Section 13: Reporting on Children’s Services Plan
123. As set out under section 13(1) of the Act, as soon as practicable after the end of each one-year period, a local authority and the relevant health board must publish (in such manner as they consider appropriate) a report on the extent to which:
(a) children’s and related services have, in that one-year period, been provided in accordance with the Children’s Services Plan; and
(b) that the provision of services has achieved –
(i) the aims of children’s services planning (section 9(2)), and
(ii) such outcomes in relation to the wellbeing of children in the area as the Scottish Ministers may by order prescribe.
124. The “one-year period” runs from 1 April to 31 March. Each Children’s Services Plan must be prepared in relation to a specific “three-year period” (under section 8(2)), so over the course of a Children’s Services Plan there will be three annual reports.
125. These annual reports must be published “as soon as practicable” after the end of the one-year period and ideally by June. It may be beneficial to align publication of the Children’s Services Plan’s annual report with other statutory reports which apply to local authorities and/or territorial health boards (such as the National Improvement Framework’s annual report, Local Child Poverty Action Report, or the Corporate Parenting report). However, these considerations should be balanced with the need to communicate progress to stakeholders in a relevant and timely manner. The annual report will be an important document, facilitating local accountability (to service users and the wider community); publication should therefore be seen as a priority, with delay after the conclusion of the one-year period kept to the absolute minimum.
126. The content of the annual report is not restricted by the Act, and each local area’s report is likely to be shaped by the specific priorities and objectives set out within the plan. However, section 13 does demand that every annual report includes information about the extent to which the local area is delivering on any outcomes which might be set by Scottish Ministers under section 13(1)(b)(ii), and the five overarching aims of children’s services planning (as set out in section 9(2)).
127. For a full explanation about what these aims mean in practice, please refer to the chapter on “Aims of Children’s Services Plans” above.
128. In order to meet this requirement to report on progress against the statutory planning aims, local authorities and the relevant health board will need to have systems in place to collect and analyse relevant information (such as service performance and outcomes for children and young people). Ideally, these systems will provide longitudinal information (e.g. quarterly or yearly), enabling the annual report to illustrate the extent of progress achieved over the one-year period. Such “progress” information should always be situated in context, however, with the report also documenting relevant changes in, for instance, the availability or capacity of services, local political priorities, and the needs of children and young people in the area.
129. As with the Children’s Services Plan itself, the Act does not prescribe a format for annual reports. The Children’s Services Plan Annual Progress Report should ideally be a concise document. It should provide a clear summary of progress made in the previous year, measured against the Children’s Services Plan priorities and outcome measures. It should also include any significant changes that have been made to the plan. It is hoped that these reports will be submitted by the end of June each year.
130. Whatever format is chosen, a local authority and relevant health board will want to ensure that their annual report is accessible to key stakeholders (such as children, young people and others with an interest in children’s or related services). This is in order to facilitate engagement and accountability. As per section 13(1) of the Act, annual reports may be published in such manner as the local authority and relevant health board “consider appropriate”. This gives each local area a measure of discretion about how the annual report is presented (format, language etc.) and the mode of publication (web document, print, etc.). Moreover, it means that local authorities and health boards can publish their annual report in a variety of formats, to aid its accessibility and utility among different audiences. Accessibility relates to both the availability of the document (e.g. published online) and its format and language.
131. As has already been noted in chapters above, there is an opportunity to align the duties to “review” and to “report”. Under section 11 a local authority and the relevant health board must keep their Children’s Services Plan under review. If that process was framed as a continuous performance review, with progress in achieving the plan’s aims being measured and assessed, it would act, simultaneously, as the process for preparing an annual report. Moreover, the published annual report would facilitate engagement with service users and key stakeholders, the feedback from whom could inform whether changes were needed to the plan itself. This cycle, with robust, evidence-based assessments of progress feeding into on-going decision making, is a core component of strategic commissioning.
Outcomes set by Scottish Ministers
132. Under section 13(1)(b)(ii), Scottish Ministers have the power to prescribe, by order, specific outcomes (in relation to the wellbeing of children) which local authorities and the relevant health board will have to report on, as part of their Children’s Services Plan report. At the time of this document’s publication, no such order has been made in relation to children’s services planning.
Role of other service providers in reporting
133. The duty to prepare and publish a Children’s Services Plan annual report sits exclusively with the local authority and its relevant health board. The role of “other service providers” in this process is likely to be as a source of information about the delivery and performance of the children’s or related services they provide in the local area. There is no requirement under Part 3 for “other service providers” to prepare an overarching, national report on the delivery of their children’s or related services. However, there is also no restriction on them doing so, and the collation of such information may help facilitate compliance with statutory reporting duties set out in other parts of the Act (such as Part 1 (Children’s Rights) and Part 9 (Corporate Parenting)).