Mary Glasgow joined Children 1st as Director of Children and Family Services and External Affairs in May. Originally a social worker, in the 90s she was seconded to work on child-protection training with a mixed team which included “a police sergeant, an education specialist and health people”.
Although it formally predated the integration agenda, Glasgow believes it initiated recognition of the benefits of joint working. “It was a response to things happening back then, when professionals recognised what was needed was shared approaches. Children don’t live their lives in silos and professionals really need to get out of theirs. It was probably a real response to that, to be honest,” she says.
The work, housed in a police training college, was a “pivotal moment” in Glasgow’s career, “because you then see the world of children who need support from a lens broader than your own. You start thinking about it from what the police see, what they see as their role, and how broad their role is. You look at it from teachers’ roles and from health visitors’ roles and you begin to see actually this has to be a joint and shared responsibility, because within social work the children we see tend to be around when there’s already a challenge. Then it’s often too late.”
By the time the formalised consistent approach of the ‘Getting it right for every child’ (GIRFEC) policy had emerged, Glasgow was working in the third sector. She had set up a community-based project in Easterhouse which supported integrated early interventions. She welcomed GIRFEC as recognition of the approach she and others were already practising. “The thing about a lot of the policy we develop in Scotland is it is incredibly positive. We have great policy, actually. We have some challenges around the implementation of that policy, but a policy that says children’s needs and rights have to be at the centre of everything we do, that says we need to include children and their families, that says we need to have shared language and a common understanding, and an approach which cuts across some of the bureaucracy is just fantastic, I think,” she says.
Given it is where children spend most of their time, the education sector has seen a real shift in understanding in recent years, she says, about its strategic role in early intervention. “Obviously, I can’t speak with any huge authority about every single local authority in Scotland, but I have certainly observed and seen and heard a real shift from colleagues in education,” she says. Resources, skill and time are needed for teachers to be able to have the valuable holistic role. “At a strategic level, you can have as many policies, processes or systems as you like but all of our organisations, mine included, are only as good as the person who’s right in front of the child at that moment. That skill, that commitment to really care, that time and resource to be able to really look at a child and observe what’s going on is really important. If that doesn’t happen every time, I don’t think it’s from lack of will or interest, I think it’s because we can all get distracted by the layers of demands on our time and the bureaucracy we’ve got to go through,” she says.
GIRFEC offers professionals a “sharpening of the mind”, according to Glasgow. “For teachers, I think what they need is more support to understand the role they can play. The really important role they can play. And it’s an age-old one, but quite frankly, just probably more time. More time to look and engage with and get to know in a really broad holistic way the children in their classrooms, and right in front of them.”
The challenge of converting high-level principles and aspirations into day-to-day practice is seeing Children 1st engaged in schools in certain areas, says Glasgow, where headteachers and authorities are “more welcoming” to a broader range of people being around schools to support children. “I think there is a shift towards recognising within schools the focus is of course that children learn, but equally, there’s a bigger responsibility to contribute to their wellbeing, and I do see schools embracing that part of their obligation more fully.”
Work in early years and supporting early parenting is a focus, and the Children 1st annual lecture in November will highlight the emergent knowledge around child development and attachment, with a keynote address from Dr Patricia Crittenden from Miami’s Family Relations Institute. “I really think we should have a filter through which we put all policy and legislation, which is, what is its impact on children? Does this really put the rights, needs, and aspirations of children first?” says Glasgow.