Children's Hearing Advocacy Expert Reference Group minutes: June 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 9 June 2021.

Items and actions

Items and actions

This note provides an overview of the discussion and key action points from the meeting of the Children Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group (ERG).

The meeting took place as a videoconference on Wednesday 9 June 2021. An update paper covering all agenda items was issued in advance of the meeting. An update paper from Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA); a new hearings advocacy poster; and a Scottish Government update on implementation paper prepared for the Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP) meeting in April were all shared as separate attachments.

Welcome, introductions and apologies

Scottish Government (SG) Chair, Pam Semple, welcomed Rhona Wilder from Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) and noted apologies received from: Law Society for Scotland, Children 1st, Border Independent Advocacy Service, The Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice (CYCJ) and Advocard. 

Actions and note of last meeting for clearance

Members agreed the note of the last meeting as a correct record. Pam listed the eight actions noted at the last meeting and provided a brief update on progress. This included:

  • members were invited to give feedback to Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS) to help inform the development of guidance around the new duties on social work regarding siblings – completed and CELCIS working on the drafting
  • National Providers Network (NPN) to explore data they hold – completed and SG gave thanks to the group for the info they have provided - completed
  • Children 1st to share outputs from Susan Elsley’s work on matters around conflict – in progress, potentially ready to be shared within the next couple of months
  • SG to provide info on definitions around siblings work – completed, information is included in the update paper
  • SCRA to consider notification letters wording for siblings – in progress, update provided in the SCRA update paper
  • SG to consider targeted communications for social work – in train, and asking for help and looking to convene a meeting of the ERG comms and engagement sub group soon
  • SG to facilitate discussions with NPN re uptake, unmet demand etc. – ongoing work, but thanks given to organisations for providing initial data and insights
  • organise another ERG – completed, this meeting includes an agenda item to discuss sibling work in more detail

Members updates – any business arising

Melissa Hunt provided an update on behalf of SCRA. SG offered an apology for circulating their update paper only on the morning of the meeting. Melissa invited any feedback/comments within the meeting of afterwards when people had managed to read and digest the paper. Specifically around the siblings work, she provided a brief update to say that the notification letters are in the process of being updated. Training for staff and reporters is currently underway and will run through to the end (26) of July. An update on remote/virtual hearings and COVID-19 recovery work were also mentioned and covered in detail in the update paper. 

A few questions were raised about SCRA’s update. The first was around the timeline and arrangements for the roll-out of the new platform for virtual hearings. Melissa said evaluation of the pilots is underway and will inform the next steps. It will take time to plan and introduce, including ensuring the infrastructure is in place and the necessary training and support for staff, Reporters, and other users too. Another question was about what the group thought could be done to look more carefully at decisions to defer the hearing for an advocacy worker. SCRA noted in their update paper that there seems to be some anecdotal information suggesting that deferral may not always be because a child wants an advocacy worker and perhaps we need to understand that a little more. Tracey McFall, as Chair of the National Provider Network (NPN) agreed this is an issue worth exploring more with the advocacy organisations and will be picked up within the NPN forum and with Melissa for SCRA and Elaine Adams for CHIP interests. A few different practice examples were shared including social workers not fully explaining what independent advocacy is in a way the child can understand, referrals being made so late that they advocacy workers can’t meet/build a relationship with the child.

Louise Piaskowski provided an update on behalf of SG. Louise highlighted items also covered in the SG written update paper provided before the meeting including:

Drew attention to the information given to help clarify the policy rationale and definitions with regards to new duties in relation to looked after children and their siblings within the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and opportunity for siblings to participate in Hearings. There was an opportunity to discuss this in more detail under the next agenda item;

Provided a brief update on the training and CPD work including the developments of the mandatory ‘induction’ training, and annual refresher for advocacy workers on the law surrounding Children’ Hearings. This training work is being delivered by Clan Childlaw on behalf of SG. An action is being taken forward to further develop the skills and knowledge framework/workforce plan with a view to considering a plan for developing a suitable qualification.

Communications and engagement work has continued, and SG have particularly valued the input from Our Hearings Our Voice (OHOV) Board members in the feedback and contributions they have provided. This input has helped develop the website and other publicity materials, including the new poster. We continue to keep an eye on the analytics of users to the website and any updates or opportunity to add content that might be needed. Communications and engagement work with the sector has also been going well but there’s more to do and help with at a national level around developing information and engagement with social work in particular. SG would like help from the sub-group to work on a strategy and will look to arrange a meeting soon.

Monitoring and reporting has also been happening, and in this recent period SG has been putting time into reviewing all the quarter four and end of year grant monitoring reports from the 10 organisations. Information from these has also helped to develop implementation learning and key challenges and successes over the year April 2020-March 2021 will be collated into a paper which will be shared with advocacy organisations, as well as the wider ERG, in due course.

Comments and questions were invited. A suggestion was made that sharing the poster with the Virtual School Head Teachers (VSHT) network and Education Scotland to add to their Improvement Hub could be a good way to get the poster out to a number schools. With thanks to Elaine Adams, this action has been taken forward and the poster shared with Education Scotland and to the VSHT network.

Development of a niche qualification for children’s advocacy workers within children’s hearings was also questioned. Points were made that the split opinion of SIAA member organisations on this was perhaps dated and certainly pre-dated the children’s hearings advocacy scheme development. There remains appetite from a lot of the Group of the group to discuss a broader qualification for advocacy workers within a wider cross-section of the group including all advocacy organisations. A meeting of the Training and Qualification sub-group is in the process of being convened to discuss these issues and to agree a way forward.

Gaby Nolan from Clan Childlaw also gave an update on the training programme. Gaby informed the group that the feedback from the first round of induction training sessions has helped the development and structure and format of this next round. Gaby has been setting up and issuing the login details to the training materials as and when we have been notified of staff details for those new people who have started in the period between September 2020 and now. The planning has also started for refresher training sessions for advocacy workers who have already completed the training, and these will likely take place in November / December time. More information about these will be forthcoming.

NPN Chair provided a brief update on the groups work. This included discussions and meetings on outcomes work which has involved collaborative working on a proposal for a consistent outcomes tool and approach to measure outcomes for children and young people. This has been given SG support and work is underway to develop and deliver this by the end of this year 2021. An appraisal of digital innovations has also been produced. A one page written brief will be shared after this meeting providing more detail.


  • SCRA to check if there is any more information about the reasons where deferrals have been made for an advocacy worker
  • NPN, SCRA, CHIP lead to work together to explore the issue of deferrals and advice on possible next steps to limit the number of times where these scenarios may arise
  • advocacy organisations to notify the Scottish Government of staff who require to complete this next round of mandatory induction training starting from June this year
  • Scottish Government, with support from NPN Chair and CHIP lead, to convene a further meeting of the training and CPD sub-group to work on progressing a workforce development framework plan and the vision for developing a professional qualification for children’s advocacy workers working within the Children’s Hearings System
  • Scottish Government to convene a meeting of the Comms and Engagement sub-group to discuss a plan of targeted activity to support social workers understanding and practices.
  • SG will continue collating feedback and prepare a paper highlighting common themes and sharing good, innovative practice
  • NPN Chair to share one page update on the group’s recent work

Siblings / contact update

SG asked and received agreements in principle that that provider organisations would be able to support siblings when the regulations come into effect 26 July. SG informed the group that funding is being agreed and we will let the provider organisations know more soon. SG thanked all providers for the intelligence they have provided which has helped us develop a way forward – to work out a potential funding model. Close monitoring of the situation will continue as the regulations come into effect, for example, the number of children/people who choose to exercise this right to participate on issue of contact and who may want independent advocacy support to help them with this is unknown.

Part of this agenda item was to discuss pathways. It was acknowledged that there would never be one size fits all and to tie down a specific step by step process would not be possible. As with all advocacy provision, the child is the immediate concern and processes and procedures cannot be in place which hamper the ability for advocacy workers to support that child. The pathway then has to be so flexible so as to allow for support for a child/sibling irrespective of the circumstances. It is considered that SCRA notification letter and social workers will refer sibling to the primary provider – whilst recognising there could be a referral from the child themselves, or from another family member, teacher, etc. The provider will decide whether they can support the child and their sibling without perception of conflict. If not, then the primary provider can refer to the alternate provider who can take up the support of the sibling(s).

Scottish Government were keen to know if the Group understood that the sibling element of this advocacy work is only pertaining to the issue of “contact” and not the full Children’s Hearing. Pam asked for assurance that the information sent out in the update paper help with that understanding, or if any further detail was required. The Group agreed the understanding was clear that it was the contact element of the child’s hearing that warranted sibling support.

Fiona Clements, Early Intervention Team Leader with Improving Lives for People with Care Experience Unit, Scottish Government was unable to attend but provided an update regarding publication of practice guidance for brothers and sisters which was shared:

“Work in relation to the development of practice guidance is developing at pace. Drafts of several sections have been shared with the wider advisory group and the group will meet tomorrow. The guidance is on course to be provided to ourselves by 30th June and work has started in relation to publication and consideration of communications. Colleagues from Celcis and I met with colleagues in SCRA and CHS to understand the crossover links to their learning and development in this space and agreed to share this with one another. There is recognition that the guidance will be a first version which will require review in response to practice itself. We hope to be able to bring the advisory group back together in the future to discuss any such points. This practice guidance is also the first step in supporting all meaningful relationships for children and young people who are not able to be cared for at home.“

Questions and contributions were invited from members. 

Partners in Advocacy commented that they are paying close attention to their data around supporting sibling groups within main children’s hearings advocacy provision and are happy to share this with SG as needed.

Who Cares? Scotland suggested, regarding resources, further work to look at early planning assumptions and how this works though into possibly exhausting currently funded ‘alternate’ provision to better understand the numbers and models could help before introducing anything new. The alternate provision is there for three main purposes, choice, consistency and conflict. The use of alternate provider has accessed for a low number of cases so far and mixed across the country. Mostly for the managing conflict for sibling groups. It was agreed that this could be explored further through the NPN forum.

A further two points specifically related to advocacy workers were made. More thought needs to be given to how information is communicated to children/young people who may have ‘sibling like relationships’ about their rights to participate and have their views considered within the hearings. In terms of training and guidance, it was acknowledged more discussion is needed about whether there are new training needs for advocacy organisations/workers around these new bits of practice. It was emphasised these new regulations have implications which are broader than the Hearings system (but also for others e.g. SCRA are rolling out training for their staff and reporters).

The CHIP lead clarified practice evolving at the earlier points and in a more holistic way for children/young person should mean siblings are also identified and their views considered in all aspects of planning and decision making. Therefore it is not anticipated that many siblings would feel they needed to exercise their rights to attend the Hearing. There will be a heavy reliance of the information provided to SCRA in the Social Work reports as to how to manage and who to invite to each Hearing. CHS and SCRA confirmed that a template is being developed for this.

From a Social Work Scotland perspective, it was commented that it was helpful to know this guidance will be first version/point and can be reviewed and evolve with the learning and practice which will inevitably involve complex scenarios over the coming year. The guidance is not the end point and it will take time for the necessary shifts in practice to bed in. Advancing work and confidence around the use of genealogy and comprehensive life story work will also be very important.

East Ayrshire Independent Advocacy also commented that good practice already existing e.g. foster children keeping in touch / relationships in areas (before this legislation), and we should explore and share good practice where things are working well. 

Barnardo’s also added that they are looking closely at advocacy beyond children’s hearings too, to understand more about the weight given to the views of children/young people who experience care within all key decision making processes.

Within the discussions there was broad recognition there will be complexities that will need to be worked through beyond end July 2021 and bigger discussions to engage with around the spirit of The Promise

Action: NPN to factor in work to unpick more about how alternate provision is working and reasons where is being used and consider any scope to more robustly use this for the sibling participation support offer.

Action: Scottish Government to arrange for the ERG to meet again over the summer.


There was no other business identified for discussion. Pam closed the meeting with thanks to all for their attendance, participation and input.

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