News and Blogs Blogs Stepping up our influencing work to meet the challenges of 2020 Over the past year Staf has stepped up our efforts to influence policy to improve the lives of care leavers. Indeed, this work has begun significantly more important given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on care leavers. With so much happening in 2020 it was easy to miss how much we’ve all achieved. In this blog I want to give you a quick summary of what Staf has done over the year to represent our members and how we have laid the groundwork for greater engagement in the future. In March 2020 we held our first-ever Staf Summit for senior leaders, which included a keynote address from the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP. The Summit gave attendees the opportunity to directly question the Cabinet Secretary on the importance of relationships and the outcome of the Care Review. Unfortunately, just days later Scotland – joining countries across the world – entered the first COVID lockdown. We quickly moved our events online and increased engagement with our members through our Focus Groups. Over 2020 we held 18 Focus Groups, 5 Forums and 3 webinars – more than ever before. This engagement, alongside information shared by individual member organisations and the young people involved in our groups, informed three reports Staf produced in the year: In May we reported on the impact of COVID-19 on care leavers and those that support them. We found the pandemic had shed new light on loneliness, isolation, digital exclusion, food poverty and financial precarity. We took a deeper dive into how our member organisations were tackling these issues in our #WeLove report, published in June. We drew on three years of Care Leavers Into Employment Focus Group meetings to recommend a ‘Family Firm’ approach to supporting care leavers into work with full report submitted the Scottish Parliament in August. These reports, and the data gathered at our Focus Groups helped ensure the Scottish Government were up-to-date with the issues faced by our members over the year. Not least through our representation on Children in Scotland’s Children's Sector Strategic and Policy Forum, as well as the CCPS Committee on Care and Support for Children and Young People. We’ve been able to use our voice to call for policy change too, particularly on strengthening the financial wellbeing of care leavers during the pandemic: Supporting calls for the UK Government to top-up child benefit and highlighting the importance to care-experienced parents. Calling for the Care Experienced Students Bursary to be increased and extended to year-round to ensure care leaver students are better supported during the summer. Calling for the £100 payment made to low-income families this Christmas to be extended to all care leavers. We’ve also created opportunities for our members to hear from and give their views to government. This has included presentations from SAAS (the Students Awards Agency Scotland) and the Scottish Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee team. There have been opportunities too for the young people involved in our participation groups to give their views directly to government. The Youth Justice Visionaries were commissioned by the Scottish Government to engage with their care and justice experienced peers on Scotland’s new Vision and Action Plan for Youth Justice. And both groups gave their views on the UNCRC Incorporation Bill directly to the Convener of the Scottish Parliament Equality and Human Rights Committee. We’ve also promoted the interests of care leavers and those who support them at external forums. This has included attending the first SDS (Skills Development Scotland) Care Experience Focal Point meeting; Social Security Scotland’s new Corporate Parenting Champion’s Board; and the SFC (the Scottish Funding Council) Care Experience Governance Group. We’ve also attended roundtables hosted by the UK Money and Pension Advice Service on supporting the financial wellbeing of care-experienced young people, as well as ongoing participation in their Scottish Financial Education Forum. We’re now looking forward to being involved in specific work to support care-experienced young people to get a good financial education. In recent months we’ve also been asked to join a new Scottish Government group that will support the roll-out of the National Trauma Training programme with an emphasis on supporting those in the lives of care-experienced children and young people. Throughout the year we have represented the views of our member organisations and the challenges faced by care leavers at meetings held regularly to support the Scottish Government’s immediate response to COVID-19 and is currently supporting future strategy for tackling digital exclusion. Looking forward, we’ve began a conversation with care leavers on the potential for a pilot care leaver Universal Basic Income – looking at how this policy could help ensure no young person leaving care lives in poverty. We look forward to continuing this conversation with partners, including Aberlour. As we begin 2021, we are building on these strong foundations we built last year. Our second Staf Summit will take place in March, focused on supporting shared learning between Corporate Parents and delivering The Promise. And we’ll soon publish our manifesto setting out our policy priorities for the Scottish Parliament elections in May. While there may be light at the end of the tunnel, the current lockdown is a reminder that we still have a long road ahead. For care leavers, that means continued financial concerns, social isolation and digital exclusion. Together with our member organisations we’ll keep working to ensure that for care leavers remain front and centre in the minds of policymakers.