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Agenda: Good intentions must spark action on the road to helping children

IMPROVED life chances for Scottish children are something we, as a nation, say we're compelled to achieve.

But when the road to hell - inhabited by the estimated one in five children who have suffered maltreatment - is paved with good intentions, we have an obligation to translate intent into action.

Making Scotland the "best place in the world to grow up" in is undoubtedly a worthy ambition, but it will take bold action to move us from where we are to where we want to be.

While the intent of all concerned is not in question, we need to take a serious look at how we evaluate each and every policy decision, investment, service - and so much more - to ensure that they are child centred and meet the needs of families and communities.

We are challenging professionals, clinicians, experts and policy makers from across Scotland to join us in looking beyond the boundaries of their existing fields, as we set our sights on preventing child abuse and neglect and improving the life chances of each and every child across this country.

The exciting thing is that we have a whole lot of new learning that we can use to make a real change in children's lives.

I know that if I say that children who grow up in the shadow of their parents' mental health problems, addictions and domestic violence are at risk, I'm not making a huge revelation - we know all too well that children can be hugely vulnerable in high-risk environments.

However, if we go on to say the abuse children experience, especially early in life, is often associated with the damage done to parents in their own childhoods, then I'm pointing to where we can really make a difference - to a way we can definitively change how we protect children.

For it is in that area, in how we help young, vulnerable families overcome the shadow of their own experiences, that we can interrupt abusive patterns as they seek to pass through generations.

The many problems that are visited on such children by deprivation and inequality are compounded when the parents' mental health is compromised by the effects of their own childhood trauma. So when we talk about early years we need to be thinking about the parents as well as the children, and how they can be helped to be healthy and well.

These issues are becoming better understood in the field of healthcare, and international research offers new insights and evidence all the time on how parents can be supported.

Yet our child protection professionals who toil to keep children safe are busy keeping up with the procedures and demands of a system that aims to spot signs, at the earliest stage, that things are going wrong.

They came into the job wanting to do more - to help effect change - and by being connected to the knowledge and evidence that is out there, they can be energised to help improve outcomes for a generation of children.

The core purpose of our conference which starts in Glasgow today is to bring together ideas and experiences from these different, yet intrinsically linked, worlds.

Child protection workers know the daily challenges and worries about making the right call, yet in the field of mental health new knowledge and understanding promises a way of setting children on a path to a healthy, safe childhood by helping families. Together we have the potential to achieve for Scotland's children.

This is a seminal point in Scotland's history, regardless of what happens in September. There is no better time to lay down a marker for where children feature in our vision for the future. The fact of the matter is that their wellbeing - their safety, happiness and the opportunities that lie at their feet - must be the central tenet of each and every decision we make.

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