Publication - Advice and guidance

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 - part 4 – Police Investigatory and Other Powers: statutory guidance on the use of a place of safety

This statutory guidance contains information for the Police Service of Scotland and local authorities in relation to the use of the the power conferred by the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 to take a child under the age of 12 to a place of safety.

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 - part 4 – Police Investigatory and Other Powers: statutory guidance on the use of a place of safety
Annex A: Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019

Annex A: Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019

List of Places of Safety

Key messages

A child who has behaved in a manner that has potentially caused serious harm to another person is likely to have experienced childhood adversity and difficulties such as significant loss, abuse, neglect, trauma and a disrupted home and school life.

Negative early life experiences can leave some children extremely vulnerable to environmental pressures and this can, in turn, contribute to the emergence of violence and/or other forms of harmful behaviours in childhood.

Police and statutory services will take action to protect the safety of those involved in the situation and attend to the needs of all including victims. All investigative and planning activity triggered by a child's harmful behaviour must have regard for the child's wellbeing as a primary consideration. Interventions must aim to protect children, reduce stigma and ensure better future life chances.

The GIRFEC principles and approach must be followed, ensuring that the child is treated with respect and dignity and that their rights are upheld in line with UNCRC. Children have a right to be cared for valued, be heard, be safe and be respected as well as receiving the right help and support for the wellbeing and development.

At any stage where there are concerns identified for the safety and wellbeing of a child, child protection processes must be followed. The National Guidance for Child Protection and local child protection procedures must be followed in this situation.

Where a Place of Safety is required under Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, arrangements should be put in place that ensures the child's best interests remain at the forefront throughout and prevent traumatisation of the child, while police undertake their duties.

General principles

  • The rights of the child must be properly respected, recognised and upheld in line with UNCRC at all times.
  • Trauma informed practice and principles must be adhered to no matter the circumstances or behaviour.
  • There must be a child-centred, welfare focussed approach towards a child's harmful behaviour.
  • Intervention must be informed by an understanding of child development, including issues relating to an awareness of the chronological and developmental age of a child, communication issues, disability and vulnerability.
  • The child's needs and best interests must be at the centre of both decision making processes and any interventions.
  • Ensure clear communication and co-ordination with those who care for and have responsibilities towards the child and other children closely affected.
  • Children most at risk of being involved in harmful behaviour may also be at risk, or have experienced harm themselves.
  • The child must be supported to enhance their ability to fully participate in processes in an informed way.
  • Care experienced children may be particularly vulnerable to further trauma and all agencies must be mindful of their corporate parenting duties to looked after children.
  • Early adverse contact with agencies is in itself a factor likely to heighten the risk of further offending behaviour involving children and young people.
  • A child's must not be considered as an "offender" or "criminal".
  • Serious incidents must be met with a compassionate, sensitive, proportionate and effective response, addressing the needs of children, families, victims and the wider community.
  • Children must be listened to and meaningfully and appropriately involved in decision-making about their care, with all those involved properly listening and responding to what they want and need.
  • There must be compassionate and caring decision-making.
  • Active listening and engagement is fundamental to making the right decisions and provides support for children and families.

These principles will support the future quality of any information gathered about an incident as well as supporting recovery and longer term health and wellbeing for the child and reduce the possibility of future harmful behaviour.

If it appears that behaviours observed or reported fall short of risking or causing 'serious harm', the local processes for proportionate, co-ordinated 'Early and Effective Intervention' will apply within the Whole System Approach adopted in most areas. GIRFEC and Early and Effective Intervention aim to prevent children entering into formal systems if compulsory measures are not needed.

Identifying local places of safety

Local areas can identify local premises that can be used as a Place of Safety. Most will be places where a child can be accommodated such as foster carers and in some cases residential care. Social work will undertake an assessment of suitability and local availability of resource at the time it is required.

However if a child requires time out and support for a short period, an alternative local resource could be used, if it meets the required criteria/ standards.

The aim is to support the wellbeing of the child at a time of crisis therefore this must be child friendly and supportive environment that does not traumatise a child.

In circumstances where a child will need to be taken to a Place of Safety, the following key components will assist in identifying suitable locations:

  • High quality child friendly environment where a child feels safe and secure, reduces distress and provides comfort and nurture.
  • Local – reduce the need to travel and remain in a familiar community.
  • Available at suitable time in an emergency - access may be required any time of the day or night including weekends therefore clear out of office arrangements are needed.
  • Some premises may only be available at particular times and consideration must be given to current use and compatibility with place of safety requirements in an emergency situation.
  • Swift local agreement in real time are required to ensure timely response and planning - practical processes need to be in place locally to gain access at the time required.
  • Good coordination and cooperation required at local level so police can easily identify space at the time needed – for example single point of contact to access premises / identified local contacts.
  • Swift decision making and supportive responses to ensure wellbeing of the child is central.
  • The premises must be a child friendly environment suitable for children under 12 years old, this will reduce anxiety and prevent traumatisation.
  • The premises must support feelings of safety, security and wellbeing (for example with the availability of soft furnishings/toys etc).
  • The premises must provide a private, confidential space to minimise stigma
  • Internal and external look and feel of the premises should minimise children's anxiety and put them at ease.
  • Guidance on taking forensic samples from children is being developed by the Police Care Network.
  • Premises should have minimal noise, interruptions and distractions.
  • Access to refreshments/ toilets etc.