Children’s Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group update paper: February 2021

Update paper for the Children’s Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group meeting on 12 February 2021.

Scottish Government update paper for 12 February 2021


This paper aims to provide a short summary of issues of importance for further discussion at the video conference meeting on Friday. It also includes short updates on matters we consider will be of relevance and interest to the group but that we may not necessarily discuss at the meeting.

ERG member action: Before the meeting please, if there is any matters you would like to speak to, or if you cannot make the meeting but have comments, share these with SG - Pam and Louise.

Training and CPD 

Update for sub-group meeting 24 November

The sub-group discussions on 24 November covered both the on-going development of the mandated training on the legal aspects of the Children’s Hearings System ‘making advocacy real in the modernised Children’s Hearings System’ reflecting on the feedback from the sessions delivered in August and September; and the longer term ambition to provide children’s advocacy workers with a profession qualification.

Scottish Government provided all ERG Members with a copy of the sub-group discussions papers on 19 November and followed this up with the meeting note /action by email on 9 December. In summary, it was agreed:

  • pre-appointment training provided by Clan Childlaw had been very well received and was well developed. For the initial part of this training, for all new starts (regardless of experience level), the group agreed a way forward should be to develop the self-study element to include interactive quizzes / check learning. This would help to ensure all workers complete this part before handling live cases. Approximately three months later, once some practical experience has been gained, the self-study would be followed up with a face-to-face or virtual interactive session. The self-study elements will be reinforced and the use of cases studies and practice brought together to discuss and improve learning
  • continuing/annual refresher ‘learning in practice’ sessions would also be provided and these would focus on any new changes in law, and particular matters identified by advocacy workers they would like to explore further

The Scottish Government is working with Clan Childlaw to develop and agree this work programme. It is intended that the development of the pre-appointment training self-study elements will be prioritised and plans developed on timeframes for the other virtual / face to face. We will provide a further update as these arrangements are finalised. Advocacy organisations, should notify Scottish Government when new staff are being recruited so that we can appropriately oversee the training requests. 

The group also considered and agreed that the first step towards a vision for a recognised qualification for advocacy workers should be to develop a workforce plan. A mapping exercise was commissioned to populate the plan. The intention is to identify all relevant sources of training available, and frequently undertaken by advocacy organisations working with children, and other professionals/bodies operating within Children’s Hearings. We issued a call to all ERG members on 9 December to share with us information about well used and developed resources and training opportunities undertaken by advocacy workers and other professionals within the Children’s Hearings System. Any workforce planning documents would provide a rich source of material. Tracey and Elaine volunteered to work on an initial framework for workforce development. The initial draft of this work is set out in the discussion paper attached. It is our intention to reconvene the training and CPD sub-group within the next month to reflect on this work and develop it further.

ERG member action:

Invited to note progress on these matters including:

  • Scottish Government will work with Clan Childlaw on the design and delivery of the mandated training on the law surrounding Children’s Hearings, including the per-appointment elements and ongoing annual refresher sessions
  • Scottish Government proposal is to convene a further meeting of the sub-group to reflect on the draft workforce development framework, as prepared by Elaine and Tracey, and to determine a way forward. For awareness, the draft workforce development framework paper has been shared with these meeting papers

Communications and engagement 

Scottish Government are grateful to Members for working with us to align comms activity to mark the commencement of the regulations and official start of the national provision of children’s advocacy services for Children’s Hearing’s from 21 November. This included a news release from Scottish Government, a guest blog by the Minister for Children and Young People for CELCIS membership, and social media use including visuals and animations to increase publicity of the website.

We successfully made a bid asking for support from ‘Our Hearing’s Our Voice’ (OHOV) to help with a number of small projects geared towards supporting the initial implementation phase and ongoing delivery/evaluation. The first request made was for help to develop age appropriate resources for children to aid understanding of what independent advocacy is; how it can help within Children’s Hearings; and how children and young people can access support if they would like it. Scottish Government were invited to hold a workshop with the young people to seek views and ideas on the website content, leaflet and other suggestions about information that would be useful for children.

Feedback from the OHOV workshop was positive about the website. If you are interested in seeing the short report, let us know. Work is ongoing to keep the website current and relevant. We have been considering the analytics from website hits and top searches, and as a result have added new small pieces of content on, for example, vacancies and permissions.

We did receive a specific piece of feedback from OHOV in relation to adding testimonies and video clips which would make the website more accessible for children of all ages. We made a request to the advocacy organisations to ask for their help to develop this. We are asking for providers to identify a couple of testimonies from children, ensuring privacy is respected, so anonymised as necessary. We also asked if a few advocacy workers would be happy to speak to camera about their role – so bringing the Q&A text to life.  We’re waiting to hear back from organisations to progress this.

In January, the Scottish Government gave a presentation on the Children’s Hearings Advocacy provision to the Virtual School Head Teachers (VSHT) Network, facilitated by CELCIS. 13 local authority areas in Scotland have a VSHT who is a senior member of education staff in a local authority who works at a strategic level, but not in a physical school building. The VSHT’s responsibilities focus on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people in the whole local authority area. VSHTs also provide key links between multi-agency teams and advocate for the needs and rights of care experienced children and young people. Contact details for each area can be found on the CELCIS website. Education Scotland are also involved in this network and will include our website link in their National Improvement Hub page about Children’s Hearings, providing information and learning for teachers. We have left the door open for follow-up, and hope to have the opportunity to present to the broader Education Forum also facilitated by CELCIS later in the year.

Communications and engagement activities are continuing. Advocacy organisations are reporting the good work they are doing in their local areas. We are aware the ‘hearts and minds’ work needs continuing attention and we welcome details of any successful strategies we can share and work on with the group.

ERG member action - invite you to:

  • provide any updates on activity undertake that should be added to the Communications and Engagement Strategy
  • provider organisations to consider what help they may be able to offer to gather testimonies from children and to develop accessible video content explaining the role of an independent advocacy worker and how they can help

Monitoring and reporting 

The Scottish Government has received grant monitoring reports from all organisations for the period April to September, and some for the period October to December (these are due but not all have yet been received/reviewed).

The reporting has inevitably been evolving. In the first quarter, most organisations were focussed on staff recruitment, training and inductions and preparatory work for setting up the service. This included reviewing and updating policy and strategies and also some building adaptations. Work also started on developing and strengthening relationships and awareness raising activities. This became a larger focus across all the organisations in the second quarter - from July onwards. Whilst some organisations were already set up in areas to deliver advocacy in Children’s Hearings through existing contracts, the numbers of cases of new referrals caught under this new provision were small. Of course, during the current pandemic and the move to virtual hearings the numbers reported by organisations was understandably less than we would have realised in “normal” times. In quarter three, all organisations had the services operational on or before the official ‘go-live’ date of 21 November. In this quarter, reporting of referrals and caseloads have increased – but as I’ve mentioned our returns are still only partial. The Boxing Day imposed COVID-19 restrictions has thrown additional challenges our way as the Children’s Hearings Recovery Plan has had to be re-considered. 

Despite all of the challenges though we are pleased to note that 170 referrals have been made from across 27 local authorities – from a variety of sources (social work, safeguarder, families themselves, and teacher). We understand 66 children have been supported to provide their views at their hearing by an advocacy organisation under this new provision. I caveat this again with saying that we don’t have complete returns for the period. We fully expect numbers to increase once quarter three reports are all accounted for. We also understand in quarter 4, referral numbers have increased and some if not all areas are now making referrals.

This is all thanks to the work, the innovative practices and the dedication, and especially communications and partnership work being undertaken by all providers and public bodies involved in the hearings. We are all working well together.

Key themes that have emerged in terms of practice issues include:

  • handling of referrals for out of authority placements. Scottish Government were asked for advice in a few cases and advice was given. The issue was also discussed through the National Provider Network (NPN). In summary each case is considered on an individual basis but the policy position is that collaboration between the organisations in the “home” LA organisation and the “placed” LA organisation are key to ensuring smooth transitions and effective support for the young person
  • supporting sibling groups / mitigating conflict has been another area discussed recently by the NPN. There is also an agenda item for the ERG to discuss this aspect of the service in more detail.
  • being informed of ‘Referral Grounds’, made tricky when operating virtually/not being able to see the child face-to-face as paperwork can’t be easily shared with the advocacy worker
  • reporting of children’s case details - the grant monitoring reports vary in the way some data is presented and therefore interpreted by us. An example of this would be age of child, where some organisations report each child’s age, and others have reported within an age band (under fives, five to ten years old, or primary school age). This is an area we have been discussing individually with the organisations as part of the ongoing grant reporting and a conversation we want to bring back to the ERG and NPN. For next reporting year we would like to agree a consistent format with a clear understanding of why we are asking for it to be presented this way – e.g. is it enough to know how many children under five are supported or will we need a more specific breakdown to be able to understand who the provision is reaching, how, and evaluating outcomes. All for future discussion
  • poor connectivity during Hearings / difficulties with VScene reliability

Other relevant updates

Children's hearings - recovery plan

The COVID-19 recovery plan for the children’s hearings system across 2020 and 2021 remains under regular review and updating of the COVID-19 Group on children’s hearings who meet weekly. The intention to keep the plan responsive and adaptable based on feedback, and then move at pace to consider the innovation and improvement possibilities – with partners and service users. The recent focus of the group has been on developing recommendations on the effective use of funding and investment in improving ongoing digital performance and capabilities, for example, migrating online hearings to the MS Teams platform. Feedback and comments can be emailed to -CHIP; copying in Elaine Adams.

Consultation on raising the age of referral to the principal reporter

Currently, only 16 and 17 year olds who already have a compulsory supervision order or an open referral to the Reporter can be referred to the children’s hearing system. Courts can also make a referral following guilt being accepted or established.

The 2019 to 2020 Programme for Government made a commitment to consult on ‘enabling joint reporting to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Principal Reporter of all 16 and 17 year olds’ offence cases’. 

Ministers subsequently agreed to widen the consultation to seek views on increasing the age at which children can be referred to the Reporter for care, protection and offence grounds. This includes young people at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others. Proposed changes will enable agencies to provide child-centred support for all under 18s.

The Scottish Government recently consulted on raising the age a young person can be referred to a children’s hearing to protect them or address their behaviour.

  • we sought views on whether this should be increased to include all under 18s at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or that of others
  • we also asked about structural, resourcing, service design and practice implications of the proposed changes; and whether additional protections and support are necessary for victims of crime.
  • the consultation ran from June to October and an independent analysis was published on 7 December 2020
  • there was overwhelming support to raise the maximum age of referral to 18 for care, protection and offence cases, allowing equal opportunities for young people to get the right support at the right time
  • a key cross-cutting theme to emerge was support for children and young people to be heard, i.e. to have the opportunity to express their views freely in all matters affecting them and to have their views taken into account. Clear and transparent communications with children and young people and consistency in the provision of independent advocacy were seen as crucial in ensuring the success of the proposal.

We will now work with partners to explore the practical implications of this proposed change and develop responses to the issues raised (reflecting the Government’s commitment to UNCRC incorporation and the recommendations of The Promise).

Children and young people’s knowledge and views about sexual behaviours occurring online – survey launched

On 26 January 2021, Young Scot launched a survey seeking young people’s knowledge and opinions about sexual behaviours occurring online, commissioned by the Scottish Government. This is part of ongoing work to develop harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) policy, following publication of the report of the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People. One of the Expert Group’s youth-focussed proposals states that the Scottish Government should commission regular surveys of children and young people to determine their concerns and experiences around HSB, with feedback used to influence policy and improve services. For more information, you can contact Caroline Lauder in the Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government. The survey closes on 3 March.

Independent Review of Adult Social Care – final report

The Independent Review concluded at the end of January 2021 and its report, together with an accompanying short film, was published on 3 February 2021. The principal aim of the review was to recommend improvements to adult social care in Scotland, primarily in terms of the outcomes achieved by and with people who use services, their carers and families, and the experience of people who work in adult social care. The review took a human-rights based approach.

Legislatives developments

Participation of Siblings in Children’s Hearings

The Minister for Children and Young People gave evidence to the Scottish parliament’s Education and Skills committee on 27 January on changes in subordinate legislation with regards to section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the new category of person within the children’s hearings process: those who are to be afforded an opportunity to participate – see section 2(3) of the regulations. These regulations also take the opportunity to update the drafting of the rules on exclusion from hearings and to clarify procedure on electronic signatures, virtual attendance, and sharing of reports. The SSI's have been published as well as the the Official Report from the committee meeting. SG will be working with partners (and likely many of the ERG group particularly on how this relates to advocacy) ahead of 26 July coming into force day to ensure guidance and any necessary support is in place.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 – Reporting

We have been working with SCRA, CHS, courts and local authorities to collate information required to satisfy the formal reporting requirements under the ‘Scottish Act’, and committed to in relation to the Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the UK Act’). In terms of section 15 of the Scottish Act, the Scottish Ministers are required to report to Parliament every two months on the status of the provision throughout each reporting period, how the powers have been exercised, and the continuing necessity of the provisions. The fifth report to Parliament for the period 16 November to 17 January includes a section on the use and continued necessity of the children’s provisions related to children’s hearings. The fourth report is now available and the fifth will be published shortly. More information about Coronavirus in Scotland - is available on the goverment website. 

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019

The Children’s Hearings (Provision of Information by Principal Reporter) (Specified Persons) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 ( ensure that basic information on the action taken by the Reporter in relation to an offence or harmful behaviour by a child can be provided. The Principal Reporter can only disclose this information where it would not be detrimental to the interests of any child and where it would not otherwise be inappropriate to do so. These regulations prescribe the additional persons who may request information from the Reporter: the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, Victim Support Scotland and insurers.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

On 19 January 2021, the general principles of the Bill were unanimously passed by the Parliament. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill will make it unlawful for public authorities, including Scottish Ministers, to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements, giving children, young people and their representatives the power to go to court to enforce their rights.

The Bill is now in stage two of the parliamentary process and the Scottish Government has lodged amendments. An amendment to section 40 of the Bill (Commencement) that will mean that the Bill would commence automatically one year after receiving Royal Assent, with flexibility for Ministers to commence provisions earlier. A second amendment to section 6 (Acts of public authorities to be compatible with the UNCRC requirements) makes changes to the definition of ‘public authority’ for the purposes of the Bill. This amendment will mean anyone undertaking functions under a contract or other arrangement with a public authority will be obliged to comply with the UNCRC requirements and will, to that extent, be directly responsible and accountable for ensuring children’s rights are respected. All amendments at stage two will be considered by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee from Thursday 11 February. You can follow the progress on the website.

Scottish Government published news release and guidance related to Coronavirus 

The Scottish Government have published guidance to help child contact centres safely reopen.

Announcement on the publication of a wide-ranging analysis of the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on Scotland’s health, economy and society. The report, published jointly by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), confirms that people already suffering disadvantage are being hardest hit.

Announcement on schools a phased return for some pupils. Children in early learning and childcare and in primaries one to three are now scheduled to make a full return to nurseries and schools from 22 February. In addition, very limited numbers of pupils in S4-6 will also be able to complete in-school practical work that is essential for completing national qualifications on a part-time basis from the same date. Some children and young people with significant additional support needs will also be prioritised for a return to in-person provision, for those most urgently in need of support.

Health and society care staff - resources that can support wellbeing

NHS Scotland resources which can support staff wellbeing, which apply during a crisis and beyond. These resources were developed for health and social care staff but are freely available and can be used by individuals or within peer groups to support each other. Below is a link to some of the main resources that include animations, eModules, key websites, podcasts and specific sources of support. 

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