Corra runs The Promise Partnership on behalf of The Scottish Government, offering funding and support to organisations and collaborations to #KeepThePromise. An integral part of the process is the Decision Makers Panel who bring together a range of professional skills and expertise as well as lived experience of Scotland’s ‘care system’ to the grant making process. We’re thankful to Ailsa Clarke, Promise Partnership Decision Makers Panel member, for sharing her reflections on what brought her to the panel and her hopes for #KeepThePromise.
‘Your lived experience is what drives you to the table, but it’s not the only thing you bring.’
I’ve seen this, over and over again, in my fellow panel members – many of whom have been involved in The Promise since its inception. What is foremost in them is their intelligence, diverse skills, incisiveness and passion, which, coupled with an intimate knowledge of ‘the system’ makes them a potent force for change.
I approached my role on the panel with a bit of imposter syndrome. My lived experience isn’t as a child or young person who has come through that system. My lived experience is as an adoptive parent and as a mentor to other adoptive families who are struggling to find services to support them and their children. I guess that is what drove me to the table – that, and the fact that as a teacher I know that education has a long way to go before we have secondary school environments which are flexible enough and nurturing enough to allow young people with lived experience to reach their potential and feel included rather than ‘other.’
The second factor which drove me, although subconsciously, is a desire to change the written narrative around birth parents who lose their children. That is the legacy that many children are left with, especially if all they know of their birth parents is what is written in social work reports. The reports deal with their failures. Behind this is a story of intergenerational trauma. But these people are not their trauma; nor are they their failures. I wish we knew more of them than that; I wish we could have some sense of their strengths and personalities rather than simply a catalogue of their mistakes.
The third is a desire to make sure that all services involved with caring for children and young people are aware of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. It is a brain-based condition which is complex and often hidden, hugely undiagnosed and more prevalent in the general population than autism. In children and young people who have lived experience of care, this condition exists at slightly higher percentage. Symptoms are often shown through social, emotional and behavioural differences. Early diagnosis, support and intervention is crucial to best outcomes, and yet FASD training amongst organisations is still in its infancy.
It’s more difficult to think about the skills I brought to the panel (see previous comments about imposter syndrome!). Also, it goes against our national character to say anything about ourselves that could be construed as arrogant, so this one is tough! On a practical level, 17 years of marking written work allowed me to cut to the heart of what applications were saying (or not saying) about what they would do. I’ll chat to anyone and love working with people, so bonding was easy. My perspective was slightly different to some other panel members, as my lived experience is as an adoptive parent and teacher of young people, some of whom are navigating their way through care systems at this very moment– and diversity of experience is crucial. Lastly (and I don’t know if this is a skill or a characteristic), I’m a pretty committed and passionate person by nature. Relationships and nurture drive me. They always have done; they always will do, as a parent, as a teacher, as a human being. It seems to me that the very heart of the Promise is the love, the self-worth, the connections and the sense of self that are basic human rights.
Personally, I feel that keeping the Promise isn’t an exercise in political point scoring or in ticking boxes to get funding. It shouldn’t be another initiative that overworked and underpaid professionals feel burdened by. It is, at the same time, a mind-bendingly complex and challenging restructuring of services driven by those who have lived experience of them, and a concept of beautiful simplicity – belonging, value and love.
– Ailsa Clarke, The Promise Partnership Decision Makers Panel