In August 2018, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on Protecting Children: Review of section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and section 42 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
The consultation sought views on potential changes to two criminal offences related to child protection, namely: the offence of child cruelty currently legislated for in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937; and the offence of abuse of trust currently set out in section 42 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
The consultation came about as a consequence of recommendations made by the Child Protection Improvement Programme (CPIP) in its final report from March 2017. As part of CPIP, a review was carried out of the current criminal law regarding neglect and abuse of children. It concluded that there was sufficient evidence to explore the merits of updating and modernising the section 12 offence, and that this exploration should be done in consultation with partners and stakeholders across Scotland.
Based on a separate report on Child Protection in Sport by the Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament which was published in April 2017, and earlier indications from Ministers that consideration would be given to extending the current scope of the abuse of trust offence as a part of the Scottish Government's review of the law concerning abuse of children, a need to consult on reforming the offence of 'sexual abuse of trust' at section 42 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 was also identified. This provides that a person who looks after children under the age of 18 in a range of institutional settings, including schools, hospitals, care homes and young offenders' institutions, commits a criminal offence if they engage in sexual activity with a child whom they look after in that institution, irrespective of whether the child has attained the age of consent.
The consultation was open to individuals and organisations and the Scottish Government actively encouraged responses from public bodies, local government, third sector charities and other organisations, as well as those representing the legal profession, and those working in academia. The consultation contained 20 substantive questions - 18 relating to section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and two relating to section 42 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. It also invited views on any equalities and financial impacts that might result from any proposed changes to the existing child cruelty offence or definition of 'position of trust' and 'abuse of trust'.
The consultation opened on 23 August 2018 and closed on 14 November 2018.
A total of 220 responses were received - 161 from individuals (73%) and 59 from organisations (27%). Among the 59 organisations that responded, there was a reasonable spread across the public sector (including several local authorities, Child Protection Committees (CPCs) and Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCPs)). Twenty-three of the 59 organisational responses (i.e. 39%) came from the third sector, with strong representation from children/young people's charities and religious organisations.
Although three-quarters of responses were received from individuals, the content of a large number of those responses was the same, indicating that they may have been generated from an organised campaign. Many of these responses answered only a small number of questions in the consultation. Given some minor variations in the text that was submitted, it is impossible to say definitively that these responses resulted from a campaign, however, based on independent analysis, it is estimated that around 132 (82%) of the individual responses that were received could reliably be classified as such. Given that each response originated from a different source, each was included in the analysis as a valid response and given equal weight in considering the views expressed in relation to each question.
Approach to Analysis
Most responses (n=130; 59%) were submitted directly via Citizen Space, the Scottish Government's online consultation portal, and a further 63 (28%) were received by post and 27 (13%) by email.
All who contributed written responses were asked to submit a Respondent Information Form (RIF) alongside their consultation response, indicating if they were willing for their response to be published (or not). Just over half of respondents (n=124; 56%) indicated that they were content for their response to be published without their name, a third (n=79; 36%) were content for their response to be published alongside their name and the remainder (n=17; 8%) indicted that they did not wish their response to be published.
Of the 20 substantive questions, most contained both a closed response option (i.e. respondents were asked to indicate if they agreed or disagreed with the proposal using a 'yes' or 'no' option) as well as an open-ended component inviting respondents to explain their response in more detail. Nine questions contained an open-ended response option only. Open-ended responses were also invited for the questions relating to impacts or issues not identified elsewhere in the consultation. All questions were answered by at least one respondent. All responses were read and logged into a database, and all were screened to ensure that they were appropriate/valid. None were removed for analysis purposes, except one duplicate that had been submitted in error. Although some responses to individual questions did not directly address the questions being asked, all feedback was analysed and is presented under the appropriate sections below.
Closed question responses were quantified and the number of respondents who agreed/disagreed with each proposal is reported below. The percentage of respondents who said 'yes' or 'no' and who provided 'no response' to each question is shown, as well as the 'valid percent', i.e. the proportion who said 'yes' or 'no' once the non-responses were removed. This was necessary given the large number of potential campaign responses and which answered only a small number of the questions asked. Comments given at each open question were examined and, where questions elicited a positive or negative response, they were categorised as such. The main reasons presented by respondents both for and against the content included in the consultation were reviewed, alongside specific examples or explanations, alternative suggestions, caveats to support and other related comments. Verbatim quotes were extracted in some cases to highlight the main themes that emerged. Only extracts where the respondent indicated that they were content for their response to be published were used and a decision was made to anonymise all responses as part of the reporting process.
Report Presentation and Research Caveats
Findings are presented as they relate to each question in the consultation. Where people provided no response, this is noted separately from cases where respondents indicated that they had no further comments or were unsure.
The tables below show the difference in views expressed by the respondent group as a whole. Where there was a difference in view expressed by respondent type (e.g. individuals or organisations), this is picked up narratively in the report. As a guide, where reference is made in the report to 'few' respondents, this relates to three or less respondents. The term 'several' refers to more than three, but typically less than ten. Any views expressed by large numbers of respondents (i.e. ten or more) are highlighted throughout, including campaign responses.
Finally, although a large number of responses were received overall, it is worth stressing that the views presented here should not be taken as representative of the wide range of stakeholders invited to respond to this consultation, nor should they be generalised too broadly. They simply reflect the views of those individuals and organisations who chose to respond.