Tackling child poverty is the top priority of the Scottish Government.
Two hundred and forty thousand children and young people in Scotland are brought up in poverty and the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan calls on all parts of the system to work together for those who face the greatest disadvantage.
People with experience of trauma are disproportionately impacted by poverty.
For many, poverty has been the catalyst for the trauma in their lives. Aware of the interconnectedness of these and of the further disadvantages facing those who are care experienced or have one or more protected characteristics, we have embedded our whole-college approach to supporting our students.
Four years ago, West Lothian College committed to being trauma-responsive, to tackling student poverty and to adopting a whole-college approach in response to the rise in students declaring a mental health issue.
In the throes of the pandemic in 2020, everyone at the college was involved in agreeing four new strategic goals – three of which focus on inspiring individuals, supporting economic renewal and strengthening communities.
The other goal of leading with vision and empathy underpins our whole-college approach.
Strategic goals are simply words until people act to achieve them. Examples of how our staff are leading with vision and empathy are woven throughout the latest research report in the College Development Network’s Pathways out of Poverty series, Leading with Vision and Empathy: An Insight into West Lothian College.
In particular, this is illustrated by the TRUST Project, the college’s alternative model to custodial sentences that aims to break the cycle for young people experiencing poverty, addiction, crime and recidivism.
Shared commitment from our staff, our student association, community partners and activists is building a whole-system approach to creating hope and opportunity in West Lothian.
Through growing partnerships with local stakeholders, young people are being referred to the college as an alternative to custody. Some required to carry out work in the community are allowed to undertake a college course as an alternative. And, we are now working with prisons and residential services at the pre-release stage to facilitate a positive pathway out of custody for young people who are almost always impacted by poverty and trauma.
We could not do this on our own and I am grateful to the Health & Social Care Partnership’s Youth Justice Team, West Lothian Council, Action for Children, Keegan Smith Lawyers and Children 1st for working collaboratively and proactively with us to support those who need it most.
Funding from the Scottish Funding Council in the last two years enabled West Lothian College to create and establish the TRUST Project.
A grant from the National Lottery for the next three years has allowed us to enhance our work through the recruitment of a peer navigator with lived experience of trauma and the criminal justice system.
Our challenge is to find a way of continuing to fund this work at a time of great financial constraint and uncertainty.
That won’t be easy, but we can’t afford not to.