1 Executive Summary
1.1 This review considers the views and experiences of children and young people on child protection systems in Scotland. It aims to inform service delivery, communications on child protection and future potential ways to engage children and young people on this issue. The findings of this review will form the basis for future research on gathering the views of children and young people on child protection systems in Scotland.
1.2 The definition of 'child protection', according to the Scottish Government's National Guidance for Child Protection, is to protect a child from abuse or neglect. The terms 'abuse' and 'neglect' include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. It is not necessary for abuse or neglect to have happened: a risk assessment identifying the potential or risk of significant harm is sufficient.
1.3 This review is one of two reviews commissioned by the Scottish Government in March 2013 to consider evidence on children and young people's views. The parallel review is part of the Scottish Government's work to inform the UK's next report on implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
1.4 The reviews considered research, consultations, reports and other relevant data undertaken by government, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), academics and the public sector on children. Both reviews include evidence gathered since 2008 when the UK State Party's last report was considered by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
1.5 In addition to wider calls for evidence on children and young people's views and experiences, contacts were made through national child protection networks to gather specific evidence for this review.
Evidence on child protection
1.6 There is a wide range of evidence on areas of children and young people's lives that relates to child protection. However, there is not a substantial body of evidence on the views of children and young people across all the risk indicator areas which are outlined in the National Guidance for Child Protection and there are some areas where there is limited evidence. There is generally more evidence on the views of children and young people who are looked after than other groups of children and young people who require support from child protection services.
1.7 The family and caring environment had a critical role for children and young people, both as a form of inclusion and as a means of ensuring positive outcomes and wellbeing. For all children and young people, positive experiences of home and family were closely bound with the ability to input directly into decisions about their care.
1.8 Parents were of central importance to children and young people. Where this relationship breaks down (in the case of domestic abuse or parental substance abuse), it becomes more important to provide quality care and support that understands their experiences but does not treat them differently.
1.9 Children and young people with caring responsibilities as young carers continued to want more support. Recent work on domestic abuse with young people has demonstrated the need for the voices of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse to be heard and taken into account. There is little evidence on children and young people's views of physical punishment.
1.10 Looked after children continued to face a number of everyday challenges including being listened to and their views taken into account, stigma, a weak sense of belonging and identity and a lack of quality support. At the same time they also had positive experiences of care. There is a small amount of research undertaken on the views of children and young people on home supervision.
1.11 There was a significant body of work on the Children's Hearing System with clear messages about how the process could be improved. This includes: the need to improve information and preparation, issues relating to the adults involved in the Children's Hearings System, how decisions are made and communicated and whether children and young people are able to participate fully and give their views. At the same time, children and young people did identify positive experiences with examples of good practice and support from adults. There was less evidence that explored children and young people's views and experiences post-hearing.
1.12 Although there are limited studies on children and young people's views on advocacy support, a significant proportion of the evidence emphasises the importance of having trusted adults help children and young people to speak out whether these were independent advocates, other professionals or family and friends.
1.13 There is not a significant body of evidence on children and young people's views about information sharing between child protection services. The evidence that is available identified that children and young people considered confidentiality to be an important right.
1.14 There is also not much evidence on children and young people's views about online child protection. Children and young people reported understanding issues around security online. However, safety messages were often ignored.
1.15 There was little that looked specifically at trafficking in Scotland and no work was identified that took account of the views and experiences of children and young people. There was also currently little evidence on the views and experiences of children and young people and child sexual exploitation.
1.16 It was found that young people who run away were at particular risk of experiencing homelessness later in life.
1.17 There are some studies on children and young people's mental health but no evidence about how this relates to child protection and where they are at risk from harm. Children and young people were aware of school-based initiatives generally to tackle bullying but initiatives were not always successful.
1.18 Involving young people in national and local discussions about policy and services relating to drugs, alcohol and under-age sex was considered important.
Child protection systems
1.19 Children and young people had diverse experiences of child protection services. Younger children were generally less likely to know why they were on the child protection register whereas older young people were more likely to state that they should not be on the child protection register. Most children and young people stated that being kept safe was the main reason for being on the child protection register.
1.20 Children and young people thought that they were listened to. However, from the evidence it is difficult to identify whether they felt they were listened to in all meetings and processes. Children and young people - where asked - thought that the computer programme Viewpoint was easy to use. It was suggested, by those reporting on consultations with children and young people, that Viewpoint could limit responses in comparison with interviews or other face to face interaction and that there was inconsistent use of Viewpoint in gathering children and young people's views. Evidence highlights that there is a need to use a range of approaches to gather the views of children and young people.
1.21 Children and young people were positive about their relationships with social workers and said that they could talk to them. Children and young people had different experiences of child protection case conferences with some attending them while others had not. Similarly, some understood what happened in meetings while others did not. Where it was explored, children and young people thought that their circumstances had improved and that their home lives were stable.
1.22 Children and young people who were asked about the provision of information on child protection processes thought that it could be provided more creatively with more use of pictures and less words, DVDs, face-to-face conversations and use of the internet. Some children and young people did not recall being given information.
1.23 Suggestions for improvements from children and young people included: ensuring that decisions were carried out or reasons given why this was not possible; giving children and young people the opportunity to attend child protection case conferences; providing information throughout and making the presentation of written information more interesting; having an advocacy worker; meeting the chairperson of the child protection committee; facilitating families' involvement; having fewer professionals at meetings; and requesting that police officers did not wear uniforms if visiting homes.
1.24 A scoping study focused on Scotland, but drawing on research elsewhere, found little research that had been undertaken with disabled children and young people.
1.25 Evidence from other UK studies, which mainly focused on England, identified: the importance of positive relationships with social workers; some children and young people being concerned about negative outcomes arising from their engagement with child protection systems; and that there was mixed understanding of meetings and processes associated with child protection by children and young people.
Gaps in evidence
1.26 There is a range of useful and insightful evidence on areas relating to children and young people's views on child protection services. There is also a lack of evidence in specific areas which would be helpful to explore in future activities.
1.27 Overall, there were a number of clear gaps in understanding children and young people's own views and experiences of relevance to child protection, particularly in relation to child trafficking, sexual exploitation, household substance misuse and sexual health. Further knowledge on the role of the parent in children and young people's lives would also be helpful to better understand the parenting role and to consider how alternative forms of care can be improved. There is less evidence about children and young people's views on home supervision and experiences post-hearing. There is little evidence on children and young people's views of physical punishment.
1.28 The review found that there was not a substantial body of evidence on children and young people's experiences of child protection systems in Scotland. There was little formal research on children and young people's views of child protection services that was independently undertaken.
1.29 There is little on the views of specific groups of children and young people such as those who are younger (those under 5 years of age in particular), disabled children and young people, and children and young people from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community. This is applicable across all areas of diversity and inclusion.
1.30 Although there is a range of evidence on children and young people's views and experiences of child protection areas and associated systems, there are areas where the evidence is not available, not widely collected or easily accessible to wider audiences.
Recommendations for moving forward
1.31 The following recommendations consider ways in which the findings from the review can be taken forward. In addition to identifying gaps in evidence, several overarching issues emerged from the process of gathering the views and experiences of children and young people in Scotland which should be considered in future work in order to improve the gathering and dissemination of evidence on children and young people's views and experiences.
1.32 The Scottish Government should consider areas for further participatory work with children and young people on child protection from the gaps in evidence as future research following on from this review.
1.33 Organisations and services working with children and young people should also consider if there are gaps which could be explored through their research, consultation and participatory activities.
1.34 Specifically, the Scottish Government should consider undertaking a review of the range of approaches used in gathering children and young people's views in child protection systems as there is insufficient information on the methods that are currently used. Such a review should also explore what children and young people thought worked best when giving their views in relation to child protection systems and services. It should take into account the needs of all children and young people across different age group and with specific needs.
1.35 The Scottish Government should consider, in partnership with stakeholders, how the gathering and dissemination of evidence could be improved so that there is more comparable data and analysis on children's views and experiences which could inform policy and service developments. This should take account of points raised in paragraphs 5.29-5.38 on developing the evidence base.
1.36 The Scottish Government should discuss with relevant stakeholders how to maximise evidence from areas related to child protection in research, consultation and participatory activities which explore the views and experiences of children and young people.
1.37 The review provides insights into children and young people's views and experiences on child protection gathered by organisations between 2008 and 2013. As a resource, the review assists understanding of children and young people's experiences of child protection. At the same time, the review can provide a baseline for further research which can draw on the views and experiences of young people.
Email: Donna McLean