Part 1: Introduction
1. In this early period of the scheme's implementation and noting the backdrop of the particular challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, it was felt it would be helpful to partners to develop and share a 2020-21 report. This report aims to highlight areas of good practice and areas for further progression over the coming period. It has also to be noted that necessary virus suppression restrictions on face-to-face meetings meant broad system and practice changes had to be applied during the period covered. Some of these are detailed later in this report.
2. Following a successful expressions of interest exercise in 2019, 10 organisations were selected, who together provide a Scotland-wide network of children's advocacy services for children's hearings. Funding for the provision is managed by the Scottish Government via annual Grant awards. The funding commenced in March 2020 under a multi-year arrangement extending initially to 2021-22.
3. The provision of children's advocacy services for children's hearings is set out in statute. Section 122 of the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 was commenced from 21 November 2020 (initially planned for 27 April 2020 but delayed due to Coronavirus). Section 122(2) of the Act places a duty on the chair of every children's hearing to inform the child about the availability of children's advocacy services. Ministers have a duty to make provision for, and enter into arrangements to ensure access to, independent advocacy services for children involved in the Children's Hearing System. The children's hearings national advocacy service is demand led.
4. The Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group (ERG) continues to support the design, delivery and implementation of the national scheme.
Information collated to inform this report
5. This report is based mostly on reflections provided to the Scottish Government Children's Hearings Advocacy Team from grant management discussions and reporting from the 10 advocacy organisations. As well as fulfilling a grant requirement, these grant management discussions helped to gain intelligence from advocacy organisations as to how the service was operating in their areas, and about any practical issues that had emerged. We hoped to hear information about good, innovative practice as well as seeking to understand any barriers identified by the organisations, and get ideas about how to resolve them. This allowed us to provide advice and support to our wider delivery partners, to identify common themes, and escalate matters as appropriate.
6. Information prepared for the Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group meetings by key partners at Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children's Hearings Scotland (CHS) around preparatory arrangements and implementation experiences during this period have also informed this report. Our thanks go to all involved.
7. The report intends to outline key outputs across the year. This is demonstrated in: data reported, scenarios discussed, matters resolved, barriers identified and good practices picked up. This report will be of interest to everyone with an interest in children's advocacy in children's hearings.
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