Children (Equal Protection From Assault) (Scotland) Bill implementation group minutes: August 2018

Minutes of the group set up to consider actions if proposed changes to the law on physical punishment are agreed by Parliament.

Attendees and apologies

In attendance

  • Simon Stockwell (chair)
  • Calista Hobart, Sarah Meanley, Maria Gray, Leona Solley  - Scottish Government
  • Chloe Riddell - Children 1st
  • Mike Callaghan - Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
  • Clare Arias - Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Servic
  • Superintendent David Pettigrew - Police Scotland
  • Malcolm Schaffer - Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration
  • Angela Latta - Social Work Scotland


  • Megan Farr - Children and Young Persons’ Commissioner
  • Clare Simpson - Parenting Across Scotland

Items and actions


1. Those present at the meeting introduced themselves.  It was noted that the purpose of the Group was to consider implementation tasks if the proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill should be agreed by Parliament.

Brief update on the progress of the proposed Bill

2. The meeting noted that the Bill was expected to be introduced early in September 2018.  [Secretary’s note: the Bill was introduced on 6 September]

3. The Scottish Government supported removing the existing defence for parents.

Terms of reference for implementation group

4. The draft terms of reference at Annex A (below) were agreed.

Suggestions of other representatives to join Implementation Group

5. The following bodies were suggested:

  • health – specifically health visitors
  • local government – Children’s Services
  • young people – Scottish Youth Parliament

6. The Scottish Government would follow these up, as appropriate.  [Action: Scottish Government].

Implementation tasks

7. The meeting heard from various bodies represented on the Implementation Group about potential implementation tasks and costs.

Police Scotland

8. Police Scotland indicated that they did not foresee significant costs to them.  The main task would be amending training packages for new recruits and updating training for existing officers.

9. Police Scotland would discuss with Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) whether Lord Advocate’s guidelines would be necessary.

Social Work

10. Social Work Scotland considered:

  • the Bill could lead to an increase in referrals both for children allocated to a social worker and unknown children.  This could place pressure, particularly on intake teams
  • they expected that some of this will relate to families with no prior history with Social Work Services
  • without clear guidance this could also impact on the number of discussions taking place between social work, police and health (initial referral discussion)
  • an increase in the number of physical punishment cases, which perhaps in the past have not met the threshold for social work referrals, could impact on other cases dealt with by Social Work, simply due to the time to assess each case on its own merit and ensure safety
  • there was a need for clear professional guidance for social work and other professionals on how to deal with these cases.  It is important teachers, health visitors and school nurses etc have a clear understanding of when to refer a case and how they may be able to manage the situation within their own service. A focus on preventative services which work to avoid situations from escalating, mitigating a need for referral to social work services is key. A public information campaign is essential to avoid onerous referrals to social work service. Any proposal to refer such cases for ‘parenting support’ under a diversion scheme would need to be mindful that such a service does not currently exist within social work services today.  Where parenting support is provided this is not set up as a diversion from prosecution and so the service does not currently exist and there would be significant cost implications.  We would be unlikely to suggest that any such scheme would be beneficial in terms of what we know about motivation and outcomes
  • consideration needs to be given to any part of the act which may inadvertently unfairly impact on parents with learning difficulties or victims of domestic abuse.  They are extremely complex cases and we would want to avoid criminalising parents in any case, but especially in such

11. It was agreed that the next meeting of the implementation group could consider:

  • potential guidance for social work and other agencies
  • public-facing information on the proposed change to the law

12. The Scottish Government would include these items on the agenda for the next meeting of the group.  [Action: Scottish Government].

13. Examples from social work of the type of guidance they would like to see would be helpful.  [Action: Social Work Scotland].

14. On public-facing information, resources were very tight but the Scottish Government has identified a budget of £20,000.  More generally, if the law should be changed, the Scottish Government would issue a circular.

Children 1st

15. Children 1st noted that there was a need generally – regardless of the Bill – to provide more support for parents and families through, for example, helplines.

Scottish Children Reporters Administration (SCRA)

16. SCRA said:

  • while all forms of physical punishment will become an offence that does not mean that a referral to the reporter would be appropriate in every case
  • SCRA could raise awareness amongst police officers of SCRA guidance but, inevitably, police officers move posts
  • health and educational professionals can also make reports to SCRA.  It would be important for them to exercise discretion.  This should be part of any guidance/information produced for them

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)

 17. COPFS noted it was hard to predict how many more cases it would deal with.

Diversion from prosecution

18. The implementation group discussed diversions from prosecution and noted the following points:

  • decisions on whether or not to divert a person from prosecution were entirely a matter for COPFS, under the direction of the Lord Advocate
  • decisions were specific to each case
  • there was both early intervention support in place and provision which may be suitable when a person is diverted from prosecution
  • the SG should give consideration to mapping currently available parent support in applying positive methods of parenting their children.  [Action: Scottish Government] 

Monitoring the impact of the Bill

19. The implementation group discussed whether any statistics could be produced which would help monitor the impact of the Bill.

20. Social Work Scotland noted that:

  • cases arising as a consequence of this Bill would show in their statistics as an increase in physical assault numbers.  Local authorities already give data to the Scottish Government every August.  These form the basis of the annual child protection statistics
  • local authorities would also be able to provide statistics on ‘reason for referral’ to social work.

 21. Police Scotland noted that:

  • the recording mechanism is on a national IT system
  • the option to record an ‘incident’ without automatically logging it as a crime

Date of next meeting

22. The Scottish Government would organise the next meeting and advise members accordingly.  [Action: Scottish Government].

Annex A: draft terms of reference

To advise on what implementation work is needed if the proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, being promoted by John Finnie MSP, is approved by the Scottish Parliament.

In particular, the Group is to advise on:

  • how best to raise awareness of any new legislation
  • consideration of how services will respond to incidents of physical punishment
  • whether any guidance is needed for the public on reporting incidents
  • whether any additional parenting support is needed and how this could be provided
  • how the impact of the legislation could be monitored
  • any other relevant points

The Group is also to consider:

  • who should carry out the various implementation tasks
  • the timings of the various implementation tasks
  • the costs of and savings arising from the various implementation tasks

Membership of the Group

  • Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland
  • Children 1st 
  • Convention of Scottish Local Authorities 
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service 
  • Parenting Across Scotland 
  • Police Scotland 
  • Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration
  • Social Work Scotland 

 Agenda and minutes

The agenda and agreed minutes of the Implementation Group will be published. 

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