Children's advocacy in children's hearings - national scheme: good practice and issues arising

Progress report on the implementation of the children's hearings advocacy provision in the first year March 2020 to March 2021.

Part 5: Digital innovations to enable children and young people to engage and participation in the Children's Hearing System

Outputs - Providing new ways to engage, communication and help children, young people and families effectively participate in their Hearing.

Scottish Government awarded organisations extra funds totalling £63,000 in 2020-21 specifically to support digital connectivity as part of the Children's Hearings Recovery Programme under the Winter Plan for Social Protection Package. Organisations used the extra funds for devices, data, other smart technologies and adaptations.

104. Between March 2020 and April 2021 the Children's Hearing System was adapting as best it could to the changing needs and challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic. It had a direct impact on meetings, timeframes and the support systems around young people. New ways of conducting meetings, communicating, and involving young people were being piloted, with mixed results. Who Cares? Scotland captured information during a practice sharing discussions amongst advocacy workers and more formal feedback obtained from them and some young people via a survey in April 2021. The survey provides interesting reflections from advocacy workers who have been involved in the mobilisation of this service. A lot of this information was considered within the digital connectivity funds bid under the Winter Plan for Social Protection Package.

105. All of the organisations reported issues with the technology for virtual Hearings – Vscene.

106. A lot of discussion was had around the access to technology and telephone or internet connectivity for children and young people, and families to actually participate in the relationship building aspect of their advocacy support in the run up to the Hearing, and participating in the Hearing itself. Some, or indeed most of the organisations have already purchased devices or data to support those children and young people who did not already have access. In the case of one organisation, the decision was made to purchase tablets rather than phones so that children and young people could use the device for educational purposes too.

107. As part of the Scottish Government's Winter Plan for Social Protection – Children's Hearing Recovery, the providers of the national children's hearings advocacy scheme identified a range of digital, participative approaches to support children and families to engage with the Children's Hearing System. Additional funding up to £63,000 shared between the organisations was made available in February 2021 to enable providers to facilitate creative ways to work with children and young people and some of the approaches across the providers are explained here.

108. The National Providers Network welcomed the resources to help find new ways to engage, communication and help children, young people and families effectively participate in their Hearing. In addition, the opportunity to invest in smart technology will help continue to provide a high quality COVID adaptive advocacy resource that supports the child or young person have their voice heard, wishes considered and support better decision making from the children's hearing in improving experiences and outcomes for children and young people.

109. The providers collectively continue to discuss and learn from these approaches through the National Providers Network.

Tablets / IT Equipment/ Technology

110. A number of providers have purchased tablets and data packages to be used by the children and young people's advocacy workers when supporting children and young people who experience digital inequalities/exclusion to prepare for and in their Hearing. The aim is for these tablets to be used in face to face meetings to gather views in a variety of different ways. The tablets are easily cleanable and so will ensure we meet health and safety requirements. The tablets also allow flexibility of use and can be loaned temporarily to a child or young person in circumstances where they have no other alternative to participate in their Hearing. Due to the portability, the option to use the tablets to attend remotely can be enabled from schools, homes or other venues away from the advocacy offices.

Mini Portable Wi-Fi Dongles

111. For those providers who support children and young people across both city and rural areas internet access can be inconsistent. Providers identified that portable connections to Wi-Fi will enable the children and young people's advocacy workers to access Wi-Fi while they are working in these areas.

112. Providers have developed a digital consent form, which can also be easily used on the tablets. In line with the technology providers also identified that outcomes and feedback tools will be explored with the new equipment.

Improved spaces for digital children's hearings/meetings – responsive to coronavirus regulations and guidance

113. Some organisations have purchased digital equipment e.g. screens, wide lens camera/ speaker for conference calls and made changes to their office facilities turning meeting rooms into a safe video and conference spaces, which can be used by children and young people to be supported in person by their advocacy worker and attend the Hearing remotely. The technology and layouts enable the advocacy workers to keep socially distanced with improved audio and visual means to participate in video conferencing.

Pay as You Go Sim Cards / Data

114. Providers identified that not all families have access to internet or even mobile phones. In addition to this access to data and the cost of that can be problematic for a number of families. Providers have utilised re-conditioned contract phones that are no longer used and have purchased 'pay as you go' pre-loaded sim cards. Families will have the ability to access to these phones (on loan) to enable children and young people and families to engage and communicate with their advocacy worker in preparation for and to participate in their hearing.


115. The Portal+ is smart technology that can be loaned to families to aid remote meeting with their advocacy worker. This device can be used on the floor or table, wherever the child is more comfortable, and enable remote interaction such as Lego building, drawing or other creative tools to support the child have their voice heard and views explored in regards to their Hearing. A safe loaning policy was developed for parents/carers in the safe use of this technology. The Portal+ can be used with MS Teams, Google Hangout or Zoom.

Digital Talking Mats

116. Some providers purchased packages with licences for use by children and young people's advocacy workers. Use of Digital Talking Mats aid independent advocacy workers to gather the views of children and young people for children's hearings with improved and additional communication tools. Talking Mats are installed on new touch screen tablets so they can be used for face-to-face meetings and on the advocacy workers computers for screen sharing when in video meetings with children and young people if working remotely.


117. One organisation invested in the communication tool that can be used to participate, engage and communicate with children and young people. The purchased licenses enable all advocacy workers to have Boardmaker available for use on their laptops and/or iPads and for children and young people to access Boardmaker on their own device or one provided. This Boardmaker is a software programme that is widely used to support children, young people (and adults) who have difficulties with reading, writing, speaking, listening or interacting. Using pictures and symbols children and young people can be supported to express their views and opinions. The software also contains an extensive library of resources and provides access to forums for staff to share knowledge and experience of using Boardmaker 7.



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