Campaigning, communication and a whole lot of tea!

Iona talks about what it's like volunteering with the policy and communications teams at Children 1st and how it's preparing her for the world of work.

When hiring, most organisations want your knowledge from education to be combined with actual experience – which nowadays can be hard to find! I thought that third-sector organisations would only be interested in volunteers for roles associated with fundraising or on-the-ground community work, but thankfully I was proven wrong. Charities like Children 1st are an excellent route to gaining work experience and, much to my delight, I have now been volunteering in policy and communications since November 2018.

I am lucky to have been given the opportunity to volunteer with the policy and communications teams at Children 1st in Edinburgh, and I’ve felt three key benefits from my experience so far. First, I was trusted with work to tackle that was new, sometimes pretty challenging and required me to work as an individual before linking this up with the wider team – a great way to apply and hone my skills in a working environment.

Second, working between these two “small but mighty” teams of incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and passionate people has taught me so much in such a short space of time. For example I have found that the meticulous planning, preparation and coordination between the two teams is what allows them to be so successful at engaging and collaborating with people, and amplifying the voices of the children and families they represent.

Third, aside from all the work experience, what is there not to love about volunteering for a team whose key endeavour is to change policy and practice for the better regarding issues which affect children and families in Scotland? Also, I believe I should add a fourth benefit - regular cups of tea are definitely the fuel that keeps the wheels spinning!

One of my favourite experiences volunteering so far with policy and communications has been following Stage 1 of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill in parliament. In short, parents charged with assaulting a child can currently argue in their defence that they were using physical punishment, and this bill will remove this defence of “justifiable assault” from Scots Law. Today parents, children, professionals and policy makers know that physical punishment doesn’t work. We also have comprehensive international evidence that physical punishment can harm children’s long-term health and wellbeing.

Our team’s job has been to roll our sleeves up and do what we can to make sure this bill passes through the Scottish Parliament so that our government takes another step towards protecting the safety and rights of children in Scotland. We also collaborated with fellow children’s charities, Barnardos and NSPCC Scotland, so that we could provide a strong, united voice from children’s charities in Scotland. I helped to create a briefing document on behalf of our coalition which was distributed to MSPs to assist them during the debate and provide them with clarity over issues raised by those opposing the bill.

The highlight of the journey so far came when I was sitting in the Scottish Parliament for the Stage 1 debate and heard that the Equal Protection Bill had been passed and could proceed to Stage 2. Result! But there is still plenty to be done to protect children in Scotland, so I’ll get back to it...