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.

3 Evidence on Child Protection


3.1 The following section includes evidence on areas relevant to child protection as outlined in the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland[4]. It includes those areas also included in the parallel UNCRC review on the views of children and young people. Additional detail has been added where specifically relevant to child protection.

3.2 The areas covered take account of circumstances where children and young people are subject to child protection processes such as being looked after. They also cover situations which may have an adverse impact on children and young people and are therefore risk indicators. These include, for example, domestic abuse; parental alcohol and drug misuse; disability; children and young people experiencing mental health problems; and parental mental health problems.

3.3 The review identifies that evidence is not available on the views of children and young people across all the risk indicator areas which are outlined in the National Guidance for Child Protection.

Children's Hearings System

3.4 The Children's Hearings System is an essential component of the child protection process. Changes were introduced in June 2013 to implement the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act (2011)[5] . These aim to strengthen and promote children's rights and include a number of mechanisms to support a child or young person's voice being heard.

3.5 A range of research and consultation has drawn on the views of children and young people in the Children's Hearing System. Much of this has focused on the experience of attending Hearings, with a significant focus on how children and young people voices are supported and heard.

3.6 Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) explored the experience of attending Hearings in a national survey involving 630 individuals. This included 232 (37%) of whom were children and young people aged 5 to 17 years, along with in-depth interviews with 13 children and young people[6]. Overall, children and young people, along with their parents, were supportive of the Children's Hearing System and its key principles. They had a level of understanding about what happened in Children's Hearings, especially when they were older. Many were provided with support in advance of Hearings. The research found that there was a need for greater continuity of Panel members between Hearings, improved communication and support for younger children, a reduction in the volume of information and for Hearings to be less 'court-like'. Children, young people and adults highlighted the need for greater awareness of everyone's rights, particularly children's rights.

3.7 Other research undertaken by SCRA involved 21 young people involved in the Children's Hearing System aged between 11 and 17 years. The young people thought the process was fair, even though they might not always agree with the decisions made[7]. There were, however, barriers to children and young people's participation and more attention should be paid to how decisions were explained. Most felt that their lives had got better and that the Hearings could provide the impetus for change. The majority stated that it was their own commitment to change that had the biggest impact.

3.8 In research conducted by Who Cares? Scotland for SCRA[8], over 100 young people between the ages of 9 and 17 years across Scotland participated in an online survey. The research looked at what worked well and what was challenging when attending a Hearing. The majority of young people did not understand what the advance paperwork meant. Most understood why young people attended Hearings and 69% said that they were able to participate in the Hearings. While both positive and negative examples of decision making were given, young people felt that the environment could be more welcoming and positive towards young people. Young people expressed a desire to speak to Panel members on their own and felt the use of advocates should be promoted.

3.9 Young people employed as Modern Apprentices at SCRA have undertaken research on children and young people's views in the Children's Hearing System. One study analysed findings from existing research and consultation (including evidence highlighted in this review)[9]. The analysis identified that trust, being listened to, respectful relationships and attitudes to children and young people were important for children and young people. Children and young people expressed concern about how information and decisions were communicated and the language that was used. Further research considered the physical environment at the Children's Hearings[10]. In line with other research, the way children and young people were greeted and the facilities could be more welcoming.

3.10 The Children's Parliament facilitated a consultation for the Scottish Government with 29 children who had experience of Children's Hearings[11]. Children talked about the way information was communicated before, during and after the Hearings and said that they often did not understand what was happening or the decisions that were made. The physical environment of a Hearing needed to be comfortable and welcoming. Children stated that there were too many adults at Hearings and they often did not know who they were. They wanted adults to listen to them and only be there if they were able to do things for the child. Going to a Hearing was generally seen as a difficult experience that could be intimidating and confusing. Overall, children wanted Hearings to focus on their best interests, listen to them, provide information and ensure that they were treated with respect.

3.11 A review was undertaken of the Legal Representation Grant Scheme[12], which allowed free legal representation in Children's Hearings for children and young people in certain situations. Fieldwork was undertaken in 2008 with 23 young people aged 13 and 17, recruited from four secure units across Scotland. The young people thought such representatives should argue for what the young person wants, even if that was not in the young person's best interests. Some young people did not know why their legal representative was present. While some young people preferred having the legal representative speak for them in hearings, others spoke for themselves. The main reason young people were dissatisfied with their legal representative was that they had 'just sat there' and not represented their views adequately.

3.12 A number of common messages emerge. These focus on 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.


3.13 Advocacy can support children and young people to speak out in child protection processes. The National Guidance for Child Protection[13] provides examples of how children and young people can be involved in the work of the child protection committees. Methods of involvement include: drawing on information and surveys from different organisations and professionals; ensuring that inter-agency quality assurance mechanisms account for the views of children and young people; and promoting the establishment of advocacy services based in the community for children and young people.

3.14 The Scottish Government consulted with children and young people on draft principles and minimum standards of advocacy[14]. Responses were received from 112 children and young people aged from 6 to 25 years with 88 individual responses and 24 from groups. The analysis of individual responses found that two-thirds had had support to speak out from adults including social workers, family members and advocates. Children and young people wanted supportive adults to listen, help and be kind.

3.15 Research was undertaken by young people to explore views on the Who Cares? advocacy service[15]. While small scale, the study found that young people were positive about the support they received.

3.16 A review of advocacy support for Scottish Borders' Children and Young People's Planning Partnership involved research with 29 children and young people[16]. Most young people did not have support from an independent advocate but from a range of people including professionals such as teachers, youth workers, social workers, friends and family. Young people, who were older, emphasised the benefits of sharing experiences and support from each other and that young people needed to have opportunities to develop their confidence so that they could speak out for themselves. Young people emphasised that positive, respectful relationships were essential to helping them speak out. It was important to speak to people they trusted, who listened and respected confidentiality.

3.17 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.

Confidentiality and privacy

3.18 The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland[17] emphasises the importance of sharing appropriate information in order to support child protection. It states that children and families have a right to know when information is being shared and their consent given, unless it would result in increased risk to the child or others or impact on the investigative process.

3.19 There is not a significant body of evidence on children and young people's views on sharing information in child protection processes. However, a recent consultation[18] identified that children and young people saw confidentiality as an important right. Twenty nine young people (aged 15 to 21) involved in three discussion groups facilitated by ChildLine in Scotland understood this but were less clear about their legal rights in practice. The children and young people did not see confidentiality as an absolute right and did not expect this right to be upheld in serious situations. Children and young people thought that each situation needed to be assessed individually.

3.20 More generally, in the voting for SCCYP's 'a RIGHT blether'[19], over one in 10 (13%) prioritised the statement 'help us be able to keep things private'. Over 70,000 votes were cast across Scotland, by children and young people at school up to the age of 21. Children and young people also expressed concerns about confidentiality and privacy in regards to advocacy and health.

Online child protection issues

3.21 There is not a significant body of evidence on children and young people's views relating to online use and child protection. However, research on media attitudes undertaken by Ofcom[20] found that 84% of a sample of children and young people aged 5 to 15 years in Scotland used the internet at home (up 17% from 2011). This research also found that 90% of children and young people aged 8 to 15 years in Scotland in 2012 were confident about staying safe online. The same study found that 48% of parents talked to their children about staying safe online at least monthly with 82% having rules about internet access.

3.22 Despite the legal requirement for young people to be aged 13 or over to open a Facebook account, young people reported having an account under the age of 13. This was found in small-scale research by the Children's Parliament for a study for the Information Commissioner UK[21] and by Young Scot[22].

3.23 Primary and secondary school groups participating in the reference groups for the Information Commissioner UK's research knew about privacy settings on social network sites and general rules about 'internet safety'. However, they did not always follow the recommendations from school. Parents' views were central to what primary school children actually did but not for secondary school pupils. The research generated many questions from children and young people about information held about them by various services, and what control they had over it being shared, whether they could see it and whether they could amend it.

3.24 A report by Young Scot[23] looked at the issue of internet safety in five participative workshops with young people aged 11 to 18 years. The internet was part of young people's everyday lives, as was social networking. Like other studies, the young people reported understanding issues around security online. However, safety messages were often ignored, with many young people having 'random' friends, accessing social networking sites underage and 'hacking' parental controls.

Looked after children and young people

3.25 Children and young people who are looked after are subject to child protection processes. 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.

3.26 Who Cares? Scotland undertook a consultation with 116 young people on the proposals for the Children and Young People Bill[24]. Young people stated that they wanted to be listened to and heard, respected and loved. Generally, young people wanted positive relationships that provided support. They highlighted the need for more support, both preparing for leaving care and after they had left care. Correspondingly, advocacy and throughcare workers were important. Young people emphasised that knowing about their rights was helpful in resolving problems and concerns, such as having contact with their families, during Children's Hearings and at Looked after Children (LAC) meetings.

3.27 Research undertaken by the University of Stirling explored feelings of belonging with 22 young people aged 10 to 22 who were looked after[25]. Personal items were highly significant for young people's identities as they moved through placements. Young people's sense of belonging was affected by frequent moves and was influenced by the places where they lived, such as residential units. Being able to make spaces their own was important, as was a need for privacy, security and sharing activities. Having insufficient financial resources had an impact on their transition to independent living.

3.28 Barnardo's undertook a scoping study of the rights of looked after children with additional support needs[26]. Fieldwork took place in 2009, involving a focus group with five children in residential care and interviews with five children in foster care. These children felt they knew their rights in terms of home and care but not in relation to additional support in learning. They had varied awareness of what to do if they had concerns at school, and wanted information to be accessible and understandable. They wanted support so that they could speak for themselves. They were concerned that they would be bullied if they were noticeably receiving additional support at school.

3.29 A series of short films[27] [28] [29]produced by the Centre of Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) with young people from Who Cares? Scotland, the Debate Project and the group, the Voice of Reason consider a range of experiences for young people in care. The films emphasise the importance of the corporate parent asking 'if this is good enough for your child?'. Children and young people wanted to be placed near their families and stated that young people generally experienced too many moves. Children and young people wanted supportive adults in their lives who would listen to them and who could bring about change. Children and young people who had additional needs often struggled with transitions in adult services poorly supported. Another film[30] made by the same group highlighted that stigma around care continued to be a significant issue.

3.30 Local authorities have evidenced different activities involving children and young people who are looked after. Dundee Champions Board[31] includes representation from young people and this has resulted in the involvement of a wide range of professionals including teachers, youth workers and housing officers. East Lothian Council has undertaken a range of consultations[32] to explore the views of children and young people who are looked after. Findings from questionnaires completed by 88 children and young people highlighted that young people had positive experiences around being looked after which included feeling safe, being involved in reviews, having information and getting help from social workers. More challenging experiences included not being able to see friends or family enough, not being able to do activities they liked frequently enough and not having information about their family background.

Residential care

3.31 Who Cares? Scotland undertook a consultation with children and young people as part of its 30th year celebration in 2008[33]. The research focused on children and young people in residential care with 147 young people participating in an online questionnaire, nine in focus groups and 49 participating in one to one interviews with the majority aged 12 to 15 years. Over half stated that being successful was having 'happy and caring relationships'. It was also about avoiding particular negative situations such as being charged with offences, being placed in secure care or imprisoned. Some of the children and young people felt that they were not able to be successful because of a lack of opportunities. They told members of their families about their successes more than anyone else and wanted to stay connected with their family members. Having increased confidence and skills in coping and anger management were seen to be indicators of success. Children and young people stated that it was important to have control over their own lives. Having a member of staff in a residential unit that they were close to was important in providing support and motivation. Being viewed negatively because they were in care was viewed as a barrier to success.

3.32 A more recent consultation[34] was undertaken by Who Cares? Scotland with 95 children and young people living in different residential placements purchased by local authorities. Overall, children and young people stated that their placement was positively impacting on their lives. They were able to identify benefits including safety and being more engaged with education. Generally they felt more motivated and confident and stated that they felt cared for by staff. Less positive experiences were reported around involvement in planning for their placement moves and in planning for their future. Those who had made a complaint identified that some felt their complaint had been responded to while others did not or did not know.

3.33 Who Cares? Scotland undertook a consultation with 51 children and young people aged between 12 and 16 in order to explore experiences around food in residential care[35]. Most children and young people identified that they were served poor quality food, wanted more consideration of their individual needs and likes and dislikes, and wished to be more involved in discussions and decisions about food related issues.

3.34 A short film[36] of a play produced by young people at Kibble Education and Care Centre highlights the positive and negative experiences of being in care. These include: love, care and support from residential staff; the challenge of being moved around a lot; realising that sometimes young people were better off in care; and the stigmatising nature of being in care. Young people who took part highlighted the importance of creative activities such as drama and storytelling.

3.35 The evaluation[37] of a pilot which considered profiling for the recognition of prior learning for looked after young people found that young people enjoyed the activity of profiling with increased skills and confidence reported. Overall, young people felt supported and there was increased awareness of career options.

Secure Care

3.36 Research was undertaken by Who Cares? Scotland on young people's experiences of secure care[38]. It was undertaken in 2008 and therefore at the beginning of the period of this review. It was based on interviews with 76 young people, with the majority of participants being male. Although staff were welcoming on admission to secure care, young people said that they did not get enough information or were insufficiently consulted about the move to secure care. Sanctions within secure care were seen as necessary but young people were unhappy about the methods used. Young people welcomed contact with families, although they were concerned at the limited opportunities. The majority felt their education in secure care was good with leisure opportunities provided. However, young people highlighted that they often felt bored. Exit plans were relatively unknown to young people. Some had access to throughcare workers and many had support from agencies and workers in communities or residential care once they left secure care.

Foster care

3.37 Who Cares? Scotland was commissioned by CELCIS and Scotland Excel to undertake a consultation with young people with experience of local authority and independent foster care provision[39]. Fifty two young people participated in either a survey or group discussions. Young people highlighted that their experiences were varied and not consistent in quality. They talked of positive experiences, as well as situations where foster care could have been improved. Young people wanted their views to be heard about all aspects of their care and to be able to input into decisions. Support with education was appreciated as well as being able to participate in activities and go on holiday. The help they received from social workers, carers and advocates was important, particularly around managing transitions. Young people wanted their experiences in foster care families to be the same as other members of their foster carers' families. The study found that reasonable expectations in foster care were still not being consistently met.

Looked after at home

3.38 CELCIS published a summary of research messages on home supervision in 2012[40], which highlights the small amount of research undertaken on home supervision. It draws attention to early findings from ongoing research[41] with 23 children and young people across Scotland, which found that children and young people welcomed the mentoring, informal coaching and other forms of support that Home Supervision Requirements (HSR) gave. Children and young people did not always understand why they had a HSR. Continuity and stability were important. Other research[42] from a study including interviews with 10 young people found that children and young people complained about the frequent changes in social work and other staff. Although children and young people thought that HSRs could have benefits in terms of access to resources, there was scepticism about their impact.

Kinship care

3.39 A study was undertaken by the University of Stirling and Children 1st that explored the views of children and young people between the ages of 11 and 17 on their kinship care[43]. Children and young people were generally positive about their experiences of kinship care and their new families, with no wish to return home. They were able to identify what had made the move to living with their kinship carers easier. This included their new carers being familiar to them, that the move had taken place over time, and that they only moved a small distance and did not have to change schools. They did not see themselves as different to other children and young people and found their new lives more stable than previously. Sometimes there were challenges in adapting to new approaches to parenting and concerns about the health of older carers. For some, unplanned meetings with parents were difficult, along with missing contact with some of their extended family.

Leaving care

3.40 A conference held in 2009 by the Debate Project brought together 40 care leavers round Scotland[44]. The vast majority identified that they felt negative when leaving care, often feeling isolated, alone and uncertain about their future. Young people identified that they needed better options in accommodation as what was available was often unsuitable. They needed access to resources, both financial and practical as well as emotional support. They highlighted that having someone to listen to them or give them some help made them feel more included and the support of workers was crucial

3.41 The Debate Project made a short film[45] about the experiences of young people leaving care. This identified the challenges for young people who have left care including: being placed in unsuitable accommodation; low levels of benefits; the ways in which young mothers who are care leavers were viewed; and having to deal with major life transitions on their own.

3.42 Young care leavers in their submission[46] on the proposals for the Children and Young People Bill from the Debate Project highlighted the need for the UNCRC's Article 12 (the right of every child to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously) to be implemented appropriately. They felt their views were not consistently heard in the processes which affected them. This had a negative effect on their feelings of power and control in their lives, particularly in terms of their accommodation needs and the relationships that supported them. They also highlighted the need for young people who were looked after to be protected by children's rights up to the age of 21 or 25 years. The young people strongly wanted a duty to be placed on local authorities to provide support to care leavers up until the age of 25. The response highlights the need for young people to be able to choose their named person and the need for services to be 'joined up' in providing services. Generally, young care leavers emphasised the importance of their emotional needs being met, alongside ensuring that their practical needs such as housing are addressed.

3.43 Eleven young people were consulted about their past experiences of living in residential care by the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum[47]. The consultation explored rules, sanctions and culture and found examples of positive experiences although the consultation's focus was to identify those areas that had been negative or restrictive. Young people talked about bedrooms being locked and not being able to have friends over for sleepovers. There were restrictions which impacted on relationships with friends such as having friends over for meals and not being able to stay with friends unless police checks took place. Taking part in activities could be hindered due to health and safety requirements. Overall young people thought that there were too many rules and that these could provoke negative reactions from other young people.

3.44 An initiative[48] involved care leavers in the co-production of designing and improving leaving care services. Helpful and meaningful ideas for care leaving services were identified, for Argyll and Bute, from workshops focused on the social and emotional care of young people leaving. This approach was viewed as a productive approach that could be used in other settings.

Role of parents and families

3.45 No specific research on children and young people's views and experiences of parental responsibilities was identified, although the broad topic of parenting relates to other issues such as health, household substance misuse and domestic abuse.

3.46 The 'Being Young in Scotland 2009' survey[49] emphasised the important role parents have in young people's lives, with 90% believing that parents/carers take account of their views a 'great deal' or a 'fair amount'. Parents were an important source of information about rights and were the most frequently mentioned role model. They were also cited as those with the greatest influence on young people's attitudes and as someone that could be trusted and respected.

3.47 'A RIGHT wee blether' (2011)[50] asked young children who was special to them. Family was the most common theme with 98% of all children talking about a family member. Children consulted in the Children's Parliament (2012)[51] workshops said that the Scottish Government needed to make sure parents fully understood children's rights and acted on them. Parents and carers were also identified as key people who needed to know about children's human rights. For the children consulted, having protective and supportive parents, carers and guardians played an important role in making them feel healthy, happy and safe. Children were also aware that parents and carers can have their own worries or problems and they might need support to help them care for their children.

Role of adults

3.48 A group of nine and 10 year olds from six primary schools in Fife, with other young people as mentors, explored what children in the early years need[52]. The Children's Parliament facilitated discussions to inform the report, 'Joining the dots: A better start for Scotland's children'[53]. The children identified the following issues: adults should keep children safe and healthy; adults should help children learn and grow; adults should be positive about and respectful of children; and adults should provide a loving and caring home for children.

Physical punishment

3.49 About half of children and young people thought children and young people should be legally protected from 'being smacked'. Just over half (56%) of 11 to 16 year olds in the 'Being Young in Scotland 2009' survey[54] agreed with this; 44% of 17 to 25 year olds also agreed.

Young carers

3.50 Children and young people with caring responsibilities continued to want more support. Three sources provide overlapping results. At the 2012 Scottish Young Carers Festival, 70 children and young people were involved in a round table discussion[55]. In an East Lothian survey of all Primary 6 and Secondary 2 pupils in 2011[56], 31% agreed with the statement 'I regularly help to take care of someone in my family who is physically or mentally ill or has problems with drugs or alcohol'. Twenty young people aged 12 to 23 were interviewed, from across Scotland, for an academic research study[57].

3.51 Both the Young Carers Festival and the East Lothian Survey found that children and young people wanted more support at school. They wanted teachers to listen more and treat them fairly, for the school to know more and understand, while respecting their privacy.

3.52 Children and young people valued their young carers groups. They wanted more of them and funding to be more secure. They wanted more help for their parents and themselves, including having someone nearby the young person could call upon and medication and medical equipment being in order and secure.

3.53 Young carers wanted to spend more time out of their homes since money concerns prevented them socialising, attending school trips and going onto further education.

Domestic abuse

3.54 Domestic abuse is an area where children and young people have significantly influenced the policy agenda. Work began pre-2008 when children and young people were consulted on the National Domestic Abuse Delivery Group Draft proposals[58]. A group of young people subsequently met with Ministers to put forward their concerns about services supporting children affected by domestic abuse, their experiences of services and their recommendations for improvement (Houghton, 2008)[59]. This work demonstrated the need for the voices of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse to be heard and taken into account.

3.55 Two key initiatives have resulted. The first is Voice Against Violence (VAV). Launched in November 2009, it involved eight 'Young Experts' with first-hand experience of domestic abuse and different services. Acting as 'critical friends' of adults in power, the group sought to ensure that children and young people experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland had a voice and were heard in policy making. The process of using a peer education model of participation has been documented in 'Question Time'[60]. The group produced research and other resources, including a survey on domestic abuse of 610 young people in Scotland[61]. VAV was actively involved in the National Domestic Abuse Delivery Plan for Children and Young People[62].

3.56 The second is the service model, Cedar (Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery), which provides a therapeutic 12 week group work programme for children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse, alongside a concurrent programme for their mothers. Evaluated using an action research approach that embedded children and young people's views into the process (Sharp et al, 2010)[63], feedback was positive. Following engagement with Cedar, children and young people reported a better understanding of domestic abuse and safe behaviours, greater ability in managing emotions and a positive impact on their relationship with their mothers.

3.57 More recent doctoral research has explored children's participation in child contact in cases where there is a history of domestic abuse. This research involved in-depth interviews with 18 children; however, its findings are yet to be released. An initial analysis has been published that focuses on the processes of participation and the 'weight' given to children's views. The research concluded that, while children's views were taken account of, often the process of voicing their opinions was poor. The research calls for more empirical work on children's participation in family law proceedings[64].

Household substance misuse

3.58 Few studies explored directly children and young people's own experiences of parental alcohol and drug misuse, instead relying on adults' retrospective accounts. Other work has directed its attention on understanding prevalence rates across Scotland.

3.59 One study by Gillian et al (2009)[65] interrogated the ChildLine caller database[66]. The work revealed the corrosive effect of harmful parental drinking on family life. Negative impacts included severe emotional distress, physical abuse and violence and a general lack of care, support and protection. Children living with harmful parental drinking could experience isolation outside the home, while stigma and secrecy prevented them seeking help. Children were found to employ a range of strategies for 'getting by' including assuming practical and emotional caring responsibilities and getting 'out of the way' of a drinking parent.

3.60 Hill's (2011) doctoral research on children and young people's experiences of living with parental alcohol problems revealed that even young children 'know a lot' and 'keep things hidden' for many different reasons[67]. The study emphasised the negative impact of parental alcohol misuse and the diverse ways in which the issue is experienced and managed. This diversity, the study concluded, needs to be acknowledged by professionals. Children and young people wanted their experiences to be recognised but did not want to be treated differently. They appreciated time out of the home, as well as interventions delivered at their own pace and in confidence.

3.61 No studies on children and young people's experiences of other forms of substance misuse were identified post-2008.

Child contact disputes in court

3.62 Mackay undertook research[68] on contact disputes in court concerning children. The research mainly focused on analysing evidence from children in court papers and questionnaires and interviews with law practitioners and parents. Interviews were undertaken with a small sample of two children. A significant number of children whose views were analysed from the court paper sample did not want contact with their non-resident parent. Where there was no fear of threat or harm, children generally wished to have contact with the non-resident parent.

Children and young people with a parent in prison

3.63 The perspectives of children with a parent in prison were explored in a study commissioned by SCCYP. Interviews were undertaken with 11 children and young people between the ages of four and 14[69]. The research identified that having a parent in prison had a profound impact on children and young people. The majority heard about their parent being imprisoned from a grandmother, who was also highly important for support generally. Children were very concerned about the parent who was in prison. The impact of imprisonment was greater on the child or young person, if he or she lived with the parent previously.

Running away from home and homelessness

3.64 Shelter Scotland (2011)[70] undertook a survey of 145 young homeless people (aged 16 to 24) across Scotland about their experiences of running away before they were 16. It found that young people who run away were at particular risk of experiencing homelessness later in life. Many had run away after being forced to leave and had run away multiple times. A large proportion had slept rough and reported issues at home, school and feelings of safety as factors influenced their behaviour.

Child sexual exploitation

3.65 Child exploitation is regarded as child abuse across the UK but there are challenges in identifying its existence because of a lack of visibility and difficulties with proving its prevalence, according to a study undertaken by Brodie and Pearce (2012) for the Scottish Government[71]. This review of research and evidence found that there was currently little evidence on the views and experiences of children and young people and child sexual exploitation.

Child trafficking

3.66 Child trafficking is included in the National Guidance for Child Protection and is embedded within the approach to child protection. There is a growing body of research on child trafficking[72]. However the review found that 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.

Mental health and wellbeing

3.67 NHS Health Scotland commissioned a consultation with children and young people to contribute to the development of a framework for mental health indicators. This consultation involved 70 children aged from 3 years to young people in their early 20's with a range of experiences, including young carers, young Gypsy Travellers, black and ethnic minority young people, young people with learning disabilities and younger children[73]. The consultation focused on what contributed to children and young people's wellbeing.

3.68 In the NHS Health Scotland consultation, children and young people identified that they were not consistently listened to by adults. Family and friends were important for all the children and young people, as well as adults who they trusted and/ or who were professionals. Young people of all ages from 3 years upwards were able to identify a range of situations that they viewed as not being fair, including being bullied, excluded or being discriminated against as well identifying positive activities that they enjoyed such as being with friends, play outside and taking parts in sports and clubs and using online media.

3.69 The Scottish Health Survey[74] highlighted that the vast majority of children and young people (87%) were satisfied with their life, while 44% were very happy. Thirty nine per cent of children and young people often felt confident. A minority of children and young people always felt confident, with the figure for boys twice as high as that for girls between the ages of 13 and 15. The survey showed that happiness, confidence and feelings of not be left out have increased since 1994, when a measure of happiness was first included in the survey.

3.70 A study[75] undertaken by Highland Children's Forum on sadness involved 310 children and young people aged between 5 and 14. The children and young people identified that, when they were experiencing loss through separation or bereavement, other family members were also dealing with these experiences as well. Friendships could change and their experiences of loss could impact on their school work. Children and young people stated that it could mean that they did not go out and that they could get depressed and their mental health would be poorer.

3.71 The Junction project in Edinburgh undertook a survey[76] of 115 young people aged 14 to 17 years. Young people thought that their lives had 'ups and downs' with one in 10 young people aged 15 years and ethnic minority girls feeling negative about their lives. Thirty seven per cent of young people thought that their lives were fine at present, while 18% felt positive about their lives. One in four wanted someone to talk to about family issues. When they needed someone to talk to, young people wanted skilled adult staff and confidentiality.


3.72 Children and young people were aware of school-based initiatives generally to tackle bullying but initiatives were not always successful.

3.73 Research undertaken by the Scottish Borders Youth Commission[77] found varied practice across schools, in prevention, management and recording of bullying incidents. Young people undertook the research for the Commission, which involved a range of methods and over 500 children and young people. Key recommendations and findings of the Youth Commissioner were:

  • To amend current definitions of bullying that require intent and aggression -. Labelling people as 'bullies' and 'victims' was unhelpful.
  • To include parents, pupils and school staff[78] in a whole school approach.
  • To target prejudice-based bullying specifically and to promote diversity positively.
  • To explore appropriate consequences and responses for children and young people demonstrating bullying behaviour.
  • To develop understanding of cyberbullying. Staff and young people were not confident discussing cyberbullying.

3.74 Responding to a respectme survey of children and young people aged 8 to 19 across 29 Scottish local authorities[79], 16% reported being cyberbullied. Most (63%) knew who had done this and in 40% of these occasions the bullying carried on into school. A quarter of respondents were worried about cyberbullying when they were online.

3.75 For most of the 35 participants (aged 11 to18 years) speaking to Young Scot on child internet safety[80], the term 'cyberbullying' was familiar. Some had experienced it and most felt they knew how to report concerns online.

3.76 In contrast to generalised bullying initiatives in schools, initiatives to address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia were not well known to young people. When responding to a questionnaire for LGBT young people[81], less than one third (31%) was aware that antiphobia education had been introduced in schools. Just under half of the young people said they would not feel confident reporting such bullying.

3.77 Certain groups of children and young people were particularly concerned about being bullied. Over two-thirds (69%) of LGBT young people responding to a survey[82] had experienced homophobic or biphobic bullying at school. The results for transphobic bullying were even higher. This negatively impacted on their education and employment experiences.

3.78 Looked after children reported bullying. Of the 30 young people interviewed in one local authority, just under half said they had been bullied[83].

Drug misuse

3.79 The Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) survey[84] monitors the prevalence and trends in smoking, drinking and drug use among young people at a Scottish level. In 2010, 37,307 S2 and S4 pupils completed the survey. In relation to drug use, 21% of 15 year olds and 5% of 13 year olds reported ever having used drugs. Cannabis was by far the most common drug, with very few reporting the use of other drugs. Forty-two per cent of 15 year olds and 16% of 13 year olds reported being offered at least one drug and similar proportions felt it would be 'very easy' or 'fairly easy' to obtain drugs. Friends were the most commonly reported source. Of those who had taken drugs, very few reported that they had felt they needed help. Around three-quarters of young people agreed that their school provided them with the advice and support they needed to take important decisions about drugs.

3.80 In 2011, Young Scot undertook consultation into peer-led approaches to substance misuse education[85]. The work involved a national survey, local investigation days and a national discussion day. The survey found that teachers and parents are the main educators, while peers and the internet were less significant. Knowledge of 'peer education' was low, yet young people felt that this would be a positive way of learning about substance misuse, as would learning from someone involved in drugs in the past. While school was an important site for learning, young people also emphasised the importance of providing local services outwith educational facilities. Allowing young people to be involved actively in ongoing national conversations about drugs was also considered critical.


3.81 SALSUS[86] provides comprehensive data on young people's relationship to alcohol. It reported that 44% of 13 year olds and 77% of 15 year olds have had an alcoholic drink at some point, while 14% of 13 year olds and 34% of 15 year olds had consumed alcohol in the week before the survey. While reported alcohol consumption declined between 1990 and 2002, this trend has ended and consumption in 2010 had again increased. The three most common sources for purchasing alcohol were friends, shops and relatives. Thirteen year olds were most likely to report that they usually drink at home, while 15 year olds were more likely to drink at someone else's home or at and a party. Drinking outside had declined slightly but still accounted for around a third of all 15 year olds.

3.82 The Edinburgh-based Health Opportunities Team (HOT) conducted a survey of 428 children and young people aged 11 to18 on their drinking habits, attitudes to alcohol and access to information and support[87]. Drinking was a social activity for children and young people, normally associated with friendships. While perceiving a connection between alcohol consumption and mental well-being, children and young people were far more likely to identify with the physical consequences of drinking. In terms of support and information, children and young people favoured those services that enabled them to express themselves and to be listened to in a way that was relevant to their lives.

3.83 A visual resource by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (2012)[88] aimed to look at young people's relationship to alcohol through 'their eyes'. The research involved eight activity-based focus groups with young adults aged 16 to 30. Excessive alcohol use was regarded as an essential part of being an adult. Distinct gendered norms around drinking also existed. Female respondents described collective drinking as a strategy for reducing the risks of male violence whilst intoxicated. Male respondents, meanwhile, saw the risks of drinking as exclusion from commercial drinking establishments and threats of violence or arrest.

3.84 The Scottish Youth Commission on Alcohol was undertaken during 2009[89], involving 16 'youth commissioners' aged 14 to 22 in a year-long investigation into Scotland's relationship to alcohol. As well as study visits and discussions with experts, over 3,000 young people were consulted in two national surveys and focus groups. Young people, it was emphasised, should be co-designers of alcohol strategies, with methods such as peer education and Youth Champions suggested as a means of establishing a permanent voice for young people in alcohol related polices. Suggestions were made for further research on topics such as pre-loading, the leisure needs of different age groups and passive drinking.

3.85 The role of alcohol education was emphasised in the 'Being Young in Scotland 2009' survey[90]. Around two-thirds of young people reported that alcohol education at school informed them about facts about alcohol, while two-thirds of 11 to 16 year olds said education had either completely or partly made them consider not drinking alcohol. Focus groups conducted by the Youth Commissioners[91] concluded that young people struggled to recall details about alcohol education at school. It was concluded that alcohol education needs to be embedded better within existing strategies for education about health and well-being and training for learning professionals strengthened.

3.86 'Peer Learning Through Dialogue: Young People and Alcohol' (2010)[92] is an action research project with utilises 'dialogic techniques' to tap into young people's knowledge, experiences and needs, enabling them to 'co-design' their own learning. Young people, they found, recognised the way in which alcohol in Scotland was simultaneously glorified and vilified. Not only could young people generate a high level of relevant knowledge about alcohol but they used this to develop sensible coping strategies for themselves and peers. The project was developed by a group of teenage volunteers, the AlcoLOLs, and two public relations researchers, tested in a local school, presented at the Scottish Parliament to policy stakeholders concerned with alcohol, and subsequently extended to a number of schools across Edinburgh.

3.87 Much of the focus on alcohol education has been on young people. The Rory Learning Resource[93] aims to help build resilience and raise awareness of alcohol with children aged 5 to 11 years and to explore issues surrounding parental alcohol misuse. It was piloted in West Lothian in 2009 and an evaluation was undertaken to understand how it was experienced. This involved evaluation sheets from 870 pupils across P1 to P7, as well as writing and drawing exercises. There was clear evidence that the resource was successfully educating children on the effects of alcohol and encouraging them to think about how to talk to someone if they felt sad or lonely.

3.88 The Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Partnership Drugs Initiative (PDI) has been heavily involved in supporting and evaluating work that the voluntary sector is undertaking with children and young people affected by substance misuse. Working with Evaluation Support Scotland and six PDI funded groups, the 'Reversing the Trend' project aims to gain a better understanding of how preventative approaches can measure change. The outcomes of this project are yet to be released; however, the consultation emphasised that projects must put children and young people's voices at the heart of evaluation methods.

Sexual Health

3.89 The Scottish HBSC study[94] collects data from 15 year olds (S4) on reported sexual intercourse and contraception use. Almost a third of 15 year olds said that they have had sexual intercourse, with girls (35%) more likely to report sexual intercourse than boys (27%).

3.90 Healthy Respect is currently seeking the views of young people on why they do or do not access sexual health services. This forthcoming consultation is particularly interested in the views of young people who are less likely to attend a service, and who may be more vulnerable to poor sexual health outcomes[95].

3.91 The SYP consulted 30 MSYPs aged 15 to 23 on National Guidance: Under-age Sexual Activity[96]. The majority felt that whether under-age sexual activity was reported as a child protection issue depended on the particular situation. Most also felt that youth workers or practitioners should be able to support young people without the prior consent or knowledge of their parent or guardian. Eighty per cent were in favour of the minimum age remaining at 16.


3.92 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.

3.93 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 and household substance misuse. 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 on 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.


Email: Donna McLean

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