PRINCIPLES AND STANDARDS FOR CHILD PROTECTION
65. Core principles, values and shared standards of practice form the foundation for effective, collaborative child protection activity. While different agencies will have differing codes of practice and responsibilities, a shared approach to values and standards will bring clarity and purpose to single agency, multi-agency and inter-agency working.
66. This chapter set outs the fundamental principles that underpin all the documents and approaches that relate to child protection: GIRFEC; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the Children's Charter and the Framework for Standards. It describes what these principles and standards mean in practice. These principles represent an overlapping set of values that have driven the revision of the national child protection guidance.
67. Paramount among these principles is that child protection must be seen within the wider context of supporting families and meeting children's needs through GIRFEC. GIRFEC:
- puts children's needs first;
- ensures that children are listened to and understand decisions that affect them; and
- ensures that they get the appropriate co-ordinated support needed to promote their well-being, health and development.
GIRFEC requires that all services for children and young people - including social work, health, education, police, housing and third sector services - adapt and streamline their systems and practices so that, where necessary, they can work together better to support children and young people. This includes strengthening arrangements for information-sharing. The approach encourages earlier intervention by practitioners to avoid crisis situations at a later date and ensures that children and young people get the help they need when they need it. With its emphasis on shared assessment based on common language, it facilitates information-sharing and stresses the importance of understanding risks and needs across all aspects of the child's well-being.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
68. These principles, enshrined in legislation and practice in child protection, are derived from Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK Government and endorsed by the Scottish Government. They should underpin all code and practice in child protection. While not directly enforceable in domestic Scottish courts, it is Scottish Government policy to implement the Convention wherever possible. The principles of the UN Convention include:
- each child has a right to be treated as an individual;
- every child who can form a view on matters affecting them has the right to express those views if they so wish, and those views should be given due weight in accordance with the child's age and maturity;
- parents should normally be responsible for the upbringing of their children and should share that responsibility;
- each child has the right to protection from all forms of abuse, neglect or exploitation;
- insofar as is consistent with safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare, public authorities should promote the upbringing of children by their families; and
- any intervention by a public authority in the life of a child must be properly justified and should be supported by services from all relevant agencies working in collaboration.
The Children's Charter and the Framework of Standards
69. In addition to the Convention, the Children's Charter was drawn up following consultation with children and young people as part of the Scottish Government's child protection reform programme. The Charter sets out a list of demands children should feel entitled to make:
- get to know us;
- speak with us;
- listen to us;
- take us seriously;
- involve us;
- respect our privacy;
- be responsible to us;
- think about our lives as a whole;
- think carefully about how you use information about us;
- put us in touch with the right people;
- use your power to help;
- make things happen when they should; and
- help us be safe
70. The Charter reflects children and young people's own views regarding what they need and the standard of care they expect when they have problems or are in difficulty and need to be protected. It shows that children and young people place more value on relationships and attitudes than processes and events. This should be reflected in the planning and implementation of all child-focused interventions
71. The Framework for Standards is the detailed means for translating the commitments made in the Children's Charter into practice. In working with children and their families, all practitioners should strive to adhere to the following best practice standards.
Children get the help they need when they need it
72. Intervention should be proportionate and timely and a holistic approach should be taken to identifying and responding to a child's needs, as well as any risks they may face. Preventative work and the provision of universal services, such as health and education, should ensure a timely response. Agencies working with children and their families should consider not only immediate needs but also longer-term needs that may arise. Child protection investigations may highlight significant unmet needs for support and services among children and families. These should always be considered, even where concerns about significant harm are not substantiated. Equally, family support services should always be alert to potential indicators of abuse and neglect.
Professionals take timely and effective action to protect children
73. Practitioners should be alert to a child's needs. If they are concerned about a child, they should seek all the information they need to inform their assessment of a child's circumstances and this should include any protective factors in the child's life. Practitioners should be clear about who they can discuss their concerns with and what action may be required to best support and protect the child. Joint planning and intervention across agencies will help ensure that risks are thoroughly assessed.
Professionals ensure children are listened to and respected
74. Children should be listened to and their views should always inform any decisions made about them. Children and their carers should also be able to expect honesty and to be given explanations for actions or decisions taken. In some instances urgent, immediate action will be needed to ensure the child's protection. In most cases, however, the child will be able to remain in the care of their family. It is especially important, therefore, that practitioners strive to achieve a good working relationship with parents/carers to ensure the best welfare of the child.
75. When involved in child protection work, agencies should ensure that:
- wherever possible, parents/carers are given full information about the nature of the concerns;
- wherever possible, the child and their parents/carers have the opportunity to either give or withhold their consent to interviews and medical examinations. For further information, see the section on Health assessment and medical examination.
- the child and family are consulted on and given explanations for any actions/decisions taken. Where necessary, explanations should be given more than once and/or in writing, as the stressful nature of investigations can make it difficult to take information in;
- children and their families should be involved, wherever possible, in planning to meet the child's needs, both in the short and longer term. Children and their families are often best placed to know 'what works' for them;
- the religious and cultural background of the child and family are taken into consideration when any decisions are being taken; and
- where a child has learning disabilities or is deaf or hard of hearing, consideration is given to the best way to involve and communicate with the child.
Agencies and professionals share information about children where this is necessary to protect them
76. Sharing relevant information is an essential part of protecting children. Although those providing services to adults and children may be concerned about balancing their duty to protect children from harm and their general duty towards their patient or service user, the over-riding concern must always be the safety of the child. Whenever possible, consent should be obtained before sharing personal information with third parties but concerns about a child's safety will always take precedence over the 'public interest' in maintaining confidentiality. It should be borne in mind that a fairly minor concern raised by one agency may, when combined with information from other agencies, point to much more serious concerns.
77. Children and their families should be made aware of how information may be held and with whom it may be shared. Agencies should have clear and robust mechanisms for recording and storing information about a child and their family. For further information, see the chapter on Information-sharing and recording.
Agencies and professionals work together to assess needs and risks and develop effective plans
78. Practitioners involved with a potential child protection case will, first and foremost, need to ensure the safety of the child, initially by assessing any risks and then by taking any immediate steps required to address those risks. Although the child's safety must be the primary consideration, agencies also need to take a wider view of the overall needs of the child and family in line with the GIRFEC approach. Positive strengths and protective factors must be considered and assessments should clearly identify the impact of both protective and adverse factors on the child. Any subsequent interventions, including Child Protection Plans, should be clearly focused on improving outcomes for the child. All agencies involved, along with the child and family, should clearly understand each others' roles and the contributions everyone will make to ensure the successful delivery of the plan. Timescales for intervention should be clear and those involved with the plan should be alert to changes in circumstances and how these may affect the child and family.
Professionals are competent and confident
79. All staff who work with children and or their families must understand their role in meeting children's needs and be alert to concerns about a child's welfare. Practitioners who work with children and their families should be able to demonstrate collaborative practice, both with other agencies and with children and their families. Specialist skills and training should be available to staff undertaking joint investigations and assessments. Training should recognise and support the unique contribution each service has to make to meeting children's needs and protecting them; equally, multi-agency training should be widely available for local services, including managers and leaders as well as direct practitioners.
Agencies work in partnership with members of the community to protect children
80. All services that work with children and/or their families are responsible for promoting child safety and ensuring that members of the public know who to contact if they are concerned about a child. This may include raising public awareness and promoting community responsibility for child protection. Child protection must be seen as the responsibility not only of the statutory agencies but also of the wider public. Local services should be accessible, transparent and accountable to the general public.
Agencies, individually and collectively, demonstrate leadership and accountability for their work and its effectiveness
81. Effective service delivery requires effective leadership at both strategic and operational levels. Chief Officers are responsible for ensuring that the appropriate mechanisms are in place for the delivery of their service and that the appropriate links between planning and strategic fora are established and operating effectively. Services need to ensure that they have robust quality assurance and self-evaluation mechanisms in place so that the impact of service delivery can be measured. Practitioners involved in child protection often face complex and demanding challenges and senior managers must have an understanding of their staff's needs.
Equality and diversity
82. Finally, child protection policy must pay due attention to equality and diversity issues. Access to, and delivery of, child protection services should be fair, consistent, reliable and focused on individual outcomes and enablement. Service users should be listened to, respected and responded to. There should be no discrimination on the grounds of race, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender reassignment or on the basis of pregnancy and maternity.
83. The Equality Act 2010 restates, streamlines and harmonises equality legislation. It replaces a number of Acts including the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The bulk of the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010.
84. Public authorities also have responsibilities under equality legislation for ensuring that discrimination does not occur and promoting equality of opportunity on the grounds of race, sex and disability. This proactive duty to promote equality is expected to change in April 2011 as a result of the Equality Act 2010. From April 2011 the public sector equality duty will cover race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, religion and belief, and pregnancy and maternity.
85. Account should always be taken of diversity and equality issues. For example, adults with a learning disability or people from minority ethnic communities - including the traveller community - may have specific communication needs and require flexible approaches by staff to engage with them.