How we talk about issues sets up the solutions to them. In 2022, if we are serious about making The Promise a reality and delivering change that is meaningful, preventative and truly transformational, then we must acknowledge and act on this.
In 2021, I had the pleasure of spending a bit of my spare time supporting Each and Every Child to design and tailor their training sessions for Scotland’s ‘care system’, as part of the ‘Voices of Experience’ group. This is the first initiative of its kind, with a dedicated team, management group and group of consultants with lived experience whose sole focus is on reframing the language and misconceptions that stubbornly exist around what it means to have experience of care in Scotland. We know that there are framing techniques which are much more likely to lead people to constructive beliefs and solutions (such as using certain metaphors, and placing the need for change on the system, rather than the child or young person). There are also techniques which can be unhelpful (such as a message with an “I did it, so anyone can” subtext).
I’m a big fan of system’s theorist, Myron Rogers, who said “the process you use to get to the future is the future you get”. This is particularly pertinent involving those with personal experience of an issue. It is vital that we embody the change that we want to see in the world, including in how we are structured and in how we operate. So what did this look like for the Voices of Experience group?
First and foremost, we invested time in our first zoom meetings building relationships and connections with each other. There is a ceiling to what can be achieved in groupwork in the absence of relationships, which can quickly feel transactional and hierarchical and we made sure that this would never be the case. We acknowledged and celebrated the fantastic diversity in the group; whether it was where we were born, our favourite chocolate, or our take on an issue related to framing. “Togetherness over agreement” is a phrase that comes to mind when I think about the Voices of Experience group, which helped us to explore where we had a different view in a curious and caring way. We learned so much because of this. It also felt fine to say if we made a mistake, which we all did at times.
Even though the team at Each and Every Child were coordinating our evening meetings, the power was very much shared. Claire (the Programme Director)’s approach was very much ‘what works for you, works’. Every suggestion was welcomed and acted on, whether it was a topic in a meeting or a suggestion for an icebreaker. Importantly, all the members of the group worked side by side with our Each and Every Child colleagues to produce the framing training content. We also had access to support from the Each and Every Child team if ever we needed it, which included mental health support. This is so, so vital; sometimes work like this can be triggering, and you can never predict how or when these feelings might bubble up, so both a proactive and responsive approach is vital.
The last point I want to make needs a bit of explanation. As people, we are all unique, and there are millions of component parts to each of us. This includes our skin colour, what we like to eat, our humour, our preference for cats or dogs, our love of (or more accurately, disgust towards) bounty chocolate, or the experiences we have had and how they shape our outlook. Far too often in work like this, we have seen people with lived experience placed onto a pedestal, as a ‘poster-person‘ and set apart as if they are ‘exceptional’ and ‘special’. My view is that the only way from a pedestal is to fall from it, that by honing in on one part of an individual, we more easily forget everything else about them, and it becomes harder to relate to them; we see them solely for their lived experience of care and not the multitude of many other amazing things they are/ do/ bring It then becomes more difficult to see our shared humanity – and our shared humanity is what drives us to support one another.
What I loved about being involved in the Voices of Experience group is that we were valued for every aspect of who we are and what we brought (and not just our lived experience). Because of that, no one was ever expected or asked to share their personal experiences – although it was welcomed and respected when people did – and because of this, we were able to harness the steely determination of everyone to, as one member of the group brilliantly said, “really get s**t done”.
Myron Rogers also said “people own what they help create”. I, along with every member of the Voices of Experience group, were so delighted with the final output, but also with the new friendships that we have made, as well as having learned so much from one another too.
If we are to realise The Promise then it really does need all of Scotland to play its part. I am really excited for people across Scotland to experience the Each and Every Child framing training, and to find ways of talking about care which will drive the change that we so desperately need to see, at pace.
Jimmy Paul – Each and Every Child Voices of Experience Reference Group