Children and Families: National Leadership Group minutes - 13 December 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Government group on 13 December 2023

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Long (co-chair),  SOLACE
  • Lynne McNiven, Directors of Public Health
  • Tracy Davis, Child Health Commissioners
  • Lynda Fenton, Public Health Scotland
  • Tim Allison, NHS Highland
  • Sheena Devlin. ADES
  • Helen Happer, Care Inspectorate
  • Alison Gordon, Social Work Scotland
  • Fraser McKinlay, The Promise
  • Tam Baillie, Child Protection Committees Scotland
  • Mary Glasgow, CCPS
  • Bob Fraser, Disabled Children and Young People’s Advisory Group
  • Susan Walls, Disabled Children and Young People’s Advisory Group
  • Jenny Miller, Disabled Children and Young People’s Advisory Group
  • Andrew Watson (co-chair), Scottish Government
  • Joanna Macdonald, Scottish Government
  • Gavin Henderson, Scottish Government
  • Jane Moffat, Scottish Government
  • Cara Cooper, Scottish Government
  • Mairi Macpherson, Scottish Government
  • Peter Donachie, Scottish Government
  • Paul Gorman, Scottish Government
  • Liz Levy, Scottish Government
  • Gita Sharkey, Scottish Government

Items and actions


Louise Long welcomed attendees to the meeting and outlined the aims of the session as identifying opportunities for embedding a more joined up and strategic approach to:

  • participation and engagement activity with children and young people
  • ensuring children and young people’s views (local and national) inform C&F NLG’s priorities and influence wider decision-making

No amendments were made to the note of the Group’s last meeting on 7 November.

Setting the local context

Bryony Revell summarised participation work taking place at local level through children’s services planning and opportunities to promote greater connectivity between local and national participation and engagement activities.

The children’s services planning partnership (CSPP) provides collective local leadership for embedding GIRFEC. Local authorities and health boards as co-leads for children’s services plans must ensure the plans are comprehensive and include related services providing support to parents and carers; and services provided by the third and private sectors.     

Participation from children and young people is fundamental to developing each area’s children’s services plans based on local population needs and views. It also enables monitoring of delivery progress and impact reporting on provision of services, and support and improvement activity – including, crucially, accountability for outcomes.

Key to this is collaboration with local children, young people and families to understand local needs; agree strategic priorities; facilitate participation in decision making; co-design services; and uphold rights. CSPPs should undertake engagement and participation approaches in respect of all children, young people and families and those with specific needs (e.g. care experience, disability, pre-school age-group.)

It is essential at both local and national levels to draw upon existing evidence wherever possible and not make repeated asks of children and young people about the same issues. Existing evidence should always be the starting point built on by specific engagement activity using both national forums and sense-checking with local youth participation networks via CSPP’s.

The review and analysis of children’s services plans from 2020-23 showed a wide range of innovative local practice both by individual partners and collective improvement activity (e.g. peer surveys; participatory budgeting initiatives). However, there are significant opportunities for improvement including strengthening the connectivity between local and national participation work. 

A perspective from health: child health commissioners

Tracy Davis provided a SWOT analysis providing child health commissioners’ perspectives on approaches to participation and engagement with children, young people and families.

Strengths – child health commissioners have a unique role within health by being specifically mandated to advocate in an interconnected way - locally and nationally - for the rights and interests of children and young people. There is a strong legislative and policy environment for engagement and participation provided by UNCRC; GIRFEC; and The Promise. This includes a consistent focus on prevention and early intervention.  There are also a range of useful resources available from the children’s rights Unit and organisations such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Weaknesses – ongoing need to ensure a broader range of voices and experiences are involved in participation and engagement activities including children and young people with disabilities. Young people aged 16-18 transitioning from children’s to adult services can also be difficult to reach. This creates challenges in ensuring participation and engagement work encompasses adult services impacting on children and families. Requirement for a stronger oversight framework to avoid duplication; reduce consultation fatigue; and amplify the voices of children and young people including in co-designing services. In relation to data collection on participation and engagement; there is a need to strengthen qualitative approaches to ensure that lived experience can better assist improvement work.

Opportunities – significant potential through digital technology to engage more easily and creatively with children and young people using tools with which they are adept and at times which suits them. Staff are gaining greater knowledge of different approaches to participation and engagement drawing on support from third sector and other partners. Increasing and welcome focus on infant and early years development. 

Threats -  staff recruitment and retention and other resource pressures are reducing the time and capacity for engagement and participation – including training and development opportunities for staff. We are navigating an adult-focused environment and it can be challenging to ensure that children are considered equally. The legislative and legal environment can be difficult to navigate especially when time and capacity are at a premium (e.g. requirements for consent and other data protection issues can act as a barrier to information governance and sharing between services.) Risk of a tokenistic approach to participation and engagement.

Children and young people’s participation framework

Paul Gorman described the work being progressed within Scottish Government to develop a children and young people’s participation framework. The framework is largely driven by UNCRC article 12 which states that children should have a voice in matters that affect them and consideration should be given to how we obtain their views. It is also motivated by other important work such as child rights and wellbeing impact assessments (CRWIAs). The framework aims to address similar concerns within Scottish Government to those made in the previous presentations including ensuring a broader range of voices and experiences are involved; drawing upon existing evidence wherever possible; and not making repeated asks of children and young people about the same issues.

The new framework will provide a more effective, co-ordinated approach to participation and engagement across the entire Scottish Government portfolio. It will launch in January 2024 for an initial three years with the opportunity to review and refresh after that time. A crucial part of the Framework will be a new procurement mechanism that aims to ‘regulate’ all participation work across Scottish Government by providing policy teams with a more effective way of engaging with the third sector and vice versa. The new mechanism will become a key source to track data, build on learning, and address inefficiencies in quality, spend and other areas of activity.

The Scottish Government’s empowered children and young people’s team will be the framework managers. The Team have already completed a procurement process to recruit organisations from the third sector to sit on a series of themed lists – general population, disability, care-experienced, and LGBTQ. This means that Scottish Government policy teams will have access to high quality third sector partners to facilitate their participation and engagement activities. This includes an option for partners to subcontract to ensure the best fit with the work required.   

In operating the framework, the empowered children and young people’s team will firstly work with policy teams to identify pre-existing evidence that can meet their needs. If not and there is a clear rationale for new participation and engagement activity, then a “mini-competition” will be held under the procurement mechanism to secure the necessary support. As the framework develops it will generate an evidence bank on how Scottish Government is working with children and young people – especially how they are influencing decision making. There will be less duplication; less cost; and greater impact as work will be more focused.

Discussion session

Members made the following points in discussion:

  • there were queries over engagement with children and young people in relation to children’s services reform. Joanna Macdonald explained that the research had drawn on the independent care review and other evidence in line with the principle of not making repeated asks of children and young people about the same issues. The plans to be developed for the next phase will consider participation and engagement issues at individual organisation level and collectively
  • pressures on funding, time and capacity are creating difficulties for staff in building and maintaining long-term relationships with children, young people and families. This raises significant challenges across a range of issues including co-design of services. Addressing these challenges requires action on issues the group has previously identified including better sequencing and prioritisation; and improving join-up and streamlining of initiatives to make more effective use of resources
  • there needs to be greater clarity and accountability in what has changed as a direct result of participation and engagement work. A “you said/we did” approach should be part of planning and delivery work across policies. As part of this, it is essential to have realistic conversations about what can and cannot be achieved. A broader dialogue about prioritisation can assist this process
  • members agreed on the need to be more creative in how we engage with children and young people including making better use of new technology (e.g. avatars/story-telling) to help facilitate conversations and broader the evidence base
  • there is a wealth of resources and information to support more meaningful participation and engagement work. Those highlighted by members included: Seen, Heard and Included; Voice of the Infant Guidance and Lundy Model of child participation. Further good examples are available from work on school aged childcare and Bairns’ Hoose. These and other resources support the inclusion of groups such as pre-verbal children; and disabled children and young people with complex support need
  • members welcomed the Scottish Government’s plans for a more co-ordinated approach to third sector involvement through the participation framework. An on-going focus on the question “whose voice is missing and whose voice is valued – and not necessarily a verbal one?” will help to assess how well the framework and other approaches at national and local levels are succeeding in broadening participation
  • there also needs to be a stronger focus on the role of statutory partners, particularly in education and health, in helping to support meaningful participation and engagement work

UNCRC incorporation

Liz Levy and Gita Sharkey discussed the latest developments on the UNCRC (incorporation) (Scotland) bill and associated implementation programme. The amended bill had successfully passed reconsideration by the Scottish Parliament on 7 December and is expected to receive royal assent in January. In amending the bill in response to the supreme court judgement, the Scottish Government sought to balance three key considerations:

  • protecting children’s rights to the maximum effective extent possible in light of the judgement
  • minimising the risk of another Supreme Court referral and
  • making the law as accessible as possible for users

This meant a narrowing of scope in the amended bill in that the compatibility duties would apply only when a public authority is delivering devolved functions conferred by or under acts of the Scottish Parliament or common law powers. However the bill still requires the Scottish Government and public authorities listed in the bill to set out and report on how they are giving further and better effect to children’s rights regardless of whether the compatibility duties applies. The other provisions include a requirement on Ministers to carry out a child rights and wellbeing impact assessment in respect of all new bills, certain Scottish statutory instruments and all decisions of a strategic nature relating to the rights and wellbeing of children.

The commencement date for the provisions will be within six months of royal assent. The time required for the passage of the amended bill has given Scottish Government and public authorities opportunities to prepare for commencement. A range of support has already been issued. Further resources will be issued over the next few months including non-statutory guidance on taking a children’s human rights approach before the end of the year and statutory guidance after the bill receives royal assent; child rights e-learning modules; and a child-friendly model complaint process developed by the Scottish public services ombudsman.    

Final reflections from co-chairs

Andrew Watson and Louise Long summarised the main points from the session as follows:

  • the session had provided good examples of broadening out participation and engagement to encompass lesser heard groups and how to support practitioners in this work although bearing in mind the pressures on staff. The workforce development group could usefully consider this issue as part of its discussions on training and development
  • there needs to be clear feedback loops to improve accountability by demonstrating what has changed as a result of participation and engagement work together with more realistic discussions about planning and delivery. A possible issue to consider is whether job objectives for senior leaders could include greater emphasis on promoting greater accountability
  • more work is also needed to synthesis key themes resulting from participation and engagement work and ensure these are communicated more effectively across policy areas, organisations and networks to help reduce overlaps and duplication

Date of Next Meeting

The date of the next meeting had been set as a planning session on Tuesday 23 January but this is likely to need rescheduled.




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