Part 4: Preparing for service start up and making improvements with partners – Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children's Hearings Scotland (CHS)
95. SCRA Localities were open to contact with providers including during the period of lockdown as a result of Coronavirus. These dialogues continued to be developed as the Children's Hearing System began to operate in a more recognisable way.
96. Virtual children's hearings have had some limitations, as the result of the technology that was initially being used to operate them. As a result reporters needed to try to keep attendees to a minimum. However, if a child had the support of an advocacy worker and wants that worker to participate in their virtual Hearing then they made every effort to facilitate this.
97. Children's Hearings Scotland briefed all panel members and the area support teams. Children's Hearings Scotland Learning Academy developed a new learning module on the national advocacy scheme in collaboration with Partners in Advocacy, Children 1st and Aberdeen Civil Legal Aid Office. The module is mandatory for all Panel Members. Children's Hearings Scotland have had 2537 members of the Children's Hearings System community successfully complete this course.
98. All Panel Members of the Children's Hearing were briefed by June 2020 and Panel Members could inform children and young people of the availability of advocacy services. However, this key practice change was not fully embedded at this point as a result of the massive operational changes brought about by virtual children's hearings and the delay in commencement of section 122. This practice began, as standard, from November 2020.
99. Advocacy workers should become involved with a child at the earliest opportunity. That is why SCRA altered their letters to include a sentence informing children and relevant persons about availability of advocacy services; and developed an email to social workers to confirm practical Hearing arrangements stressing the availability of the local advocacy service.
100. Advocacy workers will not be sent the paperwork for a Children's Hearing. They will gather information from the child who would like them to be involved and from the allocated social worker if that becomes necessary.
101. A cornerstone of the advocacy worker's relationship with a young person is trust. This develops over time and it is important to realise that effective advocacy support should not be last minute or 'parachuted' in for a child in a crisis situation. The support of an advocacy worker will stay in place for as long as a child thinks it is required. The support given by the advocacy worker may change over time and as a child grows in confidence and understanding.
102. If a child wants the support of an advocacy worker then they should be linked into the service. It is for the child to approach the service, not the other way round. Social workers will be talking all children through the benefits of advocacy support and will be linking children with services if they are interested.
103. In a joint update from Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and Children's Hearings Scotland in February 2021, each of the locality areas summarised their key experiences and thoughts from the last few months. This also highlighted areas for further thought and discussion including:
- How the 'trusting' relationship over time can be maintained between an advocacy worker and a child when their involvement is limited to children's hearings.
- A consistent approach amongst advocacy providers to key decisions (like the decision to manage all advocacy support / input using technology) would be helpful – particularly amongst different providers operating in Local Authority areas which come under a single SCRA locality.
- A consistent approach to the use of language would be less confusing – particularly using the term advocacy worker rather than Advocates (given the role Advocates can and do have in a number of children's hearings court proceedings).
- Additional consideration and time needs to be spent on really thinking through information sharing between partners, particularly in areas of the Children's Hearing System where advocacy workers have not previously been involved (like court work). A number of questions specifically around this area of work have already been raised and more definite positions should be developed.
- A mechanism for gathering independent feedback about the involvement of advocacy workers (from children, families and from decision makers) needs to be developed and that feedback shared for the benefit of everyone. Some Panel Members have suggested that a national approach should be taken to gathering feedback from local areas around the operation of advocacy in Hearings.
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