On 12th March I was fortunate enough to attend Parenting Across Scotland’s 2015 Conference “Creating Loving Relationships” – don’t you just love the title?! – alongside colleagues from Hot Chocolate to present the Relationships Matter project I had been co-leading with Gayle Rice [*].
The PAS 2015 conference, Creating Loving Relationships, focused on relationships.
Increasingly, the importance of relationships within families is being recognised. Children don’t come alone; they come as part of a family, with complex and intersecting relationships. We need to recognise this, and support the whole family.
Being a parent isn’t so much a job as a set of intersecting relationships. Like all relationships, being a parent has its good times and its bad times, and most families will have times when they need some help. It’s important that the relationships between families and professionals are nurturing, and help families to forge loving relationships within the family.
When arriving at the conference I was welcomed by an array of stands displaying how we can all work together to support young people in and leaving care. There was a general buzz of happiness in the air as people discussed the inspiring conference theme.
The conference was opened briefly by Clare Simpson (PAS Project Manager) before she handed over to Fiona McLeod (MSP, Acting Minister for Children and Young People) to welcome everyone to the conference.
Fiona focused her discussion on the need to support families (and Dads!) to provide loving relationships so that Scotland can become the best place to grow up for children.
“We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up…we’re gathering the evidence of what works so that children have the best chance” Fiona McLeod (MSP).
Following Fiona’s welcome we were in for a wonderful and inspiring presentation from Dr Suzane Zeedyk (University of Dundee) about “Our human need for love: why it’s a the problem and why it’s the solution.”
This presentation was genuinely one of the most moving presentations I’ve seen and I’m sure I wasn’t alone with many people wiping their eyes throughout.
Suzanne spoke openly and honestly about the need for us to focus less on policy driven agendas and more on what matters to the young people that these policies are in place to support.
“I’m worried, worried that we care more about policies than relationships” Suzanne Zydeco
She raised concern for the ‘second skin’ developed by workers when working on difficult cases and the need for them to remember why they got into their line of work in the first place.
“Nurseries are scared to cuddle children in their care for fear of inappropriate contact. This needs to change!” Suzanne Zeedyk
Next Dr John Coleman (OBE, Research Fellow, University of Oxford) spoke about “New knowledge about the adolescent brain” and how, if we really want to be person-centred and meet the needs of young teenagers then we should start understanding what works best for them. For instance did you know that teenagers would actually function better at school and obtain better test scores if classes started at lunchtime and finished later? No – me neither!
After this series of inspiring speakers it was time for a break and some reflections about all we had learnt so far before hearing from Dr Judy Corlyon about “A reversal of misfortune: who are the poor relations now?”
This presentation focused on the shift in recent years to grandparents having more money than parents and the struggles faced by young families as they work hard to support and care for their families.
“It is not long ago since many retired parents relied on their adult children for financial and practical help. Now it is the adult children who are more likely to find themselves
needing help as they struggle with benefit cuts, low-paid employment and expensive childcare” Judy Corlyon
Next we had a round table discussion to help us reflect on what we had heard so far.
The table I was at focused on concerns that fear and policies were driving change when really we just need to think and act in more caring ways towards the young people we work with and support.
There was a focus on the need for evidence* to champion more person-centred approaches in practice and, of course, we thought hugs are great!
*there is a selection of evidence available on the Relationships Matters Website.
Then it was time for a quick (and super yummy!) lunch before setting up our workshop: “Where is the love? Thinking about what love looks like for professionals”
During our workshop we discussed the JAM event we ran in January as part of the Relationships Matter project and what Hot Chocolate would be doing in 2015 to champion loving relationships with the young people they work with and support.
We then asked our participants to reflect on this before completing prompt cards that questioned how they would translate ‘love’ into a professional context and what their pledge would be to make 2015 the year of love.
Participants were very engaged in this activity and there was a lot of group discussion about how they we could all champion love in 2015:
“being able to connect with others in a positive way”
“give something of yourself”
“more hugs and cuddles”
“I want to be courageous about making love my priority”
“not being afraid to talk about love”
Following the workshops Professor Phil Wilson (Centre for Rural Health, University of Aberdeen) gave a presentation about “Challenging the inverse care law: Can parenting support be fair for everyone?”
This presentation focused on evidence which suggests that parenting support isn’t always offered and taken up in proportion to need.
“The higher the risk/need, the lower the likelihood to access it” Phil Wilson
The conference concluded with an amazing presentation from John Carnochan OBE QPM (Independent consultant and expert on violence prevention) about “It’s relationships, that’s all, relationships”.
This presentation was especially moving and an inspiring way to end a great conference. John focused his discussion on the need for us to (re)connect with each other as fellow humans and to care for and protect children, young people and adults.
“We are wired for connection…sometimes it’s as simple as putting your arm around someone” John Carnochan
He spoke of his concern that we focus on policies rather than care and support and asked a very thought provoking question that seemed to resonate with everyone in the room:
“Why do we need a policy to ‘get it right for every child’ surely that should be obvious and we should just do it?Maybe we don’t really like kids, but simply tolerate them…we’ve professionalised the whole bloody world and we’ve abdicated our responsibility as humans” John Carnochan
I found this conference one of the best I’ve been to. The selection of speakers were inspiring and thought provoking and I am so pleased to see a conference that bravely focused it’s theme on love and loving relationships. I am hopeful for 2015 and a new focus on love over policy.
The answer to fear is love…this needs courage but we can do it together!”
Thanks, Fiona Munro