Children's services planning: guidance

Updated guidance (2020) for local authorities and health boards on exercising the functions conferred by Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.


1. This is the second edition of statutory guidance issued by Scottish Ministers under section 15 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (the Act). This revised guidance has been developed as a result of a public consultation which ran from 25 March 2019 to 17 June 2019, and will therefore relate to Children’s Services Plans from 1 April 2020 onwards. 

2. This guidance provides local authorities and health boards, working in partnership with other public bodies and organisations, with information and advice about how they should exercise the functions conferred by Part 3 (Children’s Services Planning) of the Act. 

3. Part 3 of the Act seeks to improve outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland by ensuring that local planning and delivery of services is integrated, focused on securing quality and value through preventative approaches, and dedicated to safeguarding, supporting and promoting child wellbeing. It aims to ensure that any action to meet need is taken at the earliest appropriate time and that, where appropriate, this is taken to prevent need arising. To this end, Part 3 sets out a legal framework for children’s services planning, including its scope and aims.

4. While overall responsibility for children’s services planning clearly rests with a local authority and its relevant health board[1] (i.e. the territorial health board in whose area the local authority falls), it is expected that they will work collaboratively with other members of the Community Planning Partnership (CPP), as well as with children, young people and their families at various stages of the plan’s development and review. 

5. All persons and organisations named in section 15(2) of the Act are required to have regard to this guidance when carrying out their functions in respect of children’s services planning. Compliance with the duties described herein will be monitored through informal reviews of “Children’s Services Plans” and reports (carried out by Scottish Ministers), and joint inspections of children’s services. 

6. Section 8(1) of the Act requires every local authority and its relevant health board to jointly prepare a Children’s Services Plan for the area of the local authority, in respect of each three-year period. The Scottish Government will review all Children’s Services Plans between April and October of the year of submission. CPPs will receive written feedback on their individual plans following the review. The Scottish Government will also provide an analytical evaluation report which will provide an overview of the findings of all of the plans. Appendix A provides criteria which the plans will be reviewed against. 

7. The ten-step approach suggested by the Care Inspectorate in Appendix B is based on findings of Scotland-wide joint inspections of services for children and young people about what makes for successful children’s services planning. The iterative process outlined is intended to help partners in the development of the plan, its implementation and annual progress reporting, and has been updated as part of the review of this guidance.

8. This guidance is designed to support effective children’s services planning by clarifying national requirements and expectations while at the same time not being overly prescriptive as to how these should be met. Community Planning Partners and the strategic group they task with leading on children’s services planning should agree priorities based on a joint local needs assessment and related improvement activities likely to make the most positive difference to the wellbeing and life chances of children and young people in the area they serve. 

9. Where appropriate, this guidance does illustrate how duties may be fulfilled, but these are suggestions only. However, it is expected that all actions, activity and initiatives are aligned with, and seek to deliver the ambitions contained in the National Performance Framework (NPF) as seen below.

National Performance Framework
Our Purpose, Values and National Outcomes

National Performance Framework - Our Purpose, Values and National Outcomes

10. The National Performance Framework articulates the vision of creating a more successful country. It sets out the purpose of ensuring opportunities for all people in Scotland to flourish through increased wellbeing and sustainable, inclusive economic growth (focused on reducing inequalities and giving equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress). Driving progress on the vision set out in the National Performance Framework is crucial to ensuring Scotland is the best place to grow up, and in turn ensuring our youngest citizens have the best start is crucial to ensuring the future success of our country. 

11. The National Performance Framework sets out eleven ‘national outcomes’ we collectively need to work towards across Scotland in order to fulfil the purpose of creating a more successful country. All of the national outcomes are interlinked, and are all crucial to improving the lives of children and young people. 

12. Linked to the National Performance Framework, the Scottish Government is currently developing a set of Wellbeing Outcomes for children, young people and their families in order to both provide coherence to Scottish Government policy intended to improve the lives of children and young people, and support joint working between national and local government and other delivery partners. Further information and guidance on this will be issued separately.

13. This statutory guidance has been developed to assist the professionals and community representatives involved in children’s services planning, but it will also be of interest to individuals and organisations involved in the delivery of services, as these have the potential to be directly affected by the process.

14. The Children’s Services Plan is set within, what is recognised as, a complex planning and reporting landscape and has links to a number of other planning responsibilities and reports. In particular, since the Local Outcome Improvement Plans (LOIPs) for most Community Planning Partnerships include ambitions that in some way seek to improve wellbeing and life chances for children and young people, the Children’s Services Plan can assist partners to achieve these aspirations. In addition, the understanding of local needs and circumstances that are developed to inform Local Outcome Improvement Plans and Locality Plans, can also underpin the strategic needs assessments which CPPs undertake for their Children’s Services Plan. This guidance will also be useful to those involved in other strategic planning processes, enabling links and synergies to be identified. 

15. A table showing the planning and reporting landscape is captured in Appendix C, although this is not exhaustive and definitive.

16. Persons and organisations involved in children’s services planning should be familiar with all the duties set out in Part 3, and how these interact with each other, and other relevant duties set out elsewhere (either in the Act or other legislation). As such, it is important that this guidance is read as a whole. 

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

17. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 19 February 2014, and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2014. The legislation is a key part of the Scottish Government’s strategy for making Scotland the best place to grow up. 

18. By facilitating a shift in public services towards the early years of a child’s life, and towards early intervention whenever a family or child needs help, the legislation encourages preventative measures, rather than crisis responses. Underpinned by the Scottish Government’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC), and the national children’s services improvement programme, Getting it right for every child, the Act also established a new legal framework within which services are to work together in support of children, young people and families. 

Children’s Rights 

19. Children’s rights and wellbeing are both central to the Act, and implementation of the UNCRC is central to making Scotland the best place to grow up. 

20. The UNCRC is one of the core United Nations (UN) human rights treaties. It sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities and is recognised internationally as the “gold standard” on children’s rights. The Scottish Government respects and protects the UNCRC rights to help deliver its aim that children grow up loved, safe and respected, so that they reach their full potential. 

21. The Scottish Government is committed to incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law by the end of this Parliamentary Session in Spring 2021. Incorporation of the UNCRC seeks to ensure that there is a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. This will mean that children, young people and their families will experience public bodies consistently acting to uphold the rights of all children in Scotland. In developing the Children’s Services Plan, it may therefore be helpful to consider how this could secure better or further effect the UNCRC requirements.

Getting It Right For Every Child

22. A Children’s Services Plan should also reflect the ecological approach commonly used in planning support for individual children using the values and principles of Getting it right for every child. That is to say that a Children’s Services Plan should place individual children at its centre, and consider services and support for those children individually, support for their wider families (this may include links to services for adults), community assets and then finally more specialist services. The plan should describe how these preventative supports build up as required, according to local priorities, through early intervention and onto specialist services. The Children’s Services Plan should at all times reflect the joined up nature of this ecological approach and how the right support will be delivered by the right people at the right time. 

23. The diagram below provides a graphic of the ecological model and demonstrates the child at the centre. The diagram reads from the inside out with support closest to the child and illustrates: 

  • Family and community provide everyday support and care
  • Universal provision supports development and builds resilience 
  • Additional support works to overcome disadvantage and supports learning 
  • Specialist help addresses more complex needs that impact health and wellbeing
  • Compulsory intervention ensures action to overcome adversity and risk

This diagram provides a graphic of the ecological model and demonstrates the child at the centre.

24. A Children’s Services Plan should explain how CPPs will plan and deliver local services for children and young people at all levels of the ecological model. 

25. Planning alone will not, of course, bring about the transformational change needed in the design and delivery of public services in Scotland. As the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services (“the Christie Commission”) noted, that requires an investment in people and the empowerment of communities too. But joined-up, evidence-based, strategic planning is the catalyst; without it, effective and sustainable public services will remain always the ambition, and not the reality. 

26. Scottish public services are continuing to face a number of challenges, with pressure growing for them to do “more with less”, and in ways which require new partnerships and cultures. Changing demography and persistent inequality are fuelling demand for support, while at the same time public spending is increasingly constrained.[2] In the foreword to his 2011 report on the future delivery of public services in Scotland, Dr Campbell Christie noted that:[3] 

“If we are to have effective and sustainable public services capable of meeting the challenges ahead […]:

  • Reforms must empower individuals and communities receiving public services by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use; 
  • Public service providers must be required to work much more closely in partnership, to integrate service provision and thus improve the outcomes they achieve;
  • We must prioritise expenditure on public services which prevent negative outcomes from arising;
  • And our whole system of public services – public, third and private sectors – must become more efficient by reducing duplication and sharing services wherever possible.”

27. Part 3 aims to facilitate the shift to this future state, requiring local authorities and health boards to take a strategic approach to the design and delivery of a wider view of services used by children and families than those set out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. The duties set out in Part 3 establish aspects of the framework within which public bodies will work, with partners, to ensure services are organised and equipped to Get it right for every child, no matter what their start in life or current circumstances. 

28. A Children’s Services Plan should tell a story so that communities can clearly see how people’s wellbeing will be improved in that local area. Although the legislation does not prescribe a complete ‘strategic commissioning’[4] process (restricting itself to duties related to the aims, preparation, implementation and review of a plan), children’s services planning should be seen as a driver towards the development of local commissioning processes which are based on robust information about needs, costs and quality, and ongoing engagement with service users and the wider community.[5] 

29. In order to do this, children’s services planning will need to incorporate a number of distinct but interdependent processes, all of which sit within the “analyse-plan-do-review” cycle of good strategic planning. These include: 

(i) undertaking a detailed, joint, strategic assessment of the current position (population needs, community assets, service resources, etc.);

(ii) identifying and agreeing a manageable number of priorities, linked clearly and explicitly to the population need assessment;

(iii) establishing a clear, ambitious, shared vision of what will be achieved by the end of the plan (i.e. the outcomes you aim to deliver);

(iv) developing sets of outcome indicators (i.e. how progress will be measured);

(v) agreeing what activities (services, interventions, etc.) will be delivered in order to realise that vision, on the basis of detailed cost-benefit analysis (including of existing services);

(vi) deciding, through a coherent and transparent process, how those activities will be resourced over the course of the plan (specifying which areas will see disinvestment in order to facilitate the shift of resources towards preventative and early intervention options);

(vii) presenting this information in an easily accessible format, for consultation with service users, staff, service providers and other stakeholders. Following feedback, publishing a plan which details, clearly, the actions which will be taken, by whom, and when;[6]

(viii) holding persons to account for delivery of activities, with governance over implementation of the plan embedded in existing structures (for example through Community Planning Partnerships); and

(ix) monitoring progress through a structured process of review and refinement, making sure the plan (with its outcomes and deliverables) continues to fit the context (needs, resources, etc.) which it seeks to affect. 

30. Having a well-planned, structured approach to improvement will give a better chance of plans being successful. The Three Step Improvement Framework for Scotland's Public Services outlines the improvement approach being taken forward in Scotland. Quality Improvement (QI) in the context of children’s services plans involves a systematic approach to improving services and achieving better outcomes for the children and young people in Scotland.

31. At the heart of the Quality Improvement Journey is ‘The Model for Improvement’  - a simple yet powerful tool for accelerating improvement. This model offers the following benefits:

  • It is a simple approach 
  • It reduces risk by starting small
  • It can be used to help with planning, developing and implementing change

32. Support to take a ‘Quality Improvement Approach’ can be sought from the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative (CYPIC) team within Scottish Government. The Improvement Advisors in this team link into all Community Planning Partnerships.  Online resources and development programmes are also available and Appendix E has a link to these.

33. Local government and public bodies have also long understood the benefits of flexible working and have already built extensive networks of collaboration and partnership between themselves, and with other sectors. Part 3 seeks to build on these networks, strengthening and clarifying the arrangements through which partners will work together to understand the needs of their populations, and develop the services and approaches proven to have the most significant positive impact for communities. 

34. Children’s services planning will, therefore, be an ongoing process, within which the ‘plan’ is only a component, not the end in itself. At various stages of the planning process, local authorities and health boards will want to provide staff, children and their families, other service providers and the wider community, with opportunities to participate, providing their insight to help inform decision making, and facilitating a sense of shared ownership of the plan.


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