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getting it right for every child: Proposals For Action

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Section 2: Proposals for action

What needs to be done

Delivering high quality children's services will require changes both in legislation and within all agencies delivering children's services. We have set out our broad vision for children and the type of system we wish to have in place to make that vision a reality for children. To achieve this we need to establish a framework through legislation, best practice, revised guidance and regulation.

Improving children's services

We intend to continue working with children's services to make sure that the right structures, systems and staff are in place to deliver the high quality services that will realise our vision for children. Families and children should know what services they can get.

We propose that agencies should publish information for children and families about the services and support available and how it can be accessed.

You should be able to find out easily what you can get and how to get it.

'Handovers' between professionals should be the minimum necessary to ensure access to the right services. Families should have contact only with those professionals who are able to contribute to improving their situation. They should not have to face a range of professionals at meetings who they may not know.

We propose that agencies be under duties and responsibilities to be alert to the needs of children, to listen to them and record children's views, to identify children in need and to act to improve a child's situation.

You should be able to say what you feel and know that it will be considered and that people will do all they can to help you.

Children's services should minimise the burden of meetings, referrals, processes, report writing, assessments and plans on children, young people and their families. They should also ensure a coherent and effective response to the needs of each child and young person. They will need to establish a local co-ordination and monitoring mechanism. If a child asking for help (or anyone asking for help on their behalf) thinks that an agency has not delivered the agreed help, they should be able to use this mechanism to seek a review of the agency's handling.

We propose a new duty on agencies to co-operate with each other in meeting the needs of children and to establish local co-ordination and monitoring.

You should know that everyone is doing their best to help and make sure that things happen for you. You should know who you can complain to if you are not getting the help you need.

We propose to develop, with agencies, a single integrated assessment, planning and recording tool for use within a framework of co-ordinated meetings, reviews and planning. These arrangements will in time replace meetings about child protection, looked after children, joint assessment, youth offending and other inter-agency arrangements.

When you are given help you should not have to keep going to meetings to repeat what you've already said. You should have one action plan for whatever help you need

We propose that where a child's needs are complex, serious, require multi-agency input or are likely to require compulsory measures, an action plan must be agreed by all agencies involved and kept under review. The action plan will be the principal source of information for the Reporter if the child is subsequently referred.

If action has to be taken, you should have a written plan showing what everyone hopes to do to help you and what you will do to help yourself. You will know when this plan will be reviewed.

More details about the contents of an action plan can be found in Section 3.

Where a parent, child or young person cannot agree the action plan or they prevent a plan from being implemented, agencies should refer the matter to the Reporter. A Hearing will determine if compulsion is required.

We propose that where there is a need for co-ordinated action, a lead professional from amongst the agencies must be appointed.

You should know who to speak to about any aspect of your action plan.

The role of the lead professional will be to co-ordinate the work of agencies, monitor progress and act as an advocate for the child where necessary.

Where an action plan is agreed, agencies will be required to make it happen under the above duties. The local co-ordination and monitoring arrangements should make sure that if problems arise in implementing the plan, the agencies must be responsible for overcoming the barrier. Referral to the Reporter for consideration by a Children's Hearing should arise only where the needs of the child require compulsory measures of supervision.

Making Children's Hearings work

Processing children, young people and their families through criminal justice, Children's Hearing and child protection systems does not necessarily lead to good outcomes. Research evidence suggests that formal measures put in place to tackle low risk offending or low level concerns about children's welfare can sometimes be counter productive. They can lead to alienation of young people and their families from those agencies designed to help them. We need to be clearer about when formal systems are needed.

Agencies need to use the most effective means of achieving change and reserve referral to Children's Hearings for those children for whom compulsion is a necessity.

We propose that a referral to the Children's Hearings system should meet two tests - significant needs and a need for compulsion.

You will go to the Children's Hearings system if you need a lot of help, and to check the right decision is being made - especially if you dont agree. The Hearing will talk with you about the plan and decide what has to happen.

Under the current law, a specific incident or risk to the child may trigger a referral to the Reporter. However, where a pattern of behaviour causes concern and the individual incident on its own does not merit referral, the underlying need may not be addressed.

Behind a particular incident or risk there may be a significant need which has to be addressed and which may require compulsory measures of supervision. We propose that in rewriting the grounds for referral to the Reporter we concentrate on the need rather than the incident. Significant need will be defined by reference to the list of incidents or risks as indicators of the need.

We propose that one of the indicators of significant need will include a pattern of behaviour which gives rise to concern.

The fact that you keep doing something which puts you at serious risk now or in later life may be a reason for taking action.

This would allow action to be taken over behaviour which may not be significant in itself, but as part of a pattern of behaviour gives rise to concern. This pattern of behaviour may indicate a need for compulsory measures of supervision.

Where parents do not provide adequate care for their children, or a child's behaviour is causing serious concern, children's services must work together to achieve what the parents alone cannot or will not manage. This may require compulsory measures of supervision on the child through a Children's Hearing or measures applying to parents (or both).

Any supervision requirement will be based on the action plan agreed for the child. The action plan will set out:

  • the needs;
  • action required to address those needs;
  • who is going to make sure action is taken (including responsibilities of parents and children); and
  • the milestones.

The action plan should also set out contingency measures. The Children's Hearing will have the power to amend the action plan and set the review date, based on expected milestones. Any agency identified in a supervision requirement as being responsible for action will be accountable for making sure that action is taken. The provisions in the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 to refer local authorities to the Sheriff Principal will be extended to cover all agencies identified in a supervision requirement.

We propose that all agencies involved in an action plan agreed at a Hearing are required to implement it. Any plan endorsed by a Hearing as a condition of supervision can only be amended by a Hearing (including the use of secure care).

If someone has said they will do something in your plan they will have to do it. The action plan can only be changed if a Hearing agrees to it being changed.

We propose that if the referral to the Reporter does not meet the test criteria, the Reporter will refer the case to agencies to act on the Action Plan and will be empowered to seek reports on progress and reviews as necessary.

The Children's Reporter has to decide if a Children's Hearing is held. If you do not have significant needs or compulsion is not necessary, it will be for agencies, not the Reporter or Hearing, to take forward your plan.

There should be speedier access to a Children's Hearing for children who need it. Pending an agreed longer term action plan for the child, the Children's Hearing should make an interim supervision requirement to ensure that action is taken. This could occur at any point from the Children's Hearing's first meeting with the child until a decision is taken in respect of the referral of that child.

Where action is considered necessary in advance of a Hearing reaching a final decision, we propose that a Hearing should make an interim supervision requirement.

If the Panel Members on the Hearing feel that you need help right away, they should be able to decide that you get that help. This might happen even if all the papers or plans are not ready for you to discuss. If that is the case they will have to look again at the decision as quickly as they can.

A number of concerns were raised in Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings Review about the Children's Hearings' ability to deal with persistent offending behaviour. The proposals outlined above for more clearly focused action plans, the option of interim supervision orders and a requirement on agencies to indicate why compulsion is necessary will enable greater focus on the behaviour of young people in the Hearing.

To further strengthen the Children's Hearings system we propose:

The frequency of Review Hearings can be determined according to the child's need and the 'persistence' of the child's behaviour or needs.

If you keep doing things that create worries about you, you will have to meet with people, possibly the Hearing, every time this happens. These people may decide on more serious action to help you to take responsibility for your actions.

Children, whose behaviour or attendance at school is a cause for concern, should not be taken out of school to attend Children's Hearings. There should be greater flexibility in the timing of Children's Hearings to meet the needs of children and families.

Hearings should be held at a time that suits you and your family and does not stop you from going to school.

Where a Children's Hearing or other meeting is concerned that help and intervention is not leading to a positive change in a child's behaviour, a Hearing should be able to adapt its procedures as appropriate. In particular it should make sure that the child or young person is fully aware of the concern of the Hearing and the potential consequences of further such behaviour. This might include formally requiring the young person to explain why help or intervention has not resulted in improvements. If appropriate, community representatives or victims might be invited to sit in on the Hearing to reinforce that the behaviour has an impact on others, and to understand better what efforts are being made to address the child's behaviour.

When the Hearing gets very worried about your behaviour, they may ask you to say what you are doing to stop it, not just to the Panel Members but also to people who have been hurt by what you are doing.

Children's Hearings must be satisfied that the action plans presented to them are realistic and likely to be effective and that all the available measures to control behaviour (for example electronic monitoring, Parenting Orders and Anti-social Behaviour Orders) have been considered where appropriate.

You should know that the decisions are to help you. The Hearing may try to stop you doing things that put you at risk. Special action such as taking you to a safer place or making you secure may sometimes have to happen. These and other possibilities will be discussed with you at the Hearing and you may have someone to help you such as a lawyer.
Children's Hearings should provide information to communities about the nature of decisions made and their outcomes.

People should have more information about what the Children's Hearings system and other people are doing to help and guide children and how well it is working.

Procedures are to be introduced to streamline the establishments of grounds for referral where the child is too young, not sufficiently mature or not able to understand the grounds but the parents accept them.

Greater continuity of Panel Members from one Children's Hearing to another is to be achieved.

You should see at least one face you recognise on any later Hearings. At least one of the Panel members should be there next time.

Supporting the Children's Hearings better

The current arrangements for protection of children's rights at a Hearing are not working as well as they should. A Legal Representative should be appointed where the case may raise complex issues that the child is unlikely to understand or if deprivation of a childs liberty is possible. The procedures for appointment of Legal Representatives are cumbersome and do not enable a legal representative to be appointed, where they are necessary, well in advance of a Hearing. This may reduce the ability of Legal Representatives to discuss issues with the child in advance of the Hearing. We will consult on how best to ensure that Legal Representatives are skilled in working with children, whether through a code of conduct, accreditation scheme or training.

We propose that the Reporter be placed under a duty to identify those cases where a Legal Representative may be appropriate and to initiate the appointment. The business meeting or the Children's Hearing (or both) would still have the power to make an appointment if necessary, but the Reporter, acting under this duty and drawing on legal advice from within Scottish Children's Reporters Administrator ( SCRA) as required, should ensure a timely appointment is made.

We propose to place a new duty on the SCRA to ensure the provision of legal representation for children, where this is necessary, under current criteria to protect their rights.

Where you need a lawyer you should be told whether one can be provided at no cost to you.

The rights of parents and others involved in a Children's Hearing to full information about a child has led to the disclosure of information that may have placed children at risk.

We propose to legislate to enable Children's Hearings and Reporters to withhold information provided by the child when its release may place the child's welfare at risk.

If you are worried about saying something about your parent or carer you should be able say it in private.

We have commissioned research on international approaches to advocacy and the voice of the child and current provision in Scotland. We will consider the results of this research before recommending a way forward. The proposals outlined above may remove the necessity of a Safeguarder being appointed. We invite views on whether the role of the Safeguarder should be maintained and/or available to any service which requires an independent assessment of the child's best interests.

Do you think there should someone independent who can look at what help you need and speak to the Hearing about this - even if that is not always what you want?

We need to introduce more flexibility into the structure of the Children's Hearings system. Panel members should continue to work in their own locality as much as possible but we want to remove the barriers to them sitting on Children's Hearings outside their immediate local authority.

We propose amending the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to remove the requirements that Children's Panels and Children's Panel Advisory Committees be linked to local authority boundaries.

Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings Review clearly showed some dissatisfaction with the level and consistency of support provided to Panel Members, and in the arrangements for the payment of their expenses and allowances. There are two options for improving support.

  • Local authorities retain their administrative responsibilities for the Children's Hearings system and work in regional groupings. This would guarantee that panel members in the groupings receive the same level of support.
  • Support arrangements are managed by a national body with local administration.

Under either option, the supporting body would work to national standards for recruitment, monitoring and training. The regional or national body would support the activities on recruitment, training and monitoring which are currently the responsibility of CPACs.

We propose improvements in and modernisation of the arrangements for the recruitment, training, support and monitoring of panel members through the establishment of either a single national body or a local authority regional structure. We invite views on whether a regional or national approach is preferable.

Improving public confidence

Public confidence in the Children's Hearing system and in children's services could be improved. A number of reports and Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings Review indicate that the public is concerned that action is sometimes not taken when it should be and that sometimes action is taken when it should not be.

Meeting the needs of children effectively, and with the confidence of the public, will require children's services to strengthen their capacities to manage risk for the child. This will require:

  • easy access to advice and expertise, including that of other professionals or agencies;
  • staff who are sufficiently skilled and experienced (with support) to take informed decisions and follow them through;
  • systems to identify, evaluate and manage risks that take account of the views and wishes of the child or young person;
  • support for staff who make decisions in the best interests of the child or young person; and
  • agency accountability for the work of their staff.

Children's Services will be required to complete, on an annual basis, published statements of assurance that they individually and collectively:

  • provide effective services that improve outcomes for children and meet national standards;
  • have arrangements in place to monitor the quality of their work; and
  • have the right inter-agency systems and structures to make sure that there is co-ordination and accountability, and that disputes are resolved quickly and in the best interests of the child.

We propose agencies keep the public and communities informed about what is being done with their concerns and help them understand that the focus is on effective action and not processing children through the Children's Hearings.

The government will ask agencies what they are doing to make sure you get a good service that helps you.

What the Scottish Executive will do to help

The proposals for action are likely to impact on:

  • the design and set-up of children's services;
  • professional practice;
  • relationships with parents, children, young people and the wider community;
  • the effective use of new technology and development of self-help, self-assessment and direct access to resources;
  • governance and accountability arrangements within and between agencies;
  • skills, knowledge, experience, authority and decision making;
  • legislation, regulation, guidance and procedures;
  • inspection, quality assurance and performance management systems; and
  • finance and the use of resources.

The Scottish Executive, agencies and everyone else with an interest in children's services will need to work together to decide on the best arrangements for supporting the changes. We are aware that there will be concerns over capacity and resource issues and we will need to discuss how these can be managed.

We will work with agencies and professionals to identify and remove the current barriers to integrated working. We will examine legislation, regulation and guidance to identify what needs to be amended or changed to achieve one coherent approach to meeting the needs of children.

We will build on existing standards to develop a unified set of national standards for all children's services which will focus on outcomes for children and young people and their experience of service provision.

We will work with professionals and agencies to develop a shared set of practice tools (assessments, action plans, records) and guidance for working with children to cover all children's services.

We are in the early stages of planning a 24-hour telephone helpline to access child protection support. Depending on the outcome of this early work, we propose considering how this might be extended to cover a wider range of children's needs. We will also consider if it can be further used as a vehicle for information, advice and support by telephone and e-mail.

We will help to develop an accessible directory of services. We will also help to develop freely available, web-based practice materials or tools for use by practitioners, parents and children and young people. For example, these could include parenting skills programmes, behavioural programmes, self-assessment tools and practice manuals.

We are aware that good progress towards realisation of our shared vision is already being made in some areas. We will support the development of pilot arrangements for changing children's services to enable a greater focus on action to meet children's needs. We will develop a manageable plan for the implementation of these proposals.

We believe these proposals represent a strengthening and modernising of the Children's Hearings system while retaining its fundamental principles. The measures described in Section 1 and above retain the focus on the child. They require agencies and those supporting children to do what is needed to improve the child's life. They put the child at the heart of what we are doing.

This will be challenging. The proposals should free up professionals to do what they are trained to do: to work more directly with children. They will require significant changes in the way we work, in how we address children's needs. They have the potential to free up resources to make sure that children get the help they need. Resources must be targeted at what addresses those needs, not in supporting services. This feeds into effective integrated children's services planning and improved integrated working.

We are committed to making sure that the system has the right set up and adequate resources to do the best possible job to protect children. We believe that these proposals taken together over time will achieve this. Our task is now to work with agencies, professionals and volunteers to determine what has to be done to secure the vision for children and children's services.

Your best interests should be at the heart of everything that everyone is doing to help.

You should get what help you need when you need it.

We need to talk to people about what has to be done to make all this work. It won't happen overnight, but we will make a start.