In February 2016 the Cabinet Secretary told Parliament that there is much to be proud of in the way in which we champion and care for Scotland's children and this included the many positives in our child protection system. However, the weaknesses noted in the Care Inspectorate Triennial Review and the Brock Report needed to be addressed and CPIP was established to do this.
There are many strengths in our child protection system; once a child is identified as being at risk of significant harm the systems and processes that are in place, delivered through multi-agency working, generally seem to work to protect children.
The aim of this programme was to build on the strengths of our child protection system to deliver improvement in the light of the findings of the Care Inspectorate Triennial Report and the Brock Report. Looking across the findings of the individual work streams, some broader messages have emerged about what we need to focus on in the next stage of the Programme to make a real difference to children's lives.
Ensuring all children get the same quality of support and protection
The work of the Programme has highlighted variation in practice across Scotland. Much of this variation is legitimate, a result of different processes and structures being in place to match local need, and does not impact on the experience of children and families. The Systems Review Group did, however, reflect on the complexities of the landscape and the large numbers of people and organisations involved and identified a need for greater coordination to strengthen and support practice across the country. In order to address this the Systems Review Group has recommended the establishment of a National Leadership Group.
A more preventative approach to protecting children
While our systems and processes for those identified as "at risk" are broadly sound, our work has found that we need to focus more on child protection in the wider context of GIRFEC and not lose sight of the broader agenda of protecting children beyond the specific requirements of the formal child protection system.
We will develop a National Child Abuse Prevention Plan to consider the wider population of children in need who sit below the threshold of significant harm. In doing this our work should be informed by the learning coming from research into the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs) and the protective factor of positive and sustained relationships. One aspect of this will be our neglect improvement programme which focuses on this group of children in need, offering real opportunities for future learning.
A collaborative approach
Our programme has also reinforced our understanding of the wide range of factors that can impact on the ability of parents to meet their children's needs and awareness of the range of policy areas that can contribute to keeping children safer. There is potential for a more collaborative policy approach to child protection, particularly to addressing issues such as neglect - just as we expect multi-agency planning and delivery of child protection locally - so we should be replicating this at a national policy level. We plan to develop this initially by bringing together policy areas within Scottish Government to identify how policy agendas can be better aligned to tackle neglect.
Discussions with stakeholders also reflected the need for a more strategic approach to ensuring children's interests are reflected across Scottish Government policies and strategies that have an impact on children and families. The introduction of the Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment ( CRWIA) in 2015 aims to ensure that consideration is given to the impact of policies and strategies on children's rights and wellbeing: there are good examples of the impact that carrying out a CRWIA has had on developing policy and strategy. Stakeholders have identified that more could be done prior to the publication of consultation papers to ensure that these consultations align with existing children's policies and reflect children's needs. Children in Scotland have offered to co-ordinate an approach that would enable policy areas across the Scottish Government to access timely, confidential advice from experts in the sector prior to publication of consultations.
Listening to and involving children and young people
In delivering our Improvement Programme we wanted to make sure that children's views and experiences informed what we did. We used existing research and evidence on children's views and experiences of child protection processes to inform the Systems Review and we have also worked with YouthLink and Young Scot to engage with children and young people in developing our revised internet safety action plan. In working with stakeholders about how best to involve children and young people, they have told us that while individual pieces of participation work can be good they tend to be piecemeal and do not inform wider policy. In moving forward with the Programme we need to take a more strategic approach to involving children and young people.
In the context of these broader messages, we have identified some wider programme actions, in addition to the specific work stream actions:
1. We will articulate a national child protection policy including a National Child Abuse Prevention Plan, which creates strong and dynamic cross-government policy connections to keep children and young people safe. This will allow us to more easily identify particular issues and what may be done to support families better.
2. We will work with Children in Scotland to develop a process for providing confidential expert advice from the children's sector to support officials across Scottish Government in consulting on new policy, strategy or legislation; and the Directorate for Children and Families will take the lead in promoting and embedding this approach across Scottish Government.
3. We will work with Child Protection Committees ( CPCs) to get a picture of current participation work with children and young people - with a view to collectively sharing good practice and learning.
4. We will work with children and young people with lived experience to develop a strategic approach to their involvement in child protection policy development
How will we know if we've made a difference?
In order to help us better understand how the child protection system is working and what the future impact is of the improvement programme, the data and evidence review identified relevant data and established a draft set of 2016 baseline measures. We intend to test this draft baseline dataset with stakeholders to see if it can be used to measure the impact of changes. We are conscious that there are significant gaps that need to be addressed to provide a more holistic picture, particularly around the nature of initial referrals (i.e. children in need), evidence from practitioners on their knowledge, confidence and skills, as well as, evidence from children and young people themselves and will explore this in the next phase of the data and evidence work.
Some of the actions set out in the report are part of on-going work and there are existing mechanisms for progressing these. We have started work with partners to develop our Child Internet Safety Action Plan, for example, and work on Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Trafficking is being supported by relevant stakeholder groups. Other actions, however, will require us to develop new approaches; in particular we will develop a plan to take forward the recommendations made by the Child Protection Systems Review Group and have committed to reconvening the Systems Review Group in April 2018 to review progress with the recommendations.
Other actions require us to develop new approaches. We have invited members of the CPIP External Advisory Group and members of the Child Protection Systems Review Group to a joint meeting to start work with us on this and will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders throughout the programme.
Email: Judith Ainsley