4 Evidence on Child Protection Systems
4.1 The following is an analysis of consultations and evaluations of children and young people's involvement in child protection processes.
4.2 Child protection processes are outlined in detail in the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. They include: the process for assessing where a child is thought to be at risk of harm; the meetings associated with child protection such as the child protection case conference (which considers the child thought to be at risk of harm and actions which are to be taken); placing the child's name on the child protection register; approaches to ensuring the child's views are heard; and a child or young person's contact with social workers and other professionals involved in child protection.
4.3 The evidence is drawn from local authorities and NGOs. Many local authorities undertook consultations using the Viewpoint software, a computer-assisted tool for gathering children and young people's views. Viewpoint is used to engage with children and young people who are on the child protection register and are looked after. There may be other local authorities that have similar information but did not submit it to the review. Other consultations and evaluations used face-to-face interviews or group discussions.
Consultations with children and young people on child protection processes
4.4 South Lanarkshire Council surveyed children and young people involved in the child protection process during 2012. This involved 29 children aged from 4 to 14 years with participants being asked to complete a questionnaire. All those surveyed were able to say who their social worker was, and most knew why they had a social worker. Being kept safe was identified as the main reason for having a social worker. Those who did not know who was their social worker were generally younger. Children and young people stated that their social worker helped them with problems with their family. Over half said that the child protection process had helped to keep them safe.
4.5 When they felt unsafe, the majority would talk to their parents or other family members, followed by the social worker, with smaller numbers identifying their friends or teachers. Most children and young people taking part in the consultation appeared to have a good relationship with their social worker and stated that having a social worker had improved their situation. Over two-thirds had been asked what they wanted to happen and the majority felt that they had been listened to.
4.6 The South Lanarkshire consultation identified three areas for improvement: continuing to improve practice in children and young people's participation; ensuring that children and young people were seen within timescales; and that children and young people had the opportunity to see social workers on their own.
4.7 The findings from the South Lanarkshire consultation is complemented by formal research undertaken in Renfrewshire on children and young people's experiences of a child protection investigation. Eleven children and young people aged 12 to 17 years were interviewed. The study found that none of the children or young people knew what to expect at the commencement of the investigation and the majority did not know that it was going to take place.
4.8 Children and young people had different experiences of the first child protection meeting, with a small number finding it helpful and five of the young people feeling that their views were not listened to. The majority did not understand the process as they were not informed about what was happening. Over half did not know that they were on the child protection register until they were contacted for the Renfrewshire study.
4.9 The study found that those who were informed from the outset were more positive. The children and young people had diverse understandings of what would happen, with some being confident because they were aware of procedures. Generally, however, children and young people in the Renfrewshire study were dissatisfied with the investigation process. This was due to the lack of information and little understanding about the process. However, the majority identified that the child protection investigation was positive in its impact on their lives.
4.10 All the children and young people who took part had views on how to improve the process. This included: involving children and young people more when decisions were being made; 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 facilitating families' involvement. Other suggestions included have fewer professionals at meetings and requesting that police officers did not wear uniforms if visiting homes.
4.11 An evaluation of individual reports gathered through Viewpoint by Glasgow City Council explored the effectiveness of this tool in consulting children and young people around child protection processes. Viewpoint questionnaires have been used in Glasgow from April 2009 with different questionnaires used for three age groups: those aged 5 to 7 years; those aged 8 to11 years; and those aged 12 to 16 years old. In addition to completing the questionnaire for the child protection process, children and young people were asked to give their views on using Viewpoint. Those children and young people that did use it were positive about Viewpoint and indicated that they thought it helped them get their views across.
4.12 In the 5 to 7 age group, 52% of those responding reported that they understood why professionals were supporting their families. Under one-third were not sure and 19% did not know why. The majority, two-thirds, saw their social worker as often as they felt they needed to.
4.13 Of the children aged 8 to 11 years responding to these questions, the majority (69%) knew that their names were on the child protection register (which records the main areas of risk to the child) with 59% of this group knowing why they were on the register. Nearly 80% were unsure or did not think that they should be on the child protection register. The majority, nearly three-quarters, felt that they could talk to their social worker. Over 60% had been to child protection meetings previously. Overall, the evaluation found that children in this age group had a high level of awareness of the child protection process although they did not necessarily think that they should be on the child protection register.
4.14 In the 12 to 16 age group, 67% of those who responded knew that they were on the child protection register and the reasons why. The majority of young people (59%) did not believe that they should be on the child protection register with the majority of this group indicated that they felt their home lives were stable. Eighty two per cent felt safe all of the time. The evaluation highlights that there were different perceptions between young people and that of professionals about young people's safety and need for child protection interventions.
4.15 Across the 8 to 16 age group who responded in the Glasgow study, children and young people identified that they would speak to their mothers primarily as well as their social workers, fathers and siblings. The majority, 84%, stated that they were able to talk to their social workers.
4.16 Overall, the evaluation identified that Viewpoint was the only method of children and young people giving their views around child protection processes that had been monitored and evaluated. The evaluation emphasised that the analysis was a 'snapshot' of children and young people's views and findings might be limited to those who like completing questionnaires, and/or using computers and/or were given the opportunity to complete the Viewpoint questionnaire.
4.17 Aberdeenshire Council collated Viewpoint reports gathered from 211 children and young people. Off these 39 (19%) related to child protection. All completed questionnaires identified a child or young person's gender, ethnicity and disability and were analysed using the SHANNARI indicators. The majority of children and young people aged from 5 to 16 felt safe at home all of the time (82%). Fifty five per cent knew why their name was on the child protection register, with a further 8% not sure and 37% not knowing why.
4.18 East Lothian Council regularly gathers information from Viewpoint from children and young people involved in child protection. The report for 2012 acknowledges that the small sample size was not necessarily representative. All children and young people taking part, aged 7 to 14 years, said that they could talk to their social worker. All knew that their names were on the child protection register and what the child protection register was. The report suggests that there needs to be better take-up of Viewpoint as a means of ensuring that children and young people's views are heard.
4.19 Children 1st undertakes regular user evaluations in its child protection advocacy service in North Ayrshire. The evaluations found that young people were positive about the support they received from the advocacy worker and that young people understood what was happening when workers were involved in the family. Young people felt involved in decisions to some degree. Nearly all young people felt that their lives had improved since their names were put on the child protection register and that advocacy had helped them through the child protection process.
4.20 In a participation event with 9 participants held by the Children 1st North Ayrshire Advocacy Service, young people identified that they thought leaflets would be useful to find out more about advocacy and child protection, with a request for more pictures, less words or adults telling young people information. Young people thought that they would use the internet to learn more about advocacy and child protection and that it was a good idea to meet the chairperson of the Child Protection Committee. Overall, young people had mixed experiences of going through the child protection process.
4.21 Fifteen children and young people supported by a Children 1st service in Dundee were asked about their views and experiences on the child protection register and previous case conferences. Just under half had knowledge of a child protection conference taking place recently with a similar number not being sure of such a meeting taking place. The majority did not attend the child protection conference. There was mixed understanding of what the child protection register was, with 5 knowing what the child protection register was, 7 not knowing and 3 not sure. Those children and young people who had an understanding of the child protection register wanted to have their names removed.
4.22 The majority of children and young people in the Children 1st consultation could not remember seeing the information leaflet for children and young people on child protection. Some individual suggestions about improving the leaflets included: using more colour and pictures but less words; using stories or DVDs; and being age appropriate.
4.23 North Lanarkshire undertook a consultation with 16 children and young people aged 10 years and above involved in the child protection process in 2011. The sample included children and young people with a disability. A senior social worker and Who Cares? Scotland worker met one to one with children and young people.
4.24 The majority of the children and young people who took part stated that their lives had improved. Some described specific positive outcomes. As in other consultation findings, children and young people were able to identify an adult that they spoke to and some said that they were listened to. Overall, the majority knew why they were getting support from professionals and what support had been available. They generally knew why their names were on the child protection register. Some had attended child protection meetings although this was generally at a later stage in the child protection process.
4.25 A scoping study that focused on child protection and disabled children and young people in Scotland identified that little research had been undertaken with disabled children and young people that explored their views and experiences of the child protection system.
Approaches to supporting participation
4.26 Viewpoint, a computer-assisted tool for gathering children and young people's views, was used by many local authorities to gather the views of children and young people. Children and young people who were asked about Viewpoint found it easy to use and accessible. However, there also appears to be some limitations on its use, based on the evidence considered for this review. Some reports question whether Viewpoint is the best tool or is sufficiently flexible to gather children and young people's views.
4.27 In addition, Viewpoint was not used consistently with all children and young people. It is not clear if this was due to professionals not using the tool or children and young people not wanting to contribute their views by this method. It was suggested from some consultation findings that insufficient qualitative information is gathered using Viewpoint and that it does not necessarily provide in-depth insights.
4.28 Some of the evidence highlights that there is a need to use a range of approaches to gather the views of children and young people because of limitations in the effectiveness of Viewpoint as an approach and also to ensure participation by as many children and young people as possible.
Evidence on child protection systems from the rest of the UK
4.29 A small number of studies, from elsewhere in the UK, specifically England, were considered in order to provide additional context. This evidence does not generally take account of the differences in child protection systems but does identify some common messages.
4.30 A Scottish Child Care and Protection Network briefing reviewed research about involving children and young people in assessment and decision-making. It found that the majority of evidence on this topic was based on small-scale qualitative studies across the UK. The study found little evidence on younger children's views (those under the age of 8). Only limited research was available on investigative interviews relating to child protection. The briefing found that children and young people's involvement was dependent on the skills and values of professionals working with children.
4.31 Research commissioned by the Children's Commissioner in England found that children and young people often had a partial understanding of child protection processes, relying on parents or siblings for further information. Those who did understand more about these processes tended to be older and had previous experience of child protection meetings. Although some children and young people could identify positive outcomes from their social workers' involvement, many also spoke of negative factors such as increased family stress, intrusion and stigma arising from the intervention.
4.32 A review on child abuse and neglect undertaken for the Department of Children, Schools and Families for the UK Government identified that there was little research that explored children and young people's (and parents' views) on the ways in which they would seek help, what would be the best form of support that children would seek and what would inhibit access to services.
4.33 A study undertaken by Action for Children for the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People's Services (C4EO) in England found limited evidence on children and young people's views of the child protection system. Research evidence identified that children and young people found being involved in the child protection system did make things better although they might lose control over what happens to them. Consultation with children and young people identified that relationships with social workers were of central importance. Children and young people wanted to be kept informed, to have choices, to be provided with explanations, their families to be involved and their views to be taken into account.
4.34 These other studies confirm the finding of this review that generally there is a lack of evidence on children and young people's views relating to child protection systems. It confirms findings from Scottish evidence on 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 mixed understandings of meetings and processes associated with child protection.
4.35 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.
4.36 Children and young people thought that they were listened to. Children and young people were positive about their relationships with social workers and said that they could talk to them. Where it was explored, children and young people thought that their circumstances had improved and that their home lives were stable. Evidence highlights that there is a need to use a range of approaches to gather the views of children and young people.
4.37 Overall, however, 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.
Email: Donna McLean