Children and Families: National Leadership Group minutes - 8 August 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group held on 8 August 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Long (Co-Chair), SOLACE
  • Jillian Gibson, CoSLA
  • Pamela Dueck, NHS Highland on behalf of NHS Chief Executives
  • Tracy David, Children's Health Commissioners
  • Eileen Scott, Public Health Scotland
  • Helen Happer, Care Inspectorate
  • Alison Gordon, Social Work Scotland
  • Laura Lamb, SSSC
  • Mary Glasgow, Coalitation of Care and Support Providers in Scotland
  • Eliot Jackson, Children's Hearing Scotland
  • Neil Hunter, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration
  • Sheena Devlin, ADES
  • Jude Turbyne, Children in Scotland
  • Adam Hall, Improvement Services
  • Fraser McKinlay, The Promise
  • Tam Ballie, Child Protection Committees Scotland
  • Professor Brigid Daniel, Chair of Children's Services Research Independent Steering Group 
  • Heather Otterway, CELCIS 
  • Alex McTier, CELCIS
  • Gavin Henderson, Scottish Government
  • Gwen Davidson, Scottish Government 
  • Sarah Waldron, Scottish Government
  • Bryony Revell, Scottish Government 
  • Paul Beaton, Scottish Government 
  • Natalie McLaughin, Scottish Government
  • Peter Donachie, Secretariat 
  • Emily Aitchison, Secretariat

Items and actions


Louise Long welcomed attendees to a deep dive session on data and intelligence to support the workforce. No amendments were received to the note of the leadership group’s last meeting on 20 June.

Key messages to date from research on children’s services reform

Professor Brigid Daniel introduced the session. The research aims to gather evidence to inform decision-making on the delivery of children’s services in light of the proposed introduction of the national care service. Reports have been published covering two of the research strands – a rapid evidence review; and case studies of transformational reform programmes. Reports on the other two strands – a statistical analysis mapping integration and associated outcomes across Scotland; and the children’s services workforce experiences of supporting children, young people and families will be published over the next few months. The research will test out the concepts and underlying assumptions for integration of services and which aspects of integration are proving most valuable. As part of this, the research will provide better understanding of the different high level structures and the local arrangements and networks to promote and support interdisciplinary working and other fundamental components of integration.

Heather Ottaway and Alex McTier presented the main findings on workforce issues from the research to date. The eighty-seven papers covered by the rapid evidence review focused mainly on service or team integration rather than macro-level systems integration. The five country case studies of transformational reform did focus on systems level programmes in different contexts and settings. 

The key messages were as follows:

  • relationships should be at the centre through holistic practice with children and families and understanding their needs in the round. This requires building workforce confidence and capabilities through training and development
  • partnership working is essential to building these relationships and requires committed, skilled transformational leadership at all levels with clarity of vision and communication with a well-founded theory of change and operationalisation work. It also requires a shared culture amongst professionals. This takes time, support and resources to develop
  • evidence from workforce experiences of integration reinforce the need for a shared vision and goals; effective communication and infrastructure to support and sustain integration including shared IT systems and data sharing. Staff often viewed integration positively particularly at team or service level but the process has impacts on stress levels and already high workloads. It is therefore crucial to prioritise staff wellbeing; pay attention to caseloads; and provide sufficient time, support and resources
  • recruitment and retention were persistent challenges across the case study countries irrespective of their particular approaches to integration. Good workforce planning with access to high-quality workforce data is essential but none of the case study countries had fully managed to address recruitment and retention issues
  • there is a complex relationship between integration and outcomes. There was a lack of evidence in the case studies specifically linking aims of transformational change to measurable outcomes for children, families and the workforce. Definitively identifying cause and effect was also problematic. For example, in some of the case study countries there had been a greater take-up of preventative services following integration and slight reduction in child protection cases. However, it was difficulty to wholly attribute this to integration given other important factors such as changes in socio-economic contexts

Heather concluded by noting that the research evidence showed the need to stay the course with integration: transformational reform takes a long time to develop and implement and even longer to determine the positive impacts.

Workforce development group – priorities, actions and outcomes for the year ahead

Paul Beaton and Natalie McLaughlin summarised the outputs from the workforce development group’s planning day on 2 August. Members reflected on what has worked well to date; what could be improved; and what the group’s actions and outcomes should be for the next 12-18 months. Suggestions included:

  • mapping of work already underway within Scottish Government and national and local partners to support the workforce including workforce wellbeing, recruitment and retention. This will help to identify gaps in support and the need for the workforce development group. It will also assist in providing better oversight, sequencing and prioritisation of legislative and policy development and delivery
  • refresh of the common core of skills, knowledge and understanding and values for the children’s workforce. This will help to integrate learning and professional development and reinforce the links between GIRFEC, UNCRC incorporation and keeping the promise
  • workforce input in relation to the development of the promise plan 2024-30
  • support for workforce wellbeing including lessons learned from initiatives taking place in other sectors
  • consideration and support for workforce issues arising from the Verity House Agreement

The discussions at the planning day emphasised that the workforce cevelopment group needs to have a clearer purpose; a more focused and deliverable action plan; and more positive impact. The outputs from the session will be considered further with members and used to develop a plan for the next stages of work and updated terms of reference

Discussion Session

Members made the following comments in discussion:

  • the research should be used to help shape the workforce development group’s future purpose and action plan particularly in relation to workforce wellbeing, capability and confidence
  • the key messages from the research are familiar to practitioners and show that the main building blocks are already in place in Scotland.  They also suggest that the most important factors in improving outcomes are not centred in structures but in how staff across services work holistically with each other and children and families. There is a risk of more time and energy being spent on structural and associated accountability issues than the other factors identified in the research
  • the research also highlights where improvements need to be made including better use of data and intelligence. Relationship building; development of holistic practices and partnership working continue to be crucial areas for further work. Given the emphasis on multi-agency working for many years through GIRFEC, it is disappointing that improvements are still required. GIRFEC, children’s services planning and other levers should be better utilised to promote and support relationship building, holistic practices and partnership working
  • the workforce development group should identify actions that can help to address recruitment and retention issues including creating greater parity across the different workforces
  • the impact of change fatigue on the workforces was clearly recognised and the proposed work on sequencing and prioritisation was welcomed. There are good opportunities to better integrate guidance, training and development for staff as part of this work
  • consideration should be given to how best to empower frontline staff as part of work on confidence and capacity building. A good balance is needed between national support and guidance and facilitating professional expertise and practice at local level
  • national support should include integrated IT and data systems and other technical assistance

Additional points from MS Teams Chat:

  • all the contributions so far that emphasise the unclear relationship between structure and outcomes are absolutely right - but we cannot ignore the need for clear and effective structures as one necessary enabler - alongside leadership; culture; ethos; practice and resources
  • interested to see if we can consider and frame CLPL for staff at all stages of their career to help support/deal with the concept of change fatigue

Final reflections 

Louise Long emphasised the need for the mapping exercise being undertaken by the workforce development group to encompass national, regional and local issues. The session had reinforced the need to further embed GIRFEC particularly in promoting multi-agency working and relationships with children and families; and improve approaches to data and intelligence.

Paul Beaton noted that the deep dive session and workforce development group planning day had helped to clarify priorities and actions. The workforce development group’s draft plan and revised terms of reference will be provided to leadership group for views. 

Date of next meeting 

The leadership group’s next meeting is on 12 September from 3.00 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. and will be a deep dive session on funding issues.

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