Children and Families: National Leadership Group minutes - 23 January 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Government group on 23 January 2024

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Long(co-chair), SOLACE
  • Lynne McNiven, Directors of Public Health
  • Tracy Davis, Child Health Commissioners

  • Lynda Fenton, Public Health Scotland

  • Neil Hunter, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Sheena Devlin ADES

  • Chris Lumb, Care Inspectorate

  • Laura Lamb, Scottish Social Services Council 

  • Alison Gordon, Social Work Scotland

  • Vivien Thomson, Social Work Scotland

  • Carol Wassell, Children’s Hearings Scotland

  • Carron McKellar, Police Scotland

  • Fraser McKinlay, The Promise

  • Tam Baillie, Child Protection Committees Scotland

  • Mary Glasgow, CCPS

  • Bob Fraser, Disabled Children and Young People’s Advisory Group

  • Andrew Watson (co-chair), Scottish Government

  • Joanna Macdonald, Scottish Government

  • Bryony Revell, Scottish Government

  • Peter Donachie, Scottish Government

  • Emily Aitchison, Scottish Government

  • Angela Latta, Scottish Government

  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government

Items and actions


Andrew Watson welcomed attendees to the meeting.  The original aim had been to have an in-person planning session but circumstances had prevented this. The in-person session will be arranged for later in the year.

The group’s last meeting had included a session on UNCRC incorporation and the bill had now received royal assent. UNCRC implementation will be one of the key issues for the group during 2024.

The note of the group’s last meeting on 13 December had been issued to members on 15 January and no amendments had been made.

Members’ views on key issues for group in 2024

The co-chairs opened the discussion by providing their views on the group’s priorities for the year ahead. Brigid Daniel and Heather Ottoway from CELCIS will be attending the group’s next meeting on 19 February to discuss the outcomes of the children’s services reform research. This will be an important session in helping to scope out the group’s work programme. Although decisions have still to be made on Governance and structural issues for children’s services in relation to the national care service, the research makes clear there are a number of important issues where improvements can be made in the meantime. These include supporting the workforce; leadership culture; improving data and information sharing; and strengthening prevention and early intervention.

The co-chairs also highlighted family support issues with whole family wellbeing funding continuing to be an essential cross-cutting area of work. 

The following points were made in discussion:

  • providing a stable financial framework will be crucial for sustainability of services and progressing improvement and reform. The group has previously discussed identifying disinvestment/investment opportunities to help shift resources towards prevention and early intervention. Further work needs to take place to identify quick wins and longer term objectives to sustain services particularly in relation to whole family wellbeing funding. More work is also required to build on the Verity House Agreement and improve funding flexibilities by reducing the compartmentalisation of funding streams. In addition, there needs to be greater connectivity with action to tackle child poverty
  • the focus on workforce should cover both children’s services social work and the wider workforce providing support to children, young people and families. Specific areas of activity include the refresh of the common core framework of skills, knowledge, understanding and values for the children’s services workforce. The workforce development group will advise on the revised framework and it will be provided to the leadership group for agreement
  • it was agreed that UNCRC implementation issues will be a key focus for the leadership group and related groups. It will be essential to ensure that UNCRC implementation results in practical actions to reduce inequalities. This includes interdependencies between article 23 of the UNCRC and support and delivery for disabled children and young people through the education (additional support for learning) act; and specialist services in health and other areas
  • keeping the promise will remain a high priority for the group. Plan 24-30 is being developed over the first part of the year for planned publication in the summer while the Scottish Government is producing the next iteration of its promise implementation plan
  • specific issues raised relating to family support include bairns’ hoose governance; child protection (including future support for self-evaluation of child protection committees; and inspection, scrutiny and assurance for social care support and linked services); and transitions. Other issues considered was support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. 

Members discussed improving the leadership group’s ways of working. There needs to be a stronger focus on issues where the eadership group can make a demonstrable impact; fewer priorities; and less time spent on items provided predominantly for information. This requires those presenting at meetings to have clearer asks for leadership group advice and intervention.  

Short life group on children and young people affected by a family member in prison or custody: final report and next steps

Angela Latta presented the final report of the short life group on children and young people affected by a family member in prison or custody together with a summary of next steps. The group had been set up in 2022 by the former Covid-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group to understand the experience and impact on children and young people, explore types of support, and make recommendations for improvement. The group’s remit had subsequently been extended to encompass secure care and sibling relationships. 

The group’s work had highlighted the significant numbers of children and young people being impacted by family members in prison or custody. An estimated 20,000-27,000 children and young people are being affected by parental imprisonment and even more by imprisonment of a sibling. The group has made the following recommendations to support these children and young people:

Recommendation 1 - in line with our national practice model, adopt a rights-respecting trauma informed approach to child planning for children affected by the imprisonment of a family member

Recommendation 2 - incorporate the This is Me toolkit into the assessment and planning process to ensure proper consideration of the child’s needs and rights.  (The next steps work will include aligning and adapting the toolkit to the Scottish legislative and policy context)

Recommendation 3 - improve the wellbeing of both adults and children, by identifying parents and siblings within the prison and secure population and ensuring their rights to a sustained and healthy relationship are supported and fulfilled

Recommendation 4 - support the right to family life by promoting consistent opportunities for children to have relationships with parents and siblings in secure care or prison, where it is in the child’s best interests.

The following “asks” were being made of leadership group:

  • approve the final report and summary of follow-on work
  • raise awareness of the issue and this report - along with the Staying Connected research by families outside and Scottish children’s reporter administration - within your organisation and across your networks
  • indicate interest in joining the advisory group to be set up to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and next steps

The following points were made in discussion:

  • greater join-up between justice, education, health and other services will be essential for implementing the recommendations. As part of this, the next steps work needs to ensure as much support as possible can be delivered through universal provision given the pressures on mental health and other specialised services.  As the next steps summary indicates, embedding the work within GIRFEC and the national trauma training programme will be crucial to achieving this objective. Opportunities for links with UNCRC implementation should also be identified
  • consideration should be given to integrating the training and professional development aspects of the next steps work with wider issues in this area including the review of the common core
  • the next steps summary refers to “piloting” the This is Me toolkit. Given the work that has already taken place, a stronger drive to implement the approach should be taken
  • buy-in from the Scottish prison service and Judiciary will be key to success. These sectors need to be represented on the advisory group and work undertaken with locally based sheriffs
  • implementation work should also encompass and take account of specific communities and groups of people as well as settings. 

The leadership group agreed to endorse the report and follow-up work subject to the points made above being included.

Scottish Government response to hearings for children: the redesign report 

Tom McNamara summarised the Scottish Government’s response to Hearings for Scotland :The Redesign Report published on and outlined the next phases of work.

The response highlighted that the vision and ambition of hearings for Scotland: The redesign report broadly aligned with the policy trajectory and longer-term aspirations of the Scottish Government. The response reinforced these links by placing future work on the redesign of children’s hearings within the wider context and sequencing of the Government’s major legislative and policy changes including the children (care and justice) (Scotland) bill; UNCRC incorporation; and whole family wellbeing funding.

The Scottish Government had accepted, or indicated that there would be further evidence or consultation required in respect of, 131 of the 138 recommendations and sub-recommendations made in hearings for Scotland: The redesign report. The remaining seven recommendations had in general not been accepted for either legal or affordability reasons – in respect of most of them there was no difficulty with the objective or intention, but with the particular expression of the recommendation. There were specific queries on the recommendation for a salaried Chair and remunerated panel members. Tom responded that, while the recommendation had not been accepted, the issues raised regarding recruitment, capacity and specialisation will certainly be explored further.  Alternative options will be developed for consultation, including those with a remuneration element.

A children’s hearings redesign board has been set up to provide oversight for the next phase of work and had its first meeting on 18 January. The board is being co-chaired by Scottish Government and CoSLA with members drawn from social work Scotland, children’s hearings Scotland and Scottish children’s reporter administration. A key part of the board’s work will be to align and prioritise implementation of the recommendations. A public consultation on legislative policy proposals is due to take place over the Summer.

In discussion, members emphasised the need for children’s hearings redesign to link with and take account of wider work on child protection measures; mental health support; and support for learning. There are also clear links to UNCRC implementation in promoting children and young people’s rights and voice and improving relationship based practices.      

Final reflections and date of next meeting

Andrew Watson suggested that a stronger layering approach should be taken to the Group’s work programme. This would encompass system wide issues (e.g. future sustainability of services); and more specific issues where advice and intervention is required.    

The date of the next meeting is 19 February with a session on the outcomes of the Childrens Services Reform Research Reports

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