5.1 The review explored evidence on the views and experiences of children and young people on child protection systems in Scotland between January 2008 and April 2013. Overall, the review identified evidence undertaken by a wide range of organisations covering relevant areas, demonstrating a significant commitment to engaging with children and young people. A number of evidence gaps were identified that would benefit from further exploration.
Evidence on child protection
5.2 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.
5.3 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.
5.4 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.
5.5 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.
5.6 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.
5.7 There was a significant body of work on the Children's Hearing System with clear messages on 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.
5.8 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 speak out whether these were independent advocates, other professionals or family and friends.
5.9 There is not a significant body of evidence on children and young people's views on sharing information in child protection processes. The evidence that is available identified that children and young people saw confidentiality as an important right.
5.10 There is also not much evidence on children and young people's views relating to online use and child protection. Children and young people reported understanding issues around security online. However, safety messages were often ignored.
5.11 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.
5.12 It was found that young people who run away were at particular risk of experiencing homelessness later in life.
5.13 There are some studies on children and young people's mental health but not evidence on 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.
5.14 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
5.15 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.
5.16 Children and young people thought that they were listened to. However, from the evidence it is difficult to identify if they felt that 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.
5.17 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 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.
5.18 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.
5.19 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.
5.20 A scoping study focused on Scotland, but drawing on research elsewhere, found little research that had been undertaken with disabled children and young people.
5.21 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
5.22 There is a range of useful and insightful evidence on areas relating to children and young people's views and experiences on child protection services. There is also a lack of evidence in specific areas which would be helpful to explore in future activities.
5.23 Overall, there are 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.
5.24 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.
5.25 There was not significant evidence on how children and young people accessed information about child protection services. Some insights are provided on the different ways that children and young people wanted to receive information and how written information should be presented. However, this was only briefly explored and would benefit from further consideration.
5.26 There was no information on what would help children or young people to make contact or a referral and it is not clear what systems or processes were in place to support this. There was little evidence on children and young people's views on how, and when, information should be or was shared. Exploring these areas further with service providers in the public and NGO sectors would be helpful.
5.27 There was 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, children and young people from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community. This is applicable across all areas of diversity and inclusion.
5.28 There was little information on what children and young people thought worked best in terms of giving their views on child protection systems and services. This could be explored further with social workers, Child Protection Committees and NGOs in order to ask children and young people what approaches are most effective and meet their diverse needs.
5.29 There was not a substantial body of reflective evidence on how children and young people's views were gathered in child protection systems. This includes evaluation of the widely used computer tool, Viewpoint.
Reflections on the evidence
5.30 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 a wider audiences.
5.31 The review found that there were participatory activities being undertaken and recorded by Child Protection Committees, local authorities and NGOs to explore the views of children and young people in child protection services. The majority of evidence appeared to be gathered for internal reporting and monitoring purposes rather than for the purpose of wider dissemination. This gathering of information may be widely undertaken among local authorities. The evidence received for this review may therefore be a sample of wider activities across local authorities that collect the views of children and young people.
5.32 Some consultation and participation activities were currently being undertaken by local authorities with findings not yet available. These other activities may provide additional information of value. It may be helpful to discuss approaches to disseminating evidence with key stakeholders, such as Child Protection Committees, so that this evidence can be shared more widely when it is available.
5.33 Evidence passed to the review team had to be in the public domain in line with the review's criteria. However, some of this evidence is not easily accessible as it was produced for internal service purposes. The references for evidence are not always detailed and access to the evidence may require direct contact with the named organisations.
5.34 In addition, some of the evidence relating to children's views on child protection systems did not include much detail about the context for the activity; was small-scale and/or did not analyse findings in depth. However, it was decided to include this evidence because of its relevance to the review aims.
5.35 The lack of extensive evidence of children and young people's views on child protection services indicates that this is an area that could be developed and explored. In some instances, it may be difficult for children and young people to give their views where professionals from the same service are involved. In addition, there was little formal and independent research on children and young people's views of child protection services. This suggests that there is an opportunity for researchers to develop new work in this area.
5.36 There may be evidence that is contained in other reports, research or consultation evidence. For example, research and consultations on the views and experiences of children and young people who are looked after may contain useful insights into their experiences of child protection services but these may be included in perspectives on other forms of support or services. This could be addressed through discussion with other organisations which are gathering evidence in related areas.
5.37 Much of the evidence on children and young people's views on child protection systems did not include: details about the context for the consultation; information on the sample; whether consent had been given by children and young people for evidence to be shared; or detailed analysis of data. The review team is tentative about drawing in-depth conclusions from the available evidence because of the lack of detail.
5.38 Attention should be given to ethical issues that arise from gathering views from children and young people. This should include, for example, whether children and young people and their parents have given informed consent for evidence (rather on information relating to child protection) to be shared either locally or more widely. Where sample sizes are very small, it may be possible to identify participants so careful consideration should be given to anonymity and confidentiality.
5.39 Most of the evidence gathered did not provide a level of detail on the views and needs of children and young people from specific groups (e.g. different age groups, disability, ethnicity, geographical diversity, socio economic factors, sexual orientation and other areas that impact on children and young people's inclusion). It is therefore difficult to identify the specific characteristics of the sample of participants.
Recommendations for future research
5.40 The Scottish Government should consider areas for further participatory work with children and young people on child protection from the gaps in evidence in future research.
5.41 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.
5.42 Establishing common areas of interest to explore across all child protection services would assist in providing a greater body of evidence which could be compared across Scotland.
5.43 Consideration should be given to promoting research and consultation by those independent of services such as academics and NGOs in order to provide a wider range of evidence.
5.44 Consideration should be given to ways in which research, consultations and evaluations could utilise larger samples of children and young people so that more detailed findings are available. This would allow for more details to be available on the needs of specific groups of children and young people.
5.45 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 groups and with specific needs.
5.46 Developing more common shared understandings of a range of approaches across services and evaluating the use of Viewpoint as a tool would provide insights which would build on current experience. This would offer opportunities to develop knowledge and expertise about different methods of engaging children and young people which could be shared and evaluated.
5.47 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. The emphasis should be on developing reliable, high quality sources of evidence which take into account points explored in paragraphs 5.29-5.38.
5.48 The Scottish Government should discuss with relevant stakeholders how to maximise evidence from areas related to child protection in research, consultation and participatory activities. This would help in ensuring that evidence relevant to child protection is highlighted in evidence, for example, on parenting, looked after children and areas where children and young people are at risk from harm.
5.49 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 a second phase of activities which can draw on the views and experiences of young people.
Email: Donna McLean