Children and Families: National Leadership Group minutes - 7 November 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Government group on 7 November 2023

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Long(co-chair), SOLANCE
  • Laura Caven, COSLA
  • Jillian Gibson, COSLA
  • Lynne McNiven, Director of Public Health 
  • Tracy Davis, Child Health Commissioners
  • Lynda Fenton, Public Health Scotland

  • Tim Allison, NHS Highland

  • Sheena Devlin ADE

  • Chris Lumb,Care Inspectorate
  • Alison Gordon, Social Work Scotland
  • Neil Hunter, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Martin MacLean, Police Scotland
  • Carron McKellar, Police Scotland
  • Sarah Gadsden, Improvement Service
  • Claire Stuart, The Promise
  • Tam Baillie, Child Protection Committees Scotland

  • Mary Glasgow, CCPS

  • Andrew Watson (co-chair), Scottish Government
  • Joanna Macdonald, Scottish Government
  • Gavin Henderson, Scottish Government
  • Jane Moffat, Scottish Government)
  • Peter Donachie, Scottish Government
  • Emily Aitchison, Scottish Government

Items and actions


Andrew Watson welcomed attendees to the meeting and outlined the aims of the session as developing a more cohesive strategic policy approach to improve prioritisation and capacity to implement change. The group’s views would help to inform advice to Ministers on priorities as the budget process continues and work in relation to the Verity House Agreement.

No amendments were made to the note of the group’s last meeting on 10 October.

Reflections on deep dive sessions to date and next steps (paper 10/1)

The group has held three deep dive sessions to date:

  • supporting the workforce (8 August)
  • better connecting funding streams at national and local levels to enable a shift of resources towards prevention and early intervention (12 September)
  • opportunities to embed a more holistic approach to outcomes and data relevant to wellbeing of children, young people and families (10 October

Peter Donachie summarised the overall conclusions as follows:

  • key cross-cutting policy and legislative building blocks are already in place through GIRFEC, UNCRC incorporation and The Promise. However more work is necessary to show how they underpin and support specific initiatives and contribute to improving children and families wellbeing
  • better overall planning is required particularly for medium and longer term work. Collective investment in oversight, sequencing and prioritisation within - and crucially - across change programmes is needed particularly to take account of workforce capacity and pace of change in a realistic way
  • this requires a more strategic approach to planned investment and spending priorities including better cohesion and integration of funding sources; reduced ring-fencing; and a carefully planned programme of disinvestment to facilitate a decisive shift of resources (budgets, assets, workforce) towards prevention and early intervention
  • we need to streamline the approach to outcomes and data to simplify the landscape for users, reduce duplication of effort, and provide more effective collective oversight
  • there has to be a renewed focus on workforce wellbeing, capability and confidence

Members made the following points in discussion:

  • the building blocks helped to provide a vision for transformational change but they were in part still aspirational. More work is needed to develop clear and coherent plans for implementation
  • there was an urgent need for simplification - stop layering additional policies and programmes onto an already crowded landscape with limited capacity for delivery. Clarifying outcomes at national and local levels as discussed at the last meeting will help to achieve this
  • funding models should also be simplified with the example given of complex funding arrangements for developing Bairns’ Hoose. Reducing ring-funding arrangements is essential to providing a more streamlined approach and delivering on the Verity House Agreement
  • there are significant opportunities to join-up training and development opportunities for children’s services staff, including education staff, at local and national levels

The group considered a set of discussion questions to help take work forward:

  • which areas of activity resulting from the deep dive sessions should be prioritised in terms of workforce capacity and resources?
  • what role can NLG members and the organisations they represent, individually and collectively, have in progressing this work?
  • are there areas of activity which could be paused or stopped altogether? What are the associated benefits and risks?

Responses were:

  • tackling child poverty should be the most important priority as delivering the greatest positive benefits to children and families and thereby helping to achieve the group’s other priorities. There is significant scope for better connecting up resources between children’s services and other services, including health, at local and national levels to take a more strategic and effective approach to tackling child poverty
  • to help improve prioritisation, a timeline should be produced of key policy and legislative milestones. This will enable the group to help shape the timeline by identifying barriers and opportunities including in relation to workforce capacity
  • the group should discuss next steps on UNCRC incorporation particularly as there is some uncertainty over the scope and enforceability of the revised legislation
  • there are issues over resource and workforce capability to implement transformational change. Support for transformational change is being provided through whole family wellbeing funding. However, this needs to be considered more broadly drawing on other areas of support, training and advice such as the early years collaborative. Greater collaboration is again essential given the limitations on capacity and service infrastructure
  • NLG members and organisations can help to identify examples of delivering transformational change that is working well at local and national levels and opportunities for improvement. This includes the potential to draw on The Promise’s work with local areas. There are also opportunities to consider connections with the development of The Promise’s plan 24-30
  • given the importance of the work taking place, it is difficult to identify specific areas of activity that should be stopped or paused. The focus should be on making much better use of resources by clarifying outcomes; simplifying the delivery landscape; and better join-up between services and organisations at local and national levels

Key messages on strategic policy alignment (paper 10/2)

Peter Donachie introduced the paper providing a short set of key messages summarising how GIRFEC, UNCRC and The Promise are interconnected initiatives with the common goal of promoting children and young people’s rights and wellbeing. The messages have been developed by the Secretariat, Scottish Government policy leads in UNCRC, GIRFEC, The Promise and children and young people improvement collaborative in discussion with colleagues in the improvement service.

Members made the following comments:

  • need to give greater consideration to the audiences for the key messages. It would be useful to tailor the key messages for different audiences including children and young people. The language used should be more person-centred and supportive including in the sections on UNCRC incorporation
  • the messages should be more outcomes-focused and action orientated with greater use of SMART criteria (specific; measurable; achievable; relevant; and time-bound) to describe the changes that will be made
  • there should be reference to the roles of adult, community and general services in supporting children and families. Reference should also be made to using trauma-informed approaches as part of this support

Final reflections from co-chairs

Andrew Watson and Louise Long suggested the next steps should be:

  • discuss UNCRC incorporation as part of the next deep dive on participation and engagement with children and young people
  • develop the timeline of key policy and legislative milestones for discussion early in the New Year with the focus on greater join up of transformational change programmes; unblocking barriers at local and national levels; and better use of resources including more integrated training and development opportunities and good examples from local areas
  • consider the group’s workplan following the budget announcement and taking account of the issues discussed at this meeting including workforce capacity issues and progress on Verity House Agreement

Date of next meeting

The leadership group’s next meeting is on 13 December and will be a deep dive session on participation and engagement with children and young people. 

Members agreed to continue with the current format of hour and a half meetings focused on strategic issues.

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