Information

Child contact services - regulation: consultation

The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to regulate child contact centres. This consultation seeks views on various aspects of what regulation of child contact centres would look like.


Part 3: Staff and volunteer training standards

Introduction

3.1. This part of the consultation seeks views on:

  • what minimum standard should be laid down in regulations for the training that contact centre staff and volunteers should receive.

3.2. Establishing minimum standards in relation to training will help ensure staff and volunteers have the appropriate training to facilitate contact services safely and to help ensure the best outcomes for children and families using child contact centre services.

Background

3.3. In Scotland, the child contact centre sector has evolved over a number of years. Individual services have been developed by charitable organisations to meet a demand and this has led to there being a diverse range of services, in terms of size, structure, staffing and the types of services that are offered.

3.4. We understand that across all 45 child contact centres in Scotland there are approximately 320 members of staff, including volunteers and those working on a temporary basis. Recent figures provided by Relationships Scotland[20] show that they have approximately 152 paid workers and 128 voluntary workers across their member services.

3.5. The number of full-time members of staff at child contact centres will vary across the sector. Many centres are only open, or only use premises, at certain times of the week or weekends, and may only operate for a limited number of hours. Therefore many staff and volunteers across the sector will work on a part-time or on a temporary basis.

3.6. There are also a range of different roles that staff and volunteers may undertake when working at a child contact centre. There are, for example, managers, contact co-ordinators, intake workers, family support workers and administrative staff. Many existing staff and volunteers will already have completed training in certain areas and may have a range of relevant experience.

3.7. The Scottish Government recognises that there may be additional costs for child contact centre providers in ensuring their staff and volunteers have and maintain the minimum standards of training. The Scottish Government would expect to provide financial support to providers to help them meet the required standards. Estimated costs were included as part of the Financial Memorandum[21] that accompanied the Children (Scotland) Bill.

3.8. As noted previously in relation to accommodation standards, should the Scottish Ministers decide to tender a contract for child contact centre provision, one option may be to reflect in the contract that child contact centre providers may need resources to meet the cost of ensuring their staff and volunteers meet the training standards.

Children (Scotland) Act 2020

3.9. Section 10(3) of the 2020 Act inserts new section 101C on contact services regulation into the 1995 Act. Section 101C(2)(a) allows the Scottish Ministers by regulations to make provision for the minimum standards to be met by contact service providers, including qualifications and training of staff.

3.10. Section 101C(2)(f) gives the Scottish Ministers the power to appoint a body to oversee child contact centre regulation and section 101C(2)(g) empowers Ministers to confer functions on the appointed body. This will help ensure the minimum standards of staff training are met by child contact providers. It is envisaged the functions conferred on the appointed body would include carrying out regular inspections, scrutinising staff practice and training, issuing reports on the inspections, and handling complaints.

3.11. Under section 101C(3)(b) the functions conferred on the appointed body may also include having risk assessments of child contact centres undertaken by persons trained in undertaking such assessments.

3.12. As a result of the changes made by the 2020 Act, the regulation of child contact centres could include provision on qualifications of staff. The Scottish Government recognises that certain types of training may include some level of qualification, but this consultation does not ask about specific qualifications. The focus of the regulation of child contact centres is on ensuring staff are adequately trained in particular areas, rather than on any specific qualifications they should have.

What minimum standards should be laid down in regulations for training of child contact centre staff and volunteers

Existing situation

3.13. Child contact services should be facilitated in way that is safe and ensures the best outcomes for children. Staff and volunteers have an important role in helping to facilitate contact between children and parents or other adults who use child contact centre services.

3.14. Staff and volunteers will be on-hand during contact sessions to help ensure the safety of those involved and for supervised contact a member of staff will be with the child at all times. Child contact services also have a general duty of care in respect of their premises and users. However, staff are not responsible for the care of children during contact sessions, since responsibility remains primarily with the adults involved in the contact arrangement.

3.15. We understand that there is a move towards more permanent staff being employed at child contact centres. However, contact service providers are likely to continue their reliance on volunteers and temporary workers. The Scottish Government recognises that while training is important for all child contact centre workers, whether paid or voluntary, the minimum standards for volunteers and temporary workers should be proportionate.

3.16. Contact service providers say they have seen an increase in the complexity of issues facing families using their centres in recent years: for example, mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse and addiction issues. This means child contact centre staff often have to handle challenging situations and work with vulnerable children.

3.17. Although there is currently no national or external regulation of child contact centres, existing services have internal policies and practices in place in terms of staff practice and training. For example, Relationships Scotland set out in their written submission[22] to the Justice Committee during Stage 1 of the Children (Scotland) Bill that there is a set of national policies and Standards and Practice Procedures for Child Contact Centres for the network, which cover matters such as staff training, the PVG scheme[23], and quality assurance.

3.18. Member services and associate services who are part of the Relationships Scotland network are all independent organisations. Member services enter into a Membership Agreement with Relationships Scotland agreeing to adopt the National Standards, policies and practice. The three independent child contact centres have their own policies and practices which they operate within.

3.19. In addition, each of the individual organisations currently providing child contact services is a registered charity and subject to the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) guidelines. OSCR would, for example, deal with complaints about the governance of the charity and would investigate any apparent misconduct in the administration of the charity.

Potential regulation

3.20. The regulation being proposed under the 2020 Act seeks to introduce national standards that will apply consistently across the sector and will ensure all services operate to the same minimum standards in relation to staff training. Regulation will not require existing services to change their charitable status and will not cut across any existing duties in this regard or any function of OSCR.

3.21. The functions which may be conferred on the body appointed for the purposes of administering the registration of contact service providers and child contact centres may include having risk assessments of centres undertaken by persons trained in undertaking such assessments.

3.22. We understand that many contact services carry out a risk assessment during the initial intake meeting with parents. This is to ensure that it is safe for that particular contact to take place at the centre. We also understand that such assessments are carried out by appropriately trained members of staff. However, practice may vary across the sector.

3.23. The analysis[24] of the consultation on Review of Part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 showed that respondents commonly felt that regulation of child contact centres was required to provide and maintain minimum and consistent standards across the country, and to ensure the safety of children. Some respondents highlighted that since child contact centres often have to deal with challenging situations and vulnerable children regulation was necessary. The current qualifications and training of staff was raised by a number of respondents who listed a range of training they considered child contact centre staff should have, including training on children's rights, domestic abuse, parental alienation, trauma, attachment and child protection.

3.24. The Care Inspectorate in its feasibility study report[25] set out that staff should have an understanding of the impact of negative practices and experiences on a child's health and wellbeing. It outlined that training should cover areas such as attachment theory, positive transitions, domestic abuse, adverse childhood experiences, trauma and brain development. The report also identified more specific areas, such as proficient recording and reporting on contact and ensuring contact visits are appropriate.

3.25. In the user survey carried out by Shared Parenting Scotland the comments showed that users felt staff should be friendly, impartial, trained and professional; they should provide help and support; and should be able to respond to children's needs and behaviours.

3.26. During the parliamentary passage of the Children (Scotland) Bill, the written and oral evidence provided by young people with experience of attending child contact centres set out that staff should be trained in how to support, talk to and listen to children, including where the child doesn't want to go into the contact session. Staff should also be trained to treat children and young people in a safe way and understand domestic abuse and how this affects the child and the abused parent.

3.27. There was also written evidence[26] informed by survivors of domestic abuse that risk assessments on contact taking place should be monitored throughout and with the involvement of the abused parent and child and that training is not the only element required to ensure staff are equipped to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse.

Proposal

3.28. The Scottish Government would expect child contact centre staff to undergo regular training to ensure they are aware of the latest understanding in key areas. We would expect training to be provided by experts in the relevant areas and using recognised training courses. However, the Scottish Government considers that it would be difficult to set out in standards the specific training courses that would be required as there may be a variety of courses available, which offer the same skills.

3.29. The costs estimated for staff training in the Financial Memorandum[27] were based on child contact centre staff requiring on average four days paid training a year. This was considered appropriate in order to strike a balance between ensuring regular training is provided and ensuring the training requirements are not overly burdensome. This recognises that some staff may only work on a voluntary or temporary basis and that some staff and volunteers will already have completed training in certain areas. The training costs would be recurring as requirements would be ongoing to ensure they remain current.

3.30. It may not be necessary or proportionate for all child contact centre staff to have training in every area that may be considered for the minimum standards and it may be necessary to apply different standards to different roles within the child contact centre. For example, the training standards that may be considered necessary for a child contact centre manager will be more extensive than for a member of staff in an administrative role.

3.31. In responses to the consultation on Review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, in the Care Inspectorate's report, and during the parliamentary passage of the Children (Scotland) Bill, a number of suggestions were put forward regarding the training that child contact centre staff should have. We consider the key areas staff and volunteers in child contact centres working with children and families should be trained in under the proposed standards (other than staff or volunteers carrying out administrative or maintenance roles) are:

  • child protection
  • understanding domestic abuse, particularly the dynamic of coercive control
  • understanding the ways adults can influence
  • working with families in conflict
  • responding to children's needs and behaviour
  • child development, including learning disabilities and developmental disorders
  • risk assessments
  • parental mental health
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • awareness of other services that are available for children and young people
  • observing supervised contact
  • proficient recording of contact
  • reporting on contact
  • complaints handling

3.32. The Scottish Government also proposes that all child contact centre staff and volunteers must have PVG scheme membership[28].

3.33. There were also a number of suggestions made regarding other areas that child contact centre staff should have when working with children and families. We consider that it may be desirable for certain staff at the child contact centre to have training in the following areas depending on their role, but that these wouldn't necessarily be required as minimum standards under the regulations:

  • an introduction to trauma
  • adverse childhood experiences[29]
  • positive transitions
  • attachment theory in child development
  • brain development
  • working with families where English is not their first language

3.34. The Scottish Government is aware that there are a number of other internal policies that child contact centres may require their staff to be trained on, some of which may relate to existing legal requirements. The Scottish Government would not plan to lay down minimum standards under the regulations in these areas, but would expect providers to ensure staff have an awareness and understanding of:

  • health and safety
  • equality and diversity
  • confidentiality /data protection/disclosure of information
  • anti-harassment
  • anti-bullying
  • medication and nutrition
  • disciplinary/whistleblowing
  • practicalities of child contact centre management/admissions

3.35. The Care Inspectorate put forward in its feasibility study report[30] that requiring paid staff at child contact centres to be registered with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)[31] could support the improvement of skills and understanding of best practice, which could improve the experiences and outcomes for children.

3.36. The Scottish Government understands that a condition of registration with the SSSC is that staff need to attain a relevant qualification. The Care Inspectorate report sets out that there would be a cost associated with SSSC registration as staff would have to pay an initial registration fee and also an annual fee. There are also SSSC Codes of Practice, which staff and employers must adhere to.

3.37. The Scottish Government is concerned that introducing a further layer of regulation and cost to the child contact service sector would be disproportionate for such a relatively small workforce. In addition to the standards being proposed under the 2020 Act, child contact centre providers also have their own policies and codes of practice. It is not clear that there would be significant benefits for children and parents using child contact centre services from SSSC registration. Also, SSSC registration would only be available to paid staff and based on the figures provided by Relationships Scotland[32] we understand that approximately 46% of their staff are unpaid and would therefore be ineligible.

3.38. For these reasons we do not consider it appropriate to include SSSC registration as a requirement for paid staff under the regulation of child contact services.

Question 10):

These are the key areas we consider staff and volunteers in child contact centres working with children and families should be trained in under the proposed standards (other than staff or volunteers carrying out administrative or maintenance roles).

Please rate each on whether you feel it should be: Required for all staff (except those in administrative roles), Desirable for some staff to complete, but not required for all staff, or Not required for any staff to complete.

  • child protection
  • understanding domestic abuse, particularly the dynamic of coercive control
  • understanding the ways adults can influence a child
  • working with families in conflict
  • responding to children's needs and behaviour
  • child development, including learning disabilities and developmental disorders
  • risk assessments
  • parental mental health
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • awareness of other services that are available for children and young people
  • proficient recording of contact
  • reporting on contact
  • observing supervised contact
  • complaints handling

Do you have any further comments regarding your selections?

Question 11)

These are the areas we consider that it may be desirable for certain staff at the child contact centre to have training in depending on their role, but wouldn't necessarily be required as minimum standards under the regulations.

Please rate each area on whether you feel it should be: Required for all staff as a minimum standard (except those in administrative roles), Desirable for some staff to complete, but not required for all staff, or Not required for any staff to complete.

  • an introduction to trauma
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • positive transitions
  • attachment theory in child development
  • brain development
  • working with families where English is not their first language

Do you have any further comments regarding your selections?

Question 12)

These are the areas we would not plan to lay down as minimum standards under the regulations, but we would expect providers to ensure that members of staff have an awareness and understanding.

For each area please indicate whether you Agree or Disagree with the proposed approach or if you Don't Know.

  • health and safety
  • equality and diversity
  • confidentiality/data protection/disclosure of information
  • anti-harassment
  • anti-bullying
  • medication and nutrition
  • disciplinary/whistleblowing
  • practicalities of child contact centre management/admissions

Do you have any further comments regarding your selections?

Question 13)

Are there any other areas that should be considered for child contact centre staff training standards?

Yes / No / Don't Know

Why did you select your answer? If you have answered yes, please list the areas you consider should be covered.

Monitoring staff training standards

3.39. In terms of monitoring the training standards, it is envisaged that the body appointed to oversee the regulation would be responsible for scrutiny of child contact services to ensure they meet these standards.

3.40. It is expected that in advance of the regulatory regime commencing, initial inspections of all child contact services and centres seeking to be registered would be carried out by the appointed person. This would include assessing whether staff and volunteers have received the training required under the standards for their particular roles.

3.41. Once registered as a regulated service, the person appointed would carry out regular routine inspections and this would include reviewing records on staff training and talking to managers and staff to ensure training standards are maintained.

3.42. It is envisaged that routine inspections would be carried out on a three yearly basis, unless particular concerns regarding a child contact centre have been raised that prompt an ad hoc inspection during the three year period.

3.43. If an inspection identifies that staff have not received the required training for their role, or their training has lapsed, we would expect the child contact centre provider to be given the opportunity to address this within an appropriate timeframe. Should a failure to meet the staff training standards continue, the child contact service could ultimately be removed from the register.

3.44. The Care Inspectorate identified in their report a team that could potentially take on responsibility for inspecting child contact services should the Care Inspectorate be appointed. They acknowledge that those staff would need to develop a knowledge and understanding of this sector and would require training in terms of their inspection teams' current specialisms given the nature of child contact services. It is intended that the person appointed to oversee child contact service regulation will have sufficient lead-in time from their appointment to when the regulations come into effect for such training to take place.

Question 14)

Do you agree/disagree with the proposed process for monitoring of training requirements?

Agree / Disagree / Don't Know

Why did you select your answer?

Contact

Email: family.law@gov.scot

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