Section 10: Children’s Services Plan – Process
75. Section 10 of the Act sets out requirements in respect of how a local authority and the relevant health board must engage and consult with other service providers, Scottish Ministers and other relevant persons in the development of a Children’s Services Plan. It also includes provisions regulating the publication of the Children’s Services Plan, and describes the steps which must be followed when Scottish Ministers or any other service provider disagrees with the plan (in relation to a service delivered by them).
Opportunity for other service providers and Scottish Ministers to participate in or contribute to the preparation of the plan
76. Under section 10(1)(a), when preparing a Children’s Services Plan a local authority and the relevant health board must:
“Give each of the other service providers and Scottish Ministers an effective opportunity (consistent with the extent to which the services they provide are to be subject of the Children’s Services Plan) to participate in or contribute to the preparation of the plan.”
77. The “other service providers” are set out in section 7(1) of the Act. Opportunities extended to Scottish Ministers under section 10(1)(a) (to participate or contribute in the preparation of the plan) are restricted to where they (Scottish Ministers) provide a service in the local area under the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989.
78. An “effective opportunity” is an opportunity which is both meaningful and practicable to the person(s) it is extended to. It is associated with things like
(a) giving persons appropriate advance notice of when they can participate or contribute, and (b) giving persons appropriate time and means by which to participate or contribute. What constitutes an “effective opportunity” will be contingent on the individual circumstances of each “other service provider” and Scottish Ministers, and in every case the opportunity provided should be consistent with that person’s level of involvement in the Children’s Services Plan (in respect of the number and/or types of services they provide which are covered by the plan).
79. The phrase “participate in or contribute to the preparation of the plan” covers a wide range of potential actions, from the provision of information and advice, through to active involvement in the discussions which underpin the development of a plan. As with “effective opportunity”, the appropriate scale and type of “participation or contribution” will be contingent on the individual circumstances of each “other service provider” and Scottish Ministers; in particular, the extent to which services they provide are covered by the Children’s Services Plan.
80. However, please note that under section 10(5) each of the “other service providers” is, and the Scottish Ministers are, obliged to participate in or contribute to the preparation of the Children’s Services Plan, in accordance with the opportunity given to them under section 10(1)(a). This means that “other service providers” and Scottish Ministers (to the extent that they provide children’s or related services in the local area) must take any “effective opportunity” extended to them by the local authority and relevant health board.
Consultation with relevant persons
81. Under section 10(1)(b) and section 10(2) of the Act, when preparing a Children’s Services Plan a local authority and the relevant health board must consult with:
(i) such organisations, whether or not formally constituted, which –
(a) represent the interests of people who use, or are likely to use, any children’s service or related service in the local authority area, or
(b) provide a service in the area which, if that service were provided by either the local authority, relevant health board, “other service provider” or Scottish Minsters, would be considered a children’s service or related service (under the definitions provided in section 7(1) of the Act);
(ii) such social landlords as appear to provide housing in the area of the local authority; and
(iii) such other persons as Scottish Ministers may by directions specify.
82. The reference to organisations which “represent the interests of people who use, or are likely to use, any children’s or related services” should be interpreted to mean any community group and third or private sector organisations which seek to represent the views, concerns and wishes of current and/or potential service users. These organisations may seek to represent the interests of all service users in the local area, or just a group thereof (such as those living within a specific locality). Examples of organisations which might fall into this category are advocacy groups for children with disabilities, youth or pupil councils, kinship carer groups, young carer groups, school parent councils/associations, etc.
83. The reference to organisations which “provide a service in the area” should be interpreted to mean those community groups and third or private sector organisations which provide services in the local area which are (a) wholly or mainly to, or for the benefit of, children and young people, or (b) capable of having a significant effect on the wellbeing of children. These organisations are likely to be diverse in their focus, size and constitution, encompassing large and small third sector organisations, and a variety of private sector enterprises. Examples in this category might include residential schools for children with additional support needs, nurseries, drug and alcohol treatment, providers of short break services, fostering agencies, parenting support groups, secure care etc.
84. Section 10(3) clarifies that the term “social landlords” has the meaning given by section 165 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010. This states that a social landlord “means a registered social landlord, local authority landlord, or local authority which provides housing services”.
Identifying persons to consult
85. A local authority and relevant health board’s duty to consult in the preparation of a Children’s Services Plan extends to all organisations in the local area that meet the definitions set out at section 10(1)(b).
86. In order to meet this obligation a local authority and relevant health board will need to identify the persons with whom they must consult. An initial scoping of which services may be included in the Children’s Services Plan (as described above) should help to set the parameters for this exercise, and the process will be facilitated through engagement with the local Third Sector Interface. Indeed, the local Third Sector Interface could play a valuable role in the broader consultation and planning process itself, mediating or coordinating responses from across the third sector. The Third Sector Interface will also be well placed to connect organisations more suited to this role if applicable.
87. When identifying relevant organisations to consult, there is also a clear expectation on local authorities and health boards to consult with children, young people and families (i.e. the users of “children’s services”). Getting it right for every child places the child’s views at the centre of planning and decision making and is in line with the UNCRC requirements to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights (e.g. under Article 12 every child has a right to express their views on matters affecting them and have those views given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity). It follows, therefore, that Children’s Services Plans are informed and shaped by the experiences and opinions of the children, young people and families who use local services. The Common Core describes the skills, knowledge and understanding, and values that everyone should have if they work with children, young people and their families, whether they are paid or unpaid.
Other persons to consult (directions from Scottish Ministers)
88. Under section 10(1)(b)(iii) Scottish Minsters may by direction specify other persons with whom a local authority and the relevant health board must consult in the preparation of a Children’s Services Plan. At the time of this document’s publication, no “other persons” have been specified. Any direction issued under section 10(1)(b)(iii) may be revised or revoked by Scottish Ministers (under provision made at section 10(4) of the Act).
The process of consultation
89. The Act does not prescribe how consultation in preparation of a Children’s Services Plan is to be undertaken by a local authority and the relevant health board. The process will depend, in large part, on the range and type of local organisations with whom consultation must be undertaken. This should determine which methods of consultation (i.e. consultation events, online surveys, etc.) are chosen, the length of time over which consultation will be carried out, etc. However, whatever process is chosen, all public bodies carrying out public or targeted consultations should refer to the National Standards for Community Engagement, and take the necessary steps to ensure that the process is accessible to the widest number of respondents possible.
90. Moreover, under the duties set out in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, community planning partners (including local authorities and relevant health boards) must make all reasonable efforts to secure the participation of community bodies which the Community Planning Partnership considers likely to be able to contribute to community planning. Should the community body wish to participate, they must take reasonable steps to enable that community body’s participation.
91. Indeed, local authorities and relevant health boards are subject to a range of consultation and engagement duties, set out in other Parts of the Act or other Acts. For example, Part 6 (section 50) of the Act places a duty on every education authority to consult with, at least once every 2 years, “such persons as appear to be representative of parents of children under school age in its area”. Other examples relate to corporate parenting and school education planning. In this context, before deciding on the consultation process for the Children’s Services Plan it may be helpful for a local authority and relevant health board to carefully scope out the various consultation and engagement duties which relate to children’s and related services. This process will not only help detect opportunities for aligning distinct planning processes, but also help ensure compliance with legal obligations.
Requests (made to relevant persons) to participate or contribute
92. Under section 10(6), the persons consulted under section 10(1)(b) are under a duty to meet any reasonable request which the local authority and the relevant health board make of them to:
(a) participate in the preparation of the Children’s Services Plan for the area; and
(b) contribute to the preparation of that plan.
93. As stated earlier in this chapter, the terms “participate” and “contribute” (in relation to the preparation of a Children’s Services Plan) cover a wide range of potential actions. “Participate” could entail attending a consultation event, or playing an active part in the group responsible for drafting the plan. “Contribute” may involve the sharing of relevant information (i.e. statistics about service use) or carrying out a process to gain the views of services users.
94. A “reasonable request” is one which is relevant (in view of the person’s function), practicable (in view of the person’s capacity) and consistent with the person’s expected level of involvement in delivering the Children’s Services Plan. The reasonableness of a request will therefore be determined, in large part, by the individual circumstances of the person whose participation or contribution is being requested.
95. However, while it is important that requests do not overburden (or make unachievable demands of) the people working in or representing an organisation, it is important that local authorities and the relevant health board seek out and facilitate the contribution of a wide range of different persons. It is the variety of third sector and community organisations, some small, some large, which can provide insight on the needs of the local population, and help in identifying the support which is most effective at meeting those needs. A local authority and the relevant health board should, therefore, make all reasonable efforts to facilitate the participation and/or contribution of a broad range of third sector organisations in the children’s services planning process, providing different types of opportunities (through which to participate or contribute) and, where appropriate, support to enable them to do so. This would be consistent with the duties placed on Community Planning Partnerships under the Community Empowerment Act 2015.
96. An organisation does not necessarily have to comply with all requests for information. It may not be able to provide information in response to such a request for a number of reasons, for example because the organisation considers it to be commercially sensitive or to do so would be incompatible with the Data Protection Act 2018.
Format of the Children’s Services Plan
97. The Act (and this guidance) does not prescribe any particular format for Children’s Services Plans. However, local authorities and relevant health boards are encouraged to consider formats which facilitate review (section 11), annual reporting (section 12) and local accountability. These would be formats where priorities and objectives are clear and measurable, and where the rationale behind them is explicit. The inclusion of comprehensive baseline information (linked to the aims and/or objectives) and short-to-medium term “indicators of progress” would also be helpful.
98. It would also be helpful to include details of the actions which will be taken to ensure services are delivered in a way which is as integrated and preventative as possible. This could be supplemented by more general commentary on how the local authority and relevant health board will ensure that children’s and related services are provided in a way which represents the “best use of available resources” over the three-year period.
99. However, a Children’s Services Plan should also hold some practical, day-to-day value to the services and professionals to which it relates. Plans could contain a brief description or diagram of the area’s planning structure, illustrating the links to other processes (such as corporate parenting and community planning). This would help practitioners working in different areas to coordinate their activity. In addition, if the Children’s Services Plan provided comprehensive information about the children’s and related services available in the local area, it could become a resource for professionals working with children and families, helping them to identify what support is available to safeguard or promote a child’s wellbeing needs.
Publication of Children’s Services Plans
100. Under section 10(7), as soon as reasonably practicable after a Children’s Services Plan has been prepared, the local authority and the relevant health board must:
(a) send a copy to –
(i) the Scottish Ministers, and
(ii) each of the “other service providers” (listed in section 7(1)); and
(b) publish it (in such manner as the local authority and the relevant health board consider appropriate).
101. With respect to when a Children’s Services Plan must be finalised, this must be before the start of each “three-year period”. The first three-year period began on 1st April 2017.
102. Once the plan is finalised, the local authority and relevant health board have some flexibility about when they must (a) send copies of the plan to Scottish Ministers and “other services providers”, and (b) publish the plan. “As soon as reasonably practicable” can be interpreted to mean “as soon as possible, in view of other duties, functions and commitments”. However, as the plan is a key public-facing document, communicating the direction of children’s services in the local area to service users, publication and dissemination should be seen as a priority.
103. The completed plan must be sent to every “other service provider” and Scottish Ministers. (Please note that all completed (or revised) plans must be sent to Scottish Ministers, irrespective of whether Scottish Ministers provide services in the local area under the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989.)
104. When ready to publish the plan, section 10(7)(b) affords the local authority and relevant health board discretion to do so “in such a manner […] as they consider appropriate”. This flexibility relates to how the plan is presented (such as format and language) and mode of publication.
105. However, in making a decision about the appropriate manner of publication, every local authority and relevant health board will want to ensure that their Children’s Services Plan (or some summary version) is accessible to children, families and other key stakeholders. This is critical to facilitating both accountability and community engagement. The Children’s Services Plan is the local authority and health board’s vision for how public services used by children and families will develop in the local area, and it is therefore important that service users, and the wider community, can access and engage with it. (Please note that the reference above to “summary version” is an acknowledgement that some local authorities and health boards already publish their Children’s Services Plan in a variety of formats, such as a “plan on a page” or in local vernacular to aid its accessibility and utility among different audiences).
Linking the publication of different statutory plans
106. In preparing the Children’s Services Plan for publication, a local authority and the relevant health board may identify opportunities for aligning other statutory plans. For example, under Part 9 (section 61) of the Act, every corporate parent (which includes all local authorities and health boards) must publish a plan for how it proposes to exercise its corporate parenting duties. These “Corporate Parenting Plans” may be published together with, or as part of, any other plan or document, and as no specific time period for Corporate Parenting Plans is prescribed in legislation or guidance, it is feasible that the Corporate Parenting Plan could be incorporated into the wider Children’s Services Plan. Similar possibilities exist in relation to the statutory early learning and childcare plan, prepared under Part 6 of the Act.
107. Across the various planning systems which apply to local authorities and health boards there are a number of such opportunities for aligning the publication of statutory plans. However, where a local authority and the relevant health board do choose to do so they must ensure that all relevant statutory requirements have been met, and that the combined plan (or some version thereof) continues to be accessible to relevant stakeholder (including children, young people and families).
Disagreements with aspects of a Children’s Services Plan
108. Section 10(8) provides that, where Scottish Ministers (in exercising functions under the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989) or any of the “other service providers” disagree with the plan in relation to any matter concerning the provision of a service by them, they must prepare and publish (i.e. make public) a notice of their disagreement.
109. Scottish Ministers and “other service providers” may only disagree with an aspect of a plan which relates to a service provided by them. The published notice of disagreement must detail (a) the matters in relation to which they disagree (i.e. which aspects of the plan), and (b) a statement of their reasons for disagreeing. The notice of disagreement may be published in such a manner as they (the Scottish Ministers or “other service provider”) consider appropriate (e.g. on their website, open letter, regular circular, etc.).
110. The requirement for disagreements over aspects of the plan to be made public is designed to ensure that, through a process of continuous and meaningful collaboration, any concerns about aspects of the plan should be dealt with at an early stage, long before the need for formal notices of disagreement. The expectation is that notices of disagreement would only be issued once all potential options (for resolving the disagreement) have been exhausted.
111. The local authority and relevant health board are not under a duty to respond to a notice of disagreement. However, as any notice of disagreement should be a public statement, it is likely that some form of response would be appropriate.
112. Under section 12(3)(b), the duty to provide a children’s or related service in accordance with the plan does not apply where a notice of disagreement (made under section 10(8)) has been made.