Child Protection Improvement Programme
Child Protection Improvement Programme Update #16
The National Child Protection Leadership Group
The Covid-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group has oversight on child protection during the Covid-19 period. The group meets fortnightly and reports to the Communities and Public Services Ministerial Group. The membership of this group closely mirrors that of the National Child Protection Leadership Group.
The next meeting of the National Child Protection Leadership Group is scheduled for 9 December 2020. This will be kept under review.
Revision of the National Child Protection Guidance
The planned Scottish Government consultation on the draft of the revised National Child Protection Guidance and the supporting engagement events was postponed in light of Covid-19. The Scottish Government has confirmed with stakeholders that there is now capacity to engage with a consultation. Therefore, a Scottish Government consultation will launch in autumn 2020 and virtual engagement events are being planned. The revised National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland is due to be published in Spring 2021.
The development of practice notes, and work on the participation of children, young people and families continues.
Covid-19 Supplementary National Child Protection Guidance was developed for Chief Officers, Chief Social Work Officers and Child Protection Committees. This was first published on 31 March 2020 and was last updated on 31 August 2020. The supplementary guidance will be updated further as necessary.
Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending involving children and young people
The Scottish Government continues its considerations regarding action to address the recommendations made by the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending involving Children and Young People.
Education Scotland published a webpage on the National Improvement Hub: ‘Safeguarding: identify, understand and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours in young people’. This page provides information on harmful sexual behaviour and links to useful resources and guidance.
On 11 September 2020 The Lucy Faithfull Foundation / Stop It Now UK! launched a HSB prevention toolkit, aimed at parents, carers and professionals, providing advice on responding to concerns raised by Covid-19 and possible elevated risks of sexual harm to children.
Implementing the Children’s aspects of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015
The Scottish Government has been working with Home Office and COSLA to facilitate workshops with key stakeholders on the Home Office proposals to make the decision-making process of the National Referral Mechanism more child-friendly.
Scottish Government worked with COSLA and other partners to deliver age assessment guidance training to first line-managers in Scotland. The first session took place in March 2020, and due to the pandemic, the remainder of the sessions took place over the summer virtually.
Unaccompanied Children in Scotland
Independent Child Trafficking Guardian
Work is continuing to develop the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian and we are in the process of drafting the specification and invitation to tender for the new service. To assist with our development of the new service, Scottish Guardianship Service hosted two focus groups on our behalf on Wednesday 16 September 2020. The first session was held with current guardians from the Scottish Guardianship Service, and the second session took place with young people who have received support from a guardian.
National Transfer Scheme Consultation
The Home Office recently launched their consultation with the local government sector on the National Transfer Scheme (NTS). They are seeking views on their proposals, the option of mandation and insights into any further improvements to the NTS. The consultation closed on 30 September 2020, and for more information please email: NTSconsultation@homeoffice.gov.uk.
Online Safety for Children and Young People
Work continues to delivery of the National Action Plan on Internet Safety for Children and Young People.
This includes the delivery of annual Online Safety Live events – delivered by the UK Safer Internet Centre, which is a free programme of e-safety events, designed for all professionals working with children and young people in Scotland. This year it will be delivered virtually. These 1.5-hour briefing sessions, via MS Teams, provide the latest in online safety research, legislation, technology, tools and resources along with exclusive access to the presentation and resource materials.
Places can be booked through the following links:
- 5th October @ 9.30am – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-safety-live-scotland-tickets-117633676493
- 5th October @ 3.30pm – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-safety-live-scotland-tickets-118614229353
- 6th October @ 1.30pm – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-safety-live-scotland-tickets-118614301569
Engagement between the Scottish Government, UK Government and the UK Council for Internet Safety continues regarding proposals by the UK Government on the regulation of internet services and service providers in the UK.
Related work to note:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for parents and carers to keep children safe online
- Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
The Information Commissioner’s Office has led the development of and Age appropriate design code of practice for online services, which came into force on 2 September 2020, with a 12 month transition period. The Code sets out 15 headline standards of age appropriate design that companies need to implement to ensure their services appropriately safeguard children’s personal data and process children’s personal data fairly. More information available online.
The Scottish Government is working with the other UK Administrations to feed into the General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment, led by the United Nations Committee on the Rights Of The Child.
Following the European Commission’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), Ofcom is inviting contributions to a call for evidence on Video-sharing platform regulation for which they will receive regulating powers in 2020. This will include a duty to ensure that VSPs have in place appropriate measures to protect young people from potentially harmful content and all users from illegal content and incitement to hatred and violence.
Stop It Now! Scotland has worked with the Scottish Government to develop a training programme for kinship carers on cyber resilience and online safety. This programme is designed to be delivered to carers by their social workers, either in groupwork or individual work. The suite of training materials contains a four hour core training course on cyber resilience and online safety available here.
Reports of interest:
- Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry’s Internet Investigation Report
- Ofcom’s 2020 Online Nation report
- Ofcom’s Children’s Media Lives: Life in lockdown
- SWGfL’s – Covid-19: Expectations and Effects on Children Online
- Internet Watch Foundation’s 2019 annual report
Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation
The final report of the delivery of the 2016 National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation was published in July 2020 and can be accessed online. It marked the conclusion of the National Plan and National Group. The report also set out continued action to tackle child sexual exploitation through a range of Government-supported workstreams, such as:
- The Chief Medical Officer’s multi-agency taskforce for the improvement of services for adults, children and young people who have experienced rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse,
- The development of a national clinical pathway for children and young people who have disclosed sexual abuse,
- The continued passage through Parliament of the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill,
- The continued development of the Scottish Child Interview Model as part of the Joint Investigative Interviews (JII) approach,
- The exploration of the application of the Barnahus concept for Scotland, for immediate trauma informed support for child victims of serious and traumatic crimes within the context of Scotland’s healthcare, child protection and criminal justice systems,
- The current consultation on raising the age of referral to the Reporter. Ministers have agreed to widen the consultation to seek views on increasing the age at which children can be referred to the Reporter for care, protection and offence grounds. This includes young people at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others,
- The ongoing review of Age of Criminal Responsibility within three years of enactment of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019,
- Continued delivery of the provisions of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Offences (Scotland) 2016 Act,
- Continued delivery of the implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019,
- Continued delivery of the Equally Safe strategy,
- Continued delivery of the Child Trafficking Strategy,
- Continued delivery of the National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland,
- Continued funding of support services.
Work also continues to address specific issues such as addressing the difficulties in, and lack of, CSE data on the context, frequency and scale of abuse and about perpetrators, specific vulnerabilities to CSE of disabled children and young people, and addressing harmful sexual behaviour and preventing sexual offending involving children and young people.
In July 2020 Stop it Now! Scotland published its Upstream Prevention Pack, a suite of child sexual abuse prevention resources. The pack includes six leaflets for professionals and those they work with, as well as parents and carers.
The Scottish Government is exploring the application of the Barnahus concept for immediate trauma informed support for child victims of serious and traumatic crimes within the context of Scotland’s healthcare, child protection and criminal justice systems and to explore how Barnahus could work in our adversarial system, which includes cross-examination. Barnahus provides Scotland with an opportunity to design a genuinely child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma, including, but not only, child sexual abuse.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) and the Care Inspectorate (CI) were commissioned by the Scottish Government to develop Scotland-specific standards for Barnahus based on the European PROMISE Quality Standards which are based on best practice from the Nordic countries. This work was paused due to Covid-19.
Consideration is currently being given to new proposals for a phased approach for resuming work on development of Barnahus Standards with an initial phase to undertake an appraisal of the current landscape and policy context relevant to Barnahus to inform a revision of the scope of the standards. This will include reflecting on learning from pilot projects such as House for Healing, and policy developments such as implementation of the Promise, JII, National CP Guidance consultation; CMO Taskforce work and the impact of and response to the pandemic.
Joint Investigative Interviews
- The Scottish Government continues to fund and work with justice and social work agencies to improve the quality and process for Joint Investigative Interviews (JIIs) with vulnerable child witnesses, including the updating of national guidance and improving technology and facilities.
- From 1st April 2020, we have entered the second year of piloting activity in relation to the new model (the Scottish Child Interview Model) for joint investigative interviewing, which is both trauma informed and achieves best evidence through more robust planning and interview techniques. Current considerations focus on continuing to support implementation of the new model in the first two pilot sites (Lanarkshire and North Strathclyde). These sites began to prepare for implementation of the new model in Autumn 2019 and, to date, continue to progress their implementation plans.
- In addition, work progresses on recruiting a further pilot site(s) to begin implementing of the new model, piloting newly developed training courses for others in the local child protection system with specific roles in supporting the new model for joint investigative interviewing, and testing a range of tools developed in the first year of piloting.
Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019
Scottish Government officials continue to work with operational partners to develop guidance and processes for the use of police powers in the Act. This includes the development of a list of places of safety, guidance for use of the power to take a child under 12 to a place of safety, guidance and process for the investigative interview, and development of the role of child interview rights practitioner.
Part 2 of the Act (provisions relating to disclosure of convictions and other information) is due to be commenced at end-November 2020.
Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019
This Act will remove the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” from the law of Scotland, making all physical punishment of children unlawful. The removal of this defence will come into force on 7 November 2020.
The Act also requires the Scottish Ministers to take steps to promote public understanding and awareness about the removal of the reasonable chastisement defence. This obligation is already in force.
The Scottish Government has formed an Implementation Group which is working on what is required to implement this legislation. Information about the work of this group can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.
As part of its implementation work, the Scottish Government is developing – in partnership with Social Work Scotland and other colleagues – a statement of principles on the Act and guidance for social workers. This is intended to support the social work response to any relevant report after the defence is removed.
Children’s Hearings System:
The first face to face children’s hearing since lockdown began took place on 15 July. Work is progressing on schedule to facilitate face to face hearings in every hearings centre nationwide, with modifications required in some centres to ensure the safety of attendees. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts from the responsible agencies, this marks a significant step on the road to system recovery.
The resumption of ‘Face-to-face’ children’s hearings – where safe to do so – was included in Phase 1 announced on 21 May. Safety remains paramount, and no child, family member, volunteer, staff or professional will be called to physically attend a hearing unless the responsible agencies are satisfied that it is safe.
SCRA sent recovery proposals to Health Protection Scotland in mid-June and received detailed feedback. With the benefit of that advice, some SCRA staff returned to work in hearing centres – in Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh and Dundee – in the week commencing 22 June.
The inclusion of children’s hearings in phase one, in common with some other statutory tribunals and courts, is a reflection of our understanding that the work to achieve a safe recovery had to be started early. The children’s hearings system is vital to determining the rights and life chances of Scotland’s most vulnerable children. But service recovery is not straightforward.
The intrinsic informality of the hearings system and layout of hearings centres bring their own complexities to recovery planning. It was felt vital to move at pace to set in hand preparations for the resumption of face to face hearings at the earliest possible point.
We introduced extraordinary flexibility measures to support the system in April’s emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. The first report on the use of those powers was published on 9 June 2020. The Coronavirus Act provisions have allowed the system to focus on immediate or urgent protection – whilst keeping safe other children and young people whose situations are not currently urgent.
Virtual hearings have been in place across the country from 4 May, ensuring that the service has continued to operate to the fullest extent possible. Virtual hearings will continue to take place where necessary and appropriate during system recovery.
The Scottish Government is in regular dialogue with the children’s services sector and children’s hearings partners to monitor the impact of the pandemic on service provision and the protections afforded to children. We want to quickly apply the learning from how the system has coped in this crisis. We will want to hold on to good innovations. The ‘new normal’ must enable children’s hearings partners to ‘keep the promise’ we made to children and young people and the Independent Care Review.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments that siblings views should be considered at all stages when a child is referred to a children’s hearing, with social work assessments of key family relationships being the starting point. The court has now decided that the children’s hearing system if operated sensibly is ECHR compliant. New provisions offering an opportunity to participate have been passed in the Children (Scotland) Bill.
16/17 year olds within the Children’s Hearings System
In March 2017 the independently chaired Child Protection Systems Review submitted their report recommending the Scottish Government review measures available to protect 16 and 17 year olds.
The 2019-20 Programme for Government made a commitment to consult on ‘enabling joint reporting to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Principal Reporter of all 16 and 17 year olds’ offence cases’.
Ministers agreed to widen the consultation to seek views on increasing the age at which children can be referred to the Reporter for care, protection and offence grounds. This includes young people at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others. Proposed changes will enable agencies to provide child-centred support for all under 18 years old.
National Review of Care Allowances
The National Review of Care Allowances reported in September 2018 and published 12 recommendations for improvement. The report can be read here:
The Scottish Government is committed to working with COSLA to agree how best to take forward the recommendations of the Review, with a view to implementation as soon as possible. This will improve consistency and transparency for looked‑after children, their families and their carers across Scotland.
The Scottish Government remains fully committed to deliver on its pledge to care experienced people in Scotland by accepting and responding to the care review conclusions and to put into place quickly the infrastructure to develop and deliver an Action Plan to implement the outcomes reached and ‘#KeepThePromise’.
On Thursday 16 July 2020 the Deputy First Minister provided an update to Scottish Parliament on the progress of The Promise, and announced a new £4 million support fund as part of the Scottish Government’s response called the “Promise Partnership Fund”. We are working with the Promise Team and the Corra Foundation on the details that underpin the Promise Partnership Fund including criteria, timescales and service design support for applicants. The Fund will focus on holistic family support and further information will be available shortly. Longer term, the Fund will support the implementation of a framework for family support, where proposals have been put forward by the Covid-19 Children and Families Leadership Group.
The Promise team is currently incubated within the Scottish Government and we are supporting the recruitment of the remaining members, before the team moves externally. The vacancies have been across all units within the Promise Team and the recruitment is due to conclude in the next few weeks.
Children (Scotland) Bill
The Children (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament on 2 September 2019. The Bill passed stage 3 on 25 August 2020.
The Bill has been informed by the outcome of a consultation on the Review of Part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (the 1995 Act). Part 1 of the 1995 Act covers parental responsibilities and rights and contact and residence cases relating to children when parents are no longer together.
The key policy aims of the Bill are to:
- Ensure that the child’s best interests are at the centre of any contact and residence case or Children’s Hearing;
- Ensure that the views of the child are heard;
- Ensure further compliance with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and
- Further protect victims of domestic abuse and their children in family court proceedings.
The Bill covers a range of areas. The key areas of the Bill are:
- Establishing a register of Child Welfare Reporters and curators ad litem;
- Regulating child contact centres;
- Encouraging the views of younger children to be heard by decision makers;
- Protecting victims of domestic abuse by prohibiting personal contact of a case in certain circumstances and authorising special measures to be used in family court cases; and
- Promoting of contact between looked after children and siblings.
We recognise that primary legislation is only part of the action necessary to improve the operation of family justice. A Family Justice Modernisation Strategy was published on 3 September 2019. This sets out work that is ongoing by Scottish Government and others; work that can be done via secondary legislation or by improved guidance; areas covered by the Bill; and areas that are for longer term work. It includes the PFG commitment to keep siblings together where it is in their best interests.
UNCRC Incorporation Bill
A Bill to incorporate the UNCRC and Optional Protocols 1 and 2 to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament’s powers was introduced on the 1st of September 2020. The Bill will ensure that there is a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. This will mean that children, young people and their families will experience public bodies consistently acting to uphold the rights of all children in Scotland. It will mean that for the first time that children and young people, or their representatives, can enforce their rights in the courts. It is our intention that the Bill will result in the highest protection for children’s rights possible.
The Equalities and Human and Rights Committee issued its call for evidence on the Bill on 7 September 2020. This will close on 16 October to be followed by consideration of the Bill at Stage 1 shortly thereafter.
Children’s Rights and Participation
The 31st March 2020 marked the end of the initial reporting period for the duties placed on public authorities under Part 1 (section 2) of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. The duty states that those public authorities, listed under Schedule 1, should report, “as soon as practicable” after the end of each 3 year period, on the steps they have taken to secure better or further effect within its areas of responsibility of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) requirements.
We are clear that promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of children has never been as important as it is now, in what will be worrying and confusing times for many. We also realise that Covid-19 will be placing a significant burden on colleagues working in public authorities at this time in terms of both planning and delivery of public services and individual personal circumstances.
In light of this, Part 3 (duties in respect of reports and other documents), paragraph 8, of Schedule 6 (Functioning of Public Bodies) of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, allows for Scottish Public Authorities to postpone publishing reports or laying reports before the Scottish Parliament if they are of the view that doing so is likely to impede their ability to take effective action to prevent, protect against, delay or otherwise control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus. As of 10th July, we are aware of 3 public authorities who have, or are in the process of, publishing their report.
There are widespread concerns about the impact of Covid-19 and the response to it on the rights of children and young people, including by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child who published 11 recommendations for governments. The Scottish Government has produced three reports for Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) on the action being taken in relation to these recommendations, and have committed to providing further updates.
Because children’s rights and wellbeing matter now more than ever, Scottish Government are embedding children’s rights into our response to Covid-19. Ministers have a clear expectation that Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments (CRWIAs) will be undertaken on all new policies and legislation. CRWIAs have been prepared and published for the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Act and the Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 . CRWIAs are a practical tool enabling us to assess the likely impacts of intended actions on children’s rights and wellbeing and to put mitigations in place.
On 16 July, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner – Scotland, published the Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) on the response to Covid-19 in Scotland. This has been shared with officials in relevant policy areas and we will consider closely the recommendations.
Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry
In summer 2019, Phase 4 of hearings commenced with evidence relating to investigations into residential child care establishments run by male religious orders with a particular focus on:
- Residential establishments run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers with a particular focus on their provision at St Ninian’s in Falkland, Fife.
- The Order of Benedictines and their provision at Carlekemp in North Berwick and the Fort Augustus Abbey School.
- In September 2019 a case study began into the Marist Brothers and their provision at St Joseph’s College, Dumfries and St Columba’s College in Largs.
The Inquiry has also published two case study findings to date on Daughters of Charity (October 2018) and Sisters of Nazareth (May 2019) with further case study findings to published in due course.
On 3 December 2019 Phase 4 of hearing began into the Child Migration case study. This phase relates to investigations into the abuse of children whose departure from Scotland to countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand was part of the child migration programmes.
A case study investigating abuse at residential boarding schools throughout Scotland is planned for later in 2020. Details of which schools will fall within the case study will be announced in due course. In 2019 Lady Smith announced that a case study will be held into foster care. This will include children who were boarded out as well as children who were placed in foster care. The Inquiry is recovering evidence from all 32 Scottish local authorities and is gathering evidence from applicants whose care was arranged by any Scottish authority. The case study is expected to begin in 2021.
On 12 May 2020 the Chair of the Inquiry, Lady Smith confirmed that the work of the Inquiry is continuing despite a pause in public hearings as part of the Covid-19 outbreak. Investigative work, research and analysis, and preparation for announced case studies continue.
Work on analysing the evidence from the Christian Brothers, Benedictines and Marists case studies is well underway and findings will be published as soon as possible
Hearings relating to the child migration case study will resume in mid-September 2020. Subject to ongoing public health guidance and physical distancing measures, it is hoped that the hearings will take place at the Inquiry’s hearing venue at Rosebery House and is likely to involve a combination of evidence from witnesses in person as well as remote evidence by video-link. Further details will be provided as soon as possible.
In August Lady Smith announced that in November 2020 the Inquiry will begin hearings which will examine the actions of central government in relation to issues arising out of non-recent abuse of children in institutional care.