Children and Families: National Leadership Group Minutes - 19 February 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group held on 19 February 2024

Attendees and apologies


  • Louise Long (co-chair), SOLACE 
  • Jillian Gibson, CoSLA 
  • Lynne McNiven, Directors of Public Health 
  • Lynda Fenton, Public Health Scotland 
  • Chris Lumb, Care Inspectorate 
  • Alison Gordon, Social Work Scotland 
  • Neil Hunter, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration 
  • Elliot Jackson, Children's Hearing Scotland 
  • Neil McKenzie, Police Scotland 
  • Sarah Gadsden, Improvement Service
  • Euan Currie, Child Protection Committees Scotland
  • Mary Glasgow, CCPS 
  • Jude Turbyn, Children in Scotland
  • Bob Fraser, Disabled Children and Young People's Advisory Group
  • Andrew Watson(co-chair), Scottish Government
  • Joanna MacDonald, Scottish Government
  • Bryony Revell, Scottish Government
  • Gavin Henderson, Scottish Government
  • Mairi Macpherson, Scottish Government
  • Peter Donachie, Scottish Government 
  • Emily Aitchison, Scottish Government 
  • Brigid Daniel, Chair of Independent Steering Group 
  • Heather Ottaway, CELCIS 
  • Claire Burns, CELCIS 
  • Paul Beaton, Scottish Government
  • Mariela Fordyce, Scottish Government
  • Mhairi Brodie, Scottish Government 
  • Laura Holton, Scottish Government
  • Janet Whitley, Scottish Government 

Items and actions


Louise Long welcomed attendees to the meeting. The leading agenda item is the main outcomes of the children’s services reform research and next steps. Professor Brigid Daniel and Dr Heather Ottaway had last spoken to the leadership group in August 2023 following the publication of the first two strands of research – the rapid evidence review and case studies of transformational reform programmes. The group was pleased to welcome them back with Claire Burns following the publication of the concluding report in December. Today’s session will be focused on four key areas for improvement: leadership role and culture; supporting the workforce; sustainability of services; and improving data and information sharing.

The note of the Group’s last meeting on 23 January had been issued to members on 14 February and no amendments had been made.

Children’s services reform research - main outcomes and next steps

Claire Burns introduced the session by noting that the research highlighted the increasing need for children’s services and consequent pressures particularly on workloads and funding. The research had also identified a significant amount of good work taking place at national and local levels. There were positive opportunities for improvement based on work taking place within Scotland and in the case study countries.

Heather Ottaway noted that the research defined children’s services more broadly than that used in the national care service bill. The research findings are also firmly based upon the breadth of workforce experiences in Scotland including social work, heath, education, early learning and childcare, police, third sector and youth justice. The main issues discussed under  four areas for improvement were as follows:

  • leadership role and culture – collaborative leadership should be supported and strengthened at all levels. This is essential to ensure that the long-term vision and agreed policy direction is consistent at all structural levels and geographies and to address disconnects between national leaders and the realities of local frontline experiences
  • supporting the workforce – investment is urgently needed and required to stabilise and retain the existing workforce as well as increasing its size. Staff need to be given the time and space for relationship-based practice to be prioritised, enabled and supported with children, young people and families. National and local leaders and practitioners need to be given the time, resources and support to develop and maintain strong multi-agency relationships
  • sustainability of services – timely access and seamless transitions to services are required to meet children, young people and families’ needs. Lack of access to early help and preventative family support services, and to specialist health, mental health and disability support were identified as longstanding service gaps and weaknesses in Scotland. So too were fractured transitions for young people into adult services
  • improving data and information sharing – work is ongoing to improve the data landscape in Scotland. This needs to continue to develop different types of data including on early help and prevention and children, young people and families’ experiences of services. Further work is also needed on integrated or shared data systems to support multi-agency working.

Brigid Daniel highlighted that the main components for a long-term vision and agreed policy direction are already in place through GIRFEC, keeping the promise and bairns’ hoose. It will be essential to maintain the focus on embedding these policies which have a strong evidence base and form a “golden thread” across children’s services. Ensuring GIRFEC is done well across the country is key to shifting resources towards preventative approaches and delivering on the promise. However, there is a continuing need for parallel funding of current services and development of upstream preventative approaches. Data collection and analysis of preventative approaches also needs to be improved. Stabilising the workforce and preventing staff exhaustion remains crucial. So too is better utilising the creativity and knowledge of staff to improve services. 

Paul Beaton informed members that the review of the workforce development sub-group’s remit and work programme will take full account of the outcomes from the research. This will include better prioritisation; reducing complexity; and improving multi-agency and multi-disciplinary working including through better integrated training and development. Links will be made with wider work taking place on workforce planning; data and intelligence; and the national social work agency. Joanna Macdonald updated members on plans for the national social work agency. 

Members made the following points in discussion:

  • the four areas for improvement should be used to identify priorities for the leadership group and workforce development group’s workplans. These should define the outcomes to be achieved and structures that can best deliver those outcomes. Strengthening collective leadership and multi-agency working to shift resources towards prevention will be an important part of tackling the systemic challenges for children’s services    
  • a priority for improving data collection and information sharing is to address the lack of high quality data for disabled children and young people; those on the edges of care; and other key groups. It is also important to consider opportunities for better linking health, social care and other data sets to provide a stronger evidence base and analytical resource for preventative work. There is good work which can be built upon including Improvement Scotland’s local government data platform and public health Scotland’s child health data sets
  • on sustainability of services, there is a need to move away from short-term funding models to multi-year funding arrangements which can help maintain staffing and continuity of services and help shift to more preventative work. There is an ongoing need to reduce bureaucracy and streamline funding processes. There are also issues over the balance of funding between children’s and adult services. As the research has shown, improving transitions between services continues to be an area of concern. There was interest in exploring further the multi-agency hub model drawing on the experiences in New Zealand and other case study countries in the research. Among the benefits of this model are a “no wrong door” holistic and non-stigmatising approach to service provision
  • in relation to leadership role and culture, leaders need to be visible exemplars for multi-agency working and give clear support and permissions to staff to build relationships and work across boundaries.  Multi-disciplinary leadership programmes can assist leaders in developing their skills in this area but funding reductions have resulted in a loss of opportunities for some to participate
  • on supporting the workforce, the review of the workforce development sub-group’s remit and work programme was welcomed. Workforce wellbeing was highlighted as a key priority. Transformational change requires time, resources and enthusiasm to be implemented effectively. The prioritisation work being undertaken by the Group will be important in helping to free up capacity and capability to undertake transformational change work. 

The co-chairs proposed the next steps as:

  • using the main outcomes of the research to shape the leadership group and workforce development group’s workplans. Members were asked to use the research to identify priorities for their own organisations and networks’ business plans
  • a set of key messages from the research should be developed and provided to members for use in conferences and other events.    

Members were invited to provide propositions for multi-year funding models. These should be considered in relation to the multi-year planning being undertaken for children’s services plans and the promise’s plan 24-30.

Whole family wellbeing funding

Laura Holton summarised proposals to expand the programme support offer for whole family wellbeing funding. Feedback to date indicated general support for taking a longer term approach to delivering the programme. This would help children's services planning partnerships to address current challenges including recruiting and retaining staff; building relationships across services including those provided by the third sector; and embedding sustainable change. It would also better align Whole Family Wellbeing Funding with the timeframes for other major policies including keeping the promise by 2030.

Janet Whitley described the emerging proposals for expanded support to partnerships. These covered:

  • leadership for transformation – a focused leadership offer that recognises the critical importance of leadership support to enable improved outcomes for families
  • quality improvement and implementation support - work in-depth with a small cohort of children's services planning partnerships focused on a particular theme (for example, access) or population (for example, 0-3 age group) on the systematic application of quality improvement methods
  • responsive, dynamic learning system - building from the existing learning into action network, to create a wider range of opportunities for learning and progress against themes, enablers and barriers identified across the country
  • focused short term support – collaboration with local partners for a fixed period of time to work through a structured process of self-assessment and action. The process would involve facilitated sessions to explore the current status of the work against best practice for transformational change
  • ​strategic enabling themes - work collectively to convene the necessary work, and make the necessary connections to enable progress on the themes of data architecture, support and capacity building; and policy integration.

Members made the following points in discussion:

  • there are challenges and tensions between the need for funding to sustain current services and to facilitate transformational change particularly the shift to prevention discussed earlier in the meeting. The risk in extending the timeframe for Whole Family Wellbeing Funding is that the drive to create and embed transformational change is reduced. To address this risk, the implementation work must ensure effective transitions between current and future approaches. There should also be a “tapering-off” rather than “cliff-edge” approach to funding provision as the programme comes to an end
  • there was a concern that arrangements for the programme are over-complicated with funding not being targeted as effectively as possible. Ongoing efforts need to be made to streamline reporting. There are good opportunities to do this including through the verity house agreement and review of children’s services plans.

The ongoing evaluation arrangements for whole family wellbeing funding and expanded programme support will be crucial in helping partners to embed transformational change. 

Any other business and date of next meeting

The co-chairs reminded members of the in-person planning session to be held in Glasgow on Tuesday 21 May between 1.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

The group’s next meeting will be on Tuesday 19 March between 3.05 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

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