Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group minutes: February 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 12 February 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 12 February 2021. An update paper covering all agenda items was issued in advance of the meeting.

Welcome, introductions and apologies

Apologies received in advance were noted from Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), Advocacy Western Isles, Aberdeen Advocacy Service, Scottish Child Law Centre, and Law Society for Scotland.

Member updates

Scottish Government (SG) provided a summary of activity which had taken place since the last ERG meeting held in October. Most recent work has been undertaking 1-2-1 meetings with the advocacy providers. As well as meeting the requirement in the grant conditions to have at least one meeting during the reporting year, the meetings are providing a rich source of information as to innovative practice, excellent networking and engagement between providers and partners, and also identifying barriers/hurdles or practice issues which are arising.

SG advised the Group that there was limited funds being made available through the Winter Plan for Social Care to advocacy providers to assist with data, devices or items that will assist children and young people, or advocacy workers establish reliable contact during the pandemic. Various views were presented by the Group as to how that could work in practice. A decision was made to convene a meeting of the National Provider Network (NPN) group to discuss the fine detail of handling.

Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP) provided an update on Children’s Hearings Recovery work. Tom and Elaine asked Group members to get in touch with them directly to feed into future reviews of this ongoing work. It was noted that the current chair of the National Provider Network (NPN) has been invited onto the CHIP Group to provide input from a practice perspective. 

Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) provided a written update which was circulated ahead of the meeting.

SCRA had to tender apologies for the meeting and have committed to providing a joint update with CHS to the Group next week to provide obtained feedback from all 9 Localities about the experiences in the last few months which have been largely positive. Some issues for discussion are emerging, which will be highlight in the paper. 

Updates from other members were identified as specific agenda items and will be noted under that topic of discussion.

Actions: NPN to meet in the coming days/week after receipt of the grant offer letter to establish a way forward to support capacity of devices/data/items as part of the Hearings Recovery.

Action: Group members get in touch with CHIP representatives and provide practice views as required. 

Sibling views / participation

SG provided an overview of the regulations due to come into force in July 2021 about sibling views and participation at Children’s Hearings. Tom was clear that SG is seeking to work with SCRA and other partners, including provider organisations, to work out the detail. This generated group discussion and questions such as what will happen if the child going to the hearing does not want their sibling involved? What can be done to mitigate conflict of interest where there are multiple children, therefore multiple sibling advocacy demands? The question was also asked if this new way of working would come with adequate resources attached. This led to a recognition that there is work to do to establish how much demand there potentially might be and what support will be needed. Tom acknowledged that the Guidance will have to consider all of these points and more. All provider organisations welcomed the news, whilst noting that a close eye will have to be kept on any instances of conflicting rights. SG reiterated that there will be opportunities for everyone to feed in views and make sure every possible angle is covered, whilst recognising that every case is individual and unique to the family involved.

Tom issued an invitation for partner organisations or individuals to get in touch for a fuller run down of the matters. 

Action: Members to get in touch with SG if they wish to discuss any aspects of this new requirement. 

Action: The National Provider Network (NPN) chair said this would be an area of focus for future NPN meetings and will add it to agenda.

Communications and engagement

Louise from SG gave an overview of the activities carried out since the last ERG, including tweaks to the website following children and young people feedback, the request for a poster for display (at the bequest of children themselves), working with Our Hearing’s Our Voice Board, and presenting to education colleagues via the Virtual Schools Head Teacher Network Group. Louise reiterated the ask of providers to assist with the creation of testimonials, case studies for the website – again an idea put forward by children and young people themselves. 

Action: Group members to consider where they could assist with case studies and testimonials and let SG (Louise/Pam) know.

National Provider Network update

Tracey from Partners in Advocacy provided an update as to the work of the NPN and outlined the following areas as topics raised/discussed and where providers are keeping a close eye to establish whether escalation at a national level is required:

  • Vscene – the technology for the hearings is unreliable and not fit for purpose
  • advocacy workers being seen as the “easy option” to exclude from a hearing where the technology is limiting numbers of people attending
  • closure of schools – schools are a safe place for advocacy workers to meet with children and these recent closures are having an impact
  • grounds for referral – struggling to get sight of grounds for referral since all interaction is mainly over the phone or via video conferencing – not being able to physically be handed a copy of the letter by the child/family is having a detrimental effect on the advocacy worker trying to identify the most appropriate way to support the child
  • late referrals from social workers is impacting on the organisation’s ability to build up a relationship with the children before supporting them at their hearing

SG commented that these are not unknown issues and although no immediate solution could be presented, the fact that everyone is aware and keeping an eye on developments is encouraging.

Training and CPD

SG provided an overview of the work of the Training and CPD sub-group and where we are in terms of refresher training and updating the materials already available via Clan Childlaw. Work is ongoing to scope out timings and content of annual refresher training as well as training for new recruits.

Elaine from CHIP and Tracey from Partners in Advocacy did a piece of work developing an initial workforce development strategy and that paper was share with the Group ahead of the meeting. Elaine spoke to the paper at the meeting and outlined next steps which involves re-convening the sub-group to further develop some of the modules/materials that could be included in the tier system. Following that any product will be brought back to the full ERG for comment and approval.

Action: SG will make arrangements for the sub-group to meet within the next few weeks.

Monitoring and reporting

Pam from SG provided an update on the latest reporting of number of referrals 234 received by the advocacy providers, and 133 children have been supported at their Hearings. Pam also gave an overview of points arising from the reports received from providers (noted in the update paper) and similarly mentioned within the NPN update. It was explained that we hope to capture more information, from 1-2-1 meetings and on receipt of all quarter three reports (October to December 2020) – it has been really only in the last quarter that we have started to see referrals and children supported numbers appearing as the first two quarter reports were focussed on organisational preparation, recruitment processes and training of personnel. It is the intention of SG to issue a paper back to providers highlighting common themes and sharing good, innovative practice. Pam emphasised that organisations should not wait until writing quarterly reports to discuss any issues but to speak to SG as soon as an issue arises.

Action: SG will continue collating feedback and prepare a paper highlighting common themes and sharing good, innovative practice


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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