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getting it right for every child: Proposals For Action


Section 1: Improving Children's Services



Ministers have set out a high-level vision for children and young people in Scotland:

"We have ambition for all our young people and we want them to have ambition for themselves and to be confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens. All Scotland's children and young people need to be nurtured, safe, active, healthy, engaged in learning, achieving, included, respected and responsible if we are to achieve our ambition for them."

(For details see information box Vision for children)

The vision provides a clear focus on the outcomes we should all aim to achieve for children and young people.

The main focus of this consultation paper is to set out our proposals for improving children's services. These recommendations have arisen out of Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings Review. All these proposals contribute to the Scottish Executive's wider strategic policy and objectives.

Policy context

Children, young people and families have varied needs and expectations. No one service or agency can meet all of their requirements. It is therefore essential that children and young people get the help they need when they need it, from services which work together around their needs. Working with local partners, Ministers have set out an ambitious agenda to encourage improved integration of policy and practice at both national and local levels. The Cabinet Delivery Group on Children and Young People is driving the agenda forward.

The Group has set out its priorities to encourage public authorities throughout Scotland to work together to deliver high quality services and to make our vision a reality:

  • Improving delivery by reducing bureaucracy and ensuring effective arrangements for planning, sharing information and joint working. Local authorities, NHS Boards, police forces and other local partners are involved in a new system of integrated children's service plans, which bring together planning for all services for children and families at local level. We are also looking at ways to bring together the many streams of funding which support services included within the planning framework to reduce bureaucracy and to support a stronger focus on delivering the outcomes in the vision.
  • Consultation on the next stage of integrated inspection will be launched within the next few months. This will include Executive guidance on a quality improvement framework which will support the primary purpose of integrated children's services plans (that is to show that there is continuous and sustained progress towards achieving improved outcomes for children and young people). The framework is intended to support local service planners and providers to agree common outcomes, improvement objectives and targets, and to evaluate progress both within and across services. Further work is under way to look at rationalising the wide range of performance measures and indicators currently required by the Executive.
  • Developing an improved system for assessment and information sharing which supports co-ordinated action plans for children. We include in this consultation pack plans for a framework of integrated assessment, planning and recording which is child centred and will result in less repetition and duplication. Children and families should have to provide information only once about their needs. Services will then be expected to work together to meet their needs in a holistic and co-ordinated way. We are supporting the sharing of information among service providers, including agencies providing universal and targeted services for children, young people and families, to support improved integration and to reduce the risks to children through lack of communication.
  • Encouraging continuous improvement across children's services through establishing an integrated system of inspection of services for children. Pilot integrated inspections of child protection services have been completed in Highland and East Dunbartonshire and will inform the three year programme that will begin later this summer. Integrated inspections of all children's services will begin by 2008.
  • We are also developing our knowledge and understanding of children's services workforce requirements to make sure that it has the skills, qualifications, capacity and leadership it needs. We have modernised the teaching profession through the reforms which are part of the agreement " A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century" and have improved the training of social workers. A major review of social work is under way to make sure that it can meet the needs of families in the 21st century. Other areas being considered are a common core of skills, knowledge and competencies, entry level qualifications, common entry level training across professional groups, continuing professional development and improved interaction between different qualifications and different professions.

The Cabinet Delivery Group's priorities set out a complex and challenging agenda for both the Executive and its partners. Successful delivery of the integrated approach will contribute to improvements in the lives of all children, young people and families across Scotland. These include people who may need little more than access to services such as schools and healthcare through to people with serious and multiple needs, who may need help and support over long periods of time from a range of service providers.

In 2003-04 local authorities spent £4.3bn. on children's services (including pre-school and school education and children and families social work services). This was a £1bn increase on the £3.3bn. spent by local authorities in 2000-1. It excludes NHS spending on services for children.

Vision for children

Our ambition for the children of Scotland is that they should be ambitious for themselves and be:

confident individuals

effective contributors

successful learners

responsible citizens

To achieve our vision, children need to be:

  • Safe: Children and young people should be protected from abuse, neglect and harm by others at home, at school and in the community.
  • Nurtured: Children and young people should live within a supportive family setting, with additional assistance if required, or, where this is not possible, within another caring setting, ensuring a positive and rewarding childhood experience.
  • Healthy: Children and young people should enjoy the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, with access to suitable healthcare and support for safe and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Achieving: Children and young people should have access to positive learning environments and opportunities to develop their skills, confidence and self esteem to the fullest potential.
  • Active: Children and young people should be active with opportunities and encouragement to participate in play and recreation, including sport.
  • Respected and responsible: Children, young people and their carers should be involved in decisions that affect them, should have their voices heard and should be encouraged to play an active and responsible role in their communities.
  • Included: Children, young people and their carers should have access to high quality services, when required, and should be assisted to overcome the social, educational, physical, environmental and economic barriers that create inequality.

What Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings system showed

For many years the Children's Hearings system has operated in Scotland for children who are thought to be at risk and who need compulsory measures of supervision. The Children's Hearing is a tribunal made up of three lay members, known as Children's Panel members. The Children's Hearings system looks at all children at risk, whether they are in need of care and protection or are offending. Ministers are reviewing the system and last year carried out an initial consultation.

Phase 1 of the Children's Hearings Review told us that there was widespread support for the principles of the Children's Hearings system. It also highlighted some serious concerns, in particular concern that:

  • children did not get the help they needed when they needed it and were being drawn into the Children's Hearings system unnecessarily;
  • the system was not very good at dealing with more persistent or serious offenders; and
  • the system was under strain as panel members were often poorly supported and were frustrated when their decisions were not always acted upon.

The Children's Hearings system was set up in 1971 and since then the challenges facing children and families have changed. It has become very clear that changes to the Children's Hearings system on their own will not achieve the improvements for children and their families we are seeking.

It is also clear that just providing more of the same sort of support in the same way will not lead to a better system of support for children. So for the Children's Hearings system to work more effectively, we also need to change the way support is delivered to children.

What needs to happen

The public should have confidence in the Children's Hearings system. They should be confident that decisions made at a Children's Hearing will lead to improved outcomes for children who are in need of care and protection or who offend (for example, where offending behaviour is involved, there will be a reduction in offending). They should also be confident that decisions will be enforced where necessary. In order to achieve this, appropriate action must be taken as quickly as possible. Offending behaviour must be challenged - it is not in anyone's interest, least of all the child's, to avoid tackling offending behaviour and its impact on others. Persistent offending or behaviour which places a child at risk must be tackled. Panel members and those working in the Children's Hearings system must be confident that they are supported consistently in their activities and decision making.

Often parents, children and young people do not seek help from services because they think that this would label them as either bad or neglectful parents or as an offender. They do not want to face intrusive investigations or enquiries which do not actually lead to any help for them. Enquiries may seem to them to be designed to help the agencies 'screen out' those who do not meet their criteria.

Professionals want to and need to spend more of their time on actually helping improve things for a child. It is this sort of help which is valued by children and their families. We therefore need to make changes to allow professionals to spend less time processing children and their families through systems such as child protection, youth justice or Children's Hearings and more time tackling family and child concerns.

We know that people respond best to services that help them to succeed. We need to concentrate more on preventative educative programmes which help people to tackle their own problems. We need to involve families through approaches such as family group conferencing and family mediation. More priority needs to be given to developing capacity to support children's needs arising from stresses or breakdowns in family relationships. We also need to make sure that, when a child's needs are complex or serious, those needs are properly identified along with the contribution that various agencies should make to address them.

Mainstream services (for example nurseries, schools, family centres, primary care services and youth centres) should be the front line providers of children's services. They should make sure children and their parents get the learning and support they need to do well. These front line providers of children's services are also the front line of support. Working in partnership with other agencies, they need to take early preventative measures. Before referral to another service, agencies should take responsibility and do all they can, with the help of others, to support the child. The child should not automatically be passed to another agency.

We need to use compulsory measures only where they are absolutely essential to deliver action for a child or place requirements upon the child that cannot be achieved or sustained without such intervention.

For some children, a multi-agency response will be very important. But for many, one agency may well be able to provide all the support that the child needs. Formal procedures or assessments will be required to improve the situation for a child only when the degree of complexity requires such an approach.

Mainstream front line services all have a role to play in supporting parents and encouraging children and young people. More intensive structured programmes need to continue to develop and be used for adults who clearly need help to allow them to do a good job as parents and for young people with serious behaviour problems .

All of this means we need to find new ways of working together. We need to concentrate help where there are serious concerns. Where the assessment of risk to children is low, help and support need to reflect this. We need to develop technology and help all children and families to learn to cope better.

Demand for general child and family support and more intensive services for children who face particular difficulties continues to grow. There has been a considerable rise in the number of children who are living with drug misusing parents and in the number of children identified as having extra support needs. Increasingly, too, communities expect action to control the children and young people who cause a nuisance in their neighbourhoods.

What is already happening

There are already several things happening which we can build on.

  • We have already developed a vision for Scotland's children which shows what life should be like for them. (For details see information box Vision for children).
  • Children and young people have identified what they need in order to feel properly supported by the adults responsible for their care (the Children's Charter).
  • We have developed separate national standards applying to children who may be at risk of abuse and neglect, for schools, for care services and for youth justice. We have also developed some self evaluation tools.
  • We have done some work on identifying what effective children's services will look like
    (For details see information box Vision for children's services)
  • We have a highly dedicated workforce, committed to improving the lives of children.

The above provides the basis for a range of changes already in place or proposed, which include:

  • The Scottish Executive is refocusing the Integrated Community Schools approach, to enable schools to develop their role and be integrated if they are to be regarded as being excellent.
  • The 21st Century Review of Social Work will identify how social workers can be better organised and supported so that they can deliver improved services.
  • The establishment of Integrated Children's Services Plans and Community Health Partnerships will help the development, organisation and integration of services which are focused on a person's needs and co-ordinated locally.
  • The establishment of integrated inspections by HMIE and Care Commission of vulnerable children and young people in residential special schools and secure care accommodation.
  • Many existing developments are aimed at strengthening services and support for children, including:
  • youth justice - police cautions, restorative justice, crime prevention and electronic monitoring;
  • child protection - strengthening Child Protection Committees and A Framework for Standards for all agencies;
  • child health - linking health provision more to individual families needs and strengthening support for children and young people's mental health and wellbeing;
  • assessment - the Integrated Assessment Framework, and additional support for learning (The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004);
  • electronic information sharing to help communication across agencies (eCare) better support for child witnesses.

Together these mean positive help and support for children.

Our vision for children's services

Our vision for children's services is that they:

  • are accessible, locally based, address locally identified needs and risks and are designed along with parents and children;
  • are of high quality and that the public, children, young people and families have trust and confidence in them;
  • clearly demonstrate through their buildings, décor, web pages, systems, processes and staff responses that 'we're here to help', with access to a range of skills, responses, advice and information from any entry point;
  • encourage ambition and provide the environment, opportunities, support and resources to enable children to grow and develop into confident, respected and responsible adults, effective contributors and lifelong learners;
  • provide proportionate, timely and appropriate responses to each child's needs and provide extra support or help to those that need it, so that they can make good use of the opportunities available;
  • promote and secure children's safety and the safety of others and take action to protect them or others as necessary;
  • strengthen the capacity of families and communities to meet the needs of their children;
  • take responsibility for action to improve children's lives; and
  • are accountable to the communities they serve.

Summary of what we are proposing

  • A range of new measures which will support services to work in partnership in order to make sure that a child receives a co-ordinated support which delivers help when needed.
  • To work with agencies to develop a child friendly system which makes sure that, where the child needs a plan, there is one plan of action which is underpinned by co-ordinated assessment of the child's needs.
  • Children and their families should have explained to them what is expected of them and the professionals involved with them; how expectation will be met; and how outcomes and milestones will be reviewed. They will also know what action will be taken if outcomes and milestones are not met. Children and their families will also know who will co-ordinate their action plan, particularly where multi-agency input is required.
  • Building on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, we propose new statutory duties on all agencies:
  • to identify children who are in need;
  • to seek and record the child's views;
  • to co-operate so that agreed action happens;
  • to act on Children's Hearings decisions;
  • to appoint a lead professional to plan and coordinate activity where a child requires multi-agency input; and
  • to be accountable for their actions.
  • We will require early action by agencies, with the proportionate level of co-ordinated assessment. We want to reduce report writing and bureaucracy to a minimum. We will require mechanisms to be in place locally to make sure that action happens for the child.
  • We propose re-writing the grounds for referral to the Reporter and the Children's Hearings system to be based on two tests - significant need and the likely need for compulsion, on which the Principal Reporter will issue guidance. If a referral does not meet the criteria for a Hearing, we will give the Principal Reporter the authority to send the child's case back to the agencies to fulfil their duties towards the child.
  • To improve consistency in recruitment, training, monitoring and support for volunteers and the Children's Hearings system. We seek views on whether regional bodies or a national system for standards and administration should be established. We see no need for Scottish Ministers to appoint Children's Panel Chairs or Children's Panel Advisory Committees for local authority areas. In order to introduce more flexibility into the Children's Hearings system, we propose that Children's Panel boundaries should no longer link to local authority boundaries, but should be determined on a regional or national basis. New arrangements will be developed to oversee standards and procedures under either the regional or national option.

Section 2 sets out in detail how we propose this is achieved. Section 3 describes proposals for an integrated assessment, planning and recording framework.

'Children's services': health, education, police and social work services working with children and their families. Collectively, these services share a responsibility for making sure the right sort of help, services and responses (including help from the voluntary sector) are in place to support families and to make sure the outcomes for children are good.