabled women and girls will not be sexually active, this often results in disabled girls not getting appropriate relationship, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education. Consequently, disabled women and girls are not equipped to make informed decisions about their bodies, health and lives, and are therefore vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy, harm and abuse. There is a clear and urgent need for vastly improved training for professionals who are responsible for the delivery of RSHP health, social care and education services to disabled women and girls, as well as access to information and support for unpaid carers in the community.

This issue and others will be addressed in our end-of-project report, which we will share with policy and decision-makers, who can make changes to service delivery in order to improve the experiences for disabled women, at our conference ‘Disabled Women, Our Bodies, Our Rights’ on November 6th. The report will make clear recommendations and policy “asks”, highlight areas of good practice and areas where improvement needs have been identified. Ultimately, we want recognition of the challenges faced by disabled women and a commitment to make positive change.

To find out more about Engender’s work with disabled women, Our Gender Matters in Disability briefing is available to read here, and in easy read format here. You can also listen to our Gender Matters in Disability episode from our #OntheEngender podcast, featuring interviews with disabled women from disabled people’s organisations and politics.

To book a place at ‘Disabled Women; Our Bodies, Our Rights’ on November 6th at COSLA Conference Centre in Edinburgh click here.

Twitter: @DisabledWomenSc, 

When you are young and disabled, you need to know your rights.

Chris Purnell from Lead Scotland shares his personal experience and wants to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university, know about their rights and where they can get support.

I began working for Lead Scotland as an intern after completing my counselling diploma. Lead Scotland provides information and advice to disabled people in relation to post-16 learning opportunities in Scotland – whether education, training or employment programmes. In passing, I told my manager, Rebecca, what I had been going through at my university when I was on a placement.

During the final year of my course, I was doing a placement at a counselling organisation and the manager said she wasn’t happy with anyone pushing me in my wheelchair up the ramp into the building, as the organisation did not want to be liable for any injury if I fell. I asked if it would be possible to install a different ramp that wouldn’t require someone to push me up, however she refused, saying it would be too expensive.

Despite arguing my case and making reference to ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the Equality Act, the manager would not change her mind. I felt disempowered and depressed about the situation I was being forced into and I was worried that I would have to drop out. In the end, I asked if it was ok if someone, not connected with the organisation, pushed me up the ramp, to which she agreed. I found a taxi firm willing to do it for £60 a month. In total it cost me £480 to access the building for the remainder of my course.

Rebecca advised me that both the university and the placement provider had a duty to provide me with reasonable adjustments. This means that if a ramp was not deemed to be a suitable option, then it would have been reasonable to expect the placement provider or the university to pay the £480, because extra costs incurred as a result of an impairment cannot be passed on to a disabled person. She asked me if I had applied for Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA), as potentially I could have had those expenses reimbursed by the Student’s Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). It hadn’t occurred to me to apply for DSA as I didn’t know it could be used for travel costs. I wish someone had told me about this option at the time that I was having the issue, but it was never mentioned.

What I know now is that DSA helps disabled students, not only with extra travel expenses relating to an impairment but also funding towards items of specialist equipment you might need in order to participate in a course, like adaptive technology, specialist furniture and non-medical personal helpers like sign language interpreters.

I wish I had known about Lead Scotland and DSA when I was at university, however, I want to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university know about their rights and where they can get support.

The Lead Scotland helpline can be reached on 0800 999 2568 Monday, Wednesday & Thursday 2pm-4pm and Tuesday & Friday 10am-12pm. Or you can email at any time, or you can visit

Chris Purnell
Lead Scotland