Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group minutes: February 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 17 February 2022.

Attendees and apologies


  • Pam Semple, (Chair), Scottish Government (SG)
  • Birgitta Godhavn, Advocacy Western Isles (AWI)
  • Craig Bartholomew, Angus Independent Advocacy (AIA)
  • Selwyn McCausland, Barnardo’s
  • Lorna Ratky-Smith, Borders Independent Advocacy Service (BIAS)
  • Jane Crawford, CAPS Independent Advocacy (CAPS)
  • Elaine Adams, Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP)
  • Laura Conachan, Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS)
  • Vicki Straiton, Clan Childlaw
  • Annmarie Denny, East Ayrshire Advocacy Services (EAAS)
  • Clare Gallagher and Julie Hutton, Independent Advocacy Perth and Kinross (IAPK)
  • Iain Templeton and Pauline Cavanagh, Partners in Advocacy
  • Sharon Glasgow, Social Work Prof Adviser to SG on Age of Criminal Responsibility
  • Nick Rougvie and Louise Piaskowski, SG
  • Denny Ford, Who Cares? Scotland (WC?S)


  • Cathy Ann Dunn, Advocacy Western Isles
  • Brian Evans, Children 1st
  • Nicola Shanks, Central Advocacy Partners
  • Morag Driscoll, Law Society of Scotland
  • Melissa Hunt and Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Report Administration (SCRA)
  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government
  • Charles Rocks, Social Work Scotland (SWS)
  • Louise Hunter, Who Cares? Scotland

Items and actions

Items and actions

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

The meeting took place as a videoconference on Thursday 17 February 2022. Papers issued for this meeting included: Scottish Government Update Paper; National Progress Report March 2020 to March 2021; Children’s Hearings advocacy webinar Q&A and summary of feedback.

Welcome and introductions

The Chair provided an update on membership changes with introductions and welcomes made to:

Craig Bartholomew, replacing Suzanne Swinton for AIA;

Denny Ford, replacing Brian Houston for WC?S;

Laura Conachan, replacing Amy Farmer for CHS;

Julie Hutton, who will soon be taking over from Clare Gallagher for IAPK;

Irina Beaton who has handed over to Maria Galli for Scottish Child Law Centre.

Actions and activity since last meeting

The Chair confirmed to members no corrections to the draft note of last meeting on 9 June 2021 had been requested, therefore it is considered accepted and will be published. The main topic of that meeting was the new legislation supporting keeping siblings together. 

The Chair highlighted that despite the gap between the last meeting of the full ERG work has been continuing. In 2021 the group met on 12 February, 23 April, 9 June and a further three meetings of the Training and CPD sub-group took place on 18 March, 13 July and 31 August.

The Chair provided an update on the actions noted at the last ERG meeting starting with ongoing work.

Action: National Provider Network (NPN) Chair (Tracey McFall), SCRA, CHIP lead to work together to explore the issue of deferrals for advocacy reasons and advice on possible next steps to limit the number of times where these scenarios may arise.

Update: This is ongoing. CHIP and CHS both contributed to an oral update, noting the transition to a new computer system for SCRA needing time to bed in and thought given to how and what should be captured to support understanding of reasons why deferrals were made. CHS considered deferrals for advocacy was not presenting as a regular issue. CHS are planning to carry out a survey of panel members as an opportunity to gather some more on the ground data.  CHS would be happy to be involved in discussions around gathering information to help aid understanding.  Barnardo’s confirmed they are also monitoring deferral rates and reasons where their advocacy workers have been involved.  It was agreed SG should follow this up with SCRA.

Action: NPN to consider how alternate provision is working and reasons for using this.

Update: This is ongoing. NPN have been working on unpicking how alternate provision is working and reasons where it has been used including possibility to more robustly use this for the sibling participation support. SG would like to review this in more depth as part of our strategic work programme over this year as evidence and practice experience develops.

Actions: SG to convene meeting of Comms and Engagement sub-group, work on plan for targeted activity to support social work understanding and practice. 

Update: A meeting was not set up at the time due to other pressing tasks but communications and engagement remains an ongoing work theme / agenda item. We will convene a meeting soon to help agree priorities and drive activity forward.  If folk are happy to continue we have: Maryanne McIntyre SCRA; Jane Crawford CAPS Independent Advocacy; Charles Rocks SWS. A request was made for anyone else wishing to take part and Pauline from PiA volunteered. Anyone else should make their interest known to SG.

The Chair also provided an update on activities which have been completed:

Mandatory training induction and refresher sessions were delivered July to November last year. Further update from Clan Childlaw under agenda item four.

Update: Two meetings of the Training and CPD sub-group took place July and August – work has progressed on developing a workforce plan.

Update: SG has collated feedback and prepared a National Progress Report March 2020 to 2021 - highlighting common themes and sharing good, innovative practice – included with meeting papers.

The Chair invited SG (Louise) to provide an update on the actions and progress made at the Training and CPD sub-group meetings in 13 July and 31 August 2021.

Skills and knowledge framework development

Members’ feedback from March meeting on presentation and strategic alignments were gathered and represented in the draft framework discussed at those next two sub-group meetings in July and August.

Work was progressed gathering more detail in terms of the resources for learning available. 

Alongside these meetings, the NPN has done work compiling the core learning and development elements within in organisational indications across the provider organisations to help build the skills and knowledge matrix.

CHIP and NPN Chair have worked collaboratively over the later part of last year using all the views and information to develop in more detail the skills and knowledge framework. This development work is nearly complete. SG will share the product and proposal soon with the sub-group and Expert Reference Group for endorsement and advice on seeking wider support/recognition of the commonalities across the sector and partners working specifically around child care and protection.

Information to support the new sibling’s rights in the law

Materials have been developed and shared with members over July to August:

  • a quick guide to the Changes in Children’s Hearings and information about the Legal Advice Service from Clan Childlaw

  • SG shared the new national practice guidance for social workers

  • CHIP/SCRA developed and published on the CHIP website new materials about participation rights changes in the Children’s Hearings

Developing a qualification

The sub-group members agreed a small group, WC?S, IAPK and SG would take forward exploratory work on what would be required to develop a qualification for children’s advocacy workers: what might it look like, feel like and who would need to be involved. 

IAPK (Clare) set up a meeting involving SG (Tom and Louise) with The Glasgow Advocacy Project to help learn how they approached the development of the accredited Qualification in professional independent advocacy called the - Professional Practice Award.

An initial meeting took place on 28 October 2021. It was a useful discussion, and further information about what it is, how it was developed and the evaluation report were shared with us. We agreed to set up a further meeting once we had read and reflected on the materials – this is outstanding – change in personnel and availability/capacity of group members was a challenge. 

We are keen to get this work progressed and to develop proposals to discuss with the sub-group / ERG. The group were asked if anybody else wants to be or should be involved at this stage.

Peer learning of workers across the organisations (local/regional basis).

NPN have been organising opportunities for children’s advocacy workers for children’s hearings, Tayside is one area where we know this has happened recently.


  • SG to follow up with SCRA on exploring rates of deferrals for advocacy reasons

  • SG to convene meetings of the ERG Training and CPD sub-group and Comms and Engagement sub-group. Any members who would like to be part of these groups should let SG know as soon as possible so you can be added to the distribution list

  • SG will share the Workforce Plan and proposal soon with the Training and CPD sub-group and Expert Reference Group for endorsement and advice on seeking wider support/recognition of the commonalities across the sector and partners working specifically around child care and protection

  • members to let SG know as soon as possible if they want to be or should be involved in the small group exploring how to progress a qualification

Scottish Government update – a written SG update paper accompanied this item

The Chair provided an update on the funding position. It was confirmed that a budget of up to £2 million for the delivery of the children’s advocacy in children’s hearing national scheme for the next financial year 2022 to 2023 had been secured. The budget provides a marginal uplift and the Minister has endorsed a multi-year commitment of £2 million per annum up to 2023 to 2024. This demonstrates the importance the Minister for Children and Young People holds towards continuing support for advocacy provision and aspirations to develop the provision of children’s advocacy further.  It is understood that this will provide some reassurance to organisations and their staff and help support planning beyond a single year.  We intend to draft the Grant Offer Letters to the advocacy organisations in early March for organisations’ consideration.  With this uplift in the budget we will factor in the additional third of the year sibling funding.  As the provision commenced from July 2021 funding was made available from August 2021 to March 2022.  In addition to this we are also scoping a small percentage uplift reflecting increasing staffing costs since projections were first made in 2019.  See item three of the SG written update paper.

The Chair also stated our intention to commission an external evaluation to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the implementation of the provision. This work is to be completed no later than March 2024. The group were informed that we have started to the process of asking ourselves - What do we want to know? What is going to help us get the answers?  See item four of the SG written update paper.  The Chair asked members to think about this and to provide any suggestions and ideas that could be considered by SG at this stage. A response by end of March would be helpful.

The Chair asked members if they wanted to discuss any other matters set out in the SG Update Paper. No topics were raised.


  • SG will draft Grant Offer Letters for the advocacy organisations by early March, giving confirmation of the wholesale small percentage uplifts that may be possible within the maximum £2 million budget for each organisation for the 2022 to 2023 year

  • all members to think about the external evaluation work and to let SG know of any suggestions and ideas that SG could consider at this stage. A response by end of March would be helpful

Members updates – any business arising

Children’s Hearings Scotland

SG (Louise) invited CHS (Laura) to provide an update. CHS wanted to bring to member’s attention a jointly agreed policy direction with SCRA around managing attendance including of advocacy at children’s hearings.  The rationale for taking this position was based on criticism resulting from parliamentary scrutiny in 2017 around reducing the number of people involved in children’s hearings. Consideration was given to strike a balance between the procedural duties and people’s rights to privacy throughout.  If a person didn’t have a right to the hearings papers, then they also should not have the right to be part of full hearings discussions. Two locality areas were piloting practice changes with wider roll-out in train, just as COVID-19 hit.  The position, that only those with a right to attend and Social Work would be invited in for the procedural bits at the start and the grounds was reinforced to Reports and Panel Members last year around July time when the new sibling participation laws came in to force.  In law, absolutely the child has a right to attend and if an advocacy workers is attending with the child they will be invited into the hearing for all parts where the child is involved including the procedural bits at the start of the hearing. However if an advocacy workers attends without the child, they have no right to attend. The management of this rests with the discretion of the Chairing Panel Member to decide who is appropriate to invite in and for the certain parts of the hearings process. This resulted in variable practices as to who and when some people, including the advocacy worker might be invited in to the hearing.  The sense they have at the moment, anecdotally is that around 90% of the time the advocacy worker and social worker will be permitted in for the full hearing.  This policy has been further hampered by the lack of clarification around professionals’ attendance which should be provided to individuals prior to hearing.  Unfortunately this has resulted, in some occasions, people waiting for long periods of time in waiting rooms, both in face to face hearings and virtual hearings. 

CHS and SCRA want to understand more about how this policy direction is being experienced by the advocacy workers on the frontline in the various areas across Scotland. Laura asked if this was the right approach and invited comments from the ERG members.

PiA (Pauline), Barnardo’s, IAPK (Clare), W?CS were all in agreement that this policy direction has been causing issues and confusion on the ground. A number of case by case representations by organisations have been made to SCRA and CHS over the course to try to understand the reasoning.  Particular examples were shared.

PiA contributed that experiences of issues on the ground where advocacy workers have not been able to attend and hear full discussions. This prevents the advocacy worker being able to understand what is happening and who the child may want to have questions asked of where opposing views are given. The advocacy worker will only state the views that the child has expressed that they want shared  If the hearing raises a matter the advocacy worker has not had the opportunity to discuss with a child then their right to express a view is missed.

Barnardo’s contributed that fewer children and young people have attended hearings during COVID-19 restrictions and that this policy direction is of real concern and should be revisited with urgency including legislation if this is what is required. The advocacy worker is attending on behalf of the child/young person, and post-hearing support is equally as important an aspect of the advocacy workers role. Helping the child understand what was discussed and the decision reached is crucial to fully supporting the child. If the advocacy worker is not there it makes this part difficult and less meaningful for the child.  The full feedback loop is impacted. 

WC?S contributed this has not been a great experience for advocacy workers and supports the view that this decision should be revisited as a matter of urgency. These are the child’s hearings, the advocacy worker is a representative of the child, therefore an extension of their rights to be there and provide the child’s view throughout. The advocacy worker can only ensure that the process is being followed and the child’s rights upheld throughout if they are involved. 

IAPK further contributed that the advocacy workers primary role is to represent the child’s views. This is a dynamic process, and is what provides effective advocacy. The approach for the advocacy worker not to have the right to attend, does not effectively support the participation of the child.  Considering a point about perceptions of children’s panel members that an advocacy worker may have a view on what a child might say ‘child proxy’ is not the case. What is important is that the advocacy worker is able to hear/gather the relevant information to be able to feedback to the child so they understand what happened and if necessary seek further views on what matters to the child. 

CHIP also considered that giving so many people the right to attend could be preserved to cut across the power of the Chairing member and their authority to make decisions to manage the hearing as may be appropriate.

Laura thanked the members for their contributions and reiterated CHS willingness to listen to the viewpoints and review this aspect of the hearing. Laura committed to speaking to SCRA to consider this activity.  It was stated that it is important to explore these issues particularly considering the hearings redesign work programme to design a new blueprint for children’s hearings.  Laura agreed to bring the group an update within the next few weeks.

CAPS asked as an aside if advocacy workers could be permitted into to hearings in an observing capacity. This would be for two purposes: firstly for new advocacy workers to learn the traits from more experienced workers as part of their induction training; secondly for manager’s supervision for quality assurance.  It is felt other professionals are allowed these opportunities but advocacy workers are not.

CHS clarified that a joint policy between CHS and SCRA is to stop observers. This was becoming a big issue particularly in the central belt area with numerous requests being made for a range of people to see a hearing e.g. from social work students, councillors, Ministers, solicitors etc. Although children and families were informed about observers and asked if they agreed to them being there, it was also recognised there is a power imbalance in this. The position was developed to provide training and learning experiences particularly for trainee social workers through mock hearings (so no real families on show). 

CHIP contributed confirming the push for mock hearings and encouraging learning using developed online resources for professionals, for example, solicitors.


  • CHS / SCRA to consider the position regarding attendance at hearings for advocacy workers and provide the ERG with an update shortly

  • CHS / SCRA to consider the representation regarding observer opportunities or if the mock hearings programme may be widened to support advocacy workers learning of the hearings process

National Provider Network (NPN) update

SG (Louise) thanked Barnardo’s (Selwyn) for taking up the Chair role for the NPN and invited an update on the networks recent activity. 

Practice issues

One practice issue raised, has been the inconsistencies in managing attendance at hearings so it was noted that it had been helpful CHS had raised this as part of their update. Another matter where there is a piece of work on-going is around agreeing a definition of “non-instructed advocacy” explaining clearly what is being talked about and how it’s practiced.  Traditionally the guidance around non instructed advocacy has been more focussed on supporting adults.  This has come as a result of some parts of SCRA adopting an approach where non-instructed advocacy practice will not be considered/permitted in the hearings.  This position goes against the National Practice Model guidance and SCRA agreed non-instructed advocacy should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  The NPN are responding to a commission from SG for information about how and when this happens.  This will be gathered and discussed at the next NPN meeting 10 March.  It was acknowledged as part of the non-instructed advocacy discussion that more work is necessary to ensure everyone involved in the hearing is fully aware of the role and responsibilities of other actors within the hearing – for example some explained scenarios of non-instructed advocacy seemed to stray into the safeguarder role.  More work is needed to make sure these roles are clarified and understood by all.  See SG written update paper item 6.

IAPK contributed that on reflection the language advocacy organisations have been using may be adding to the confusions and challenges by others and agrees a consistent definition will be useful. This will also ensure there is no grey areas in terms of reporting across the organisations.

Barnardo’s continued highlighting referral pathways as another on-going matter being discussed within the NPN. This is about children being introduced to advocacy at the start of a hearings referral request and working out suitable protocols between the primary and alternate providers for children’s hearings advocacy as well as any other local advocacy provisions.

Evidencing outcomes

Barnardo’s presented the outcomes work and screen shared the ‘Listening and Hearing Guide’; ‘evidence framework’ and a few of the ‘prompt sheet’ tools. There were 7 sessions facilitated by Wren and Greyhound July to September.  Final work with Our Hearings Our Voice gathering feedback, testing within organisation and a final facilitated session took place over November to December. This next period January to March will allow organisations to start supporting their staff on using this toolkit.  The next part of the work will consider the recording of the evidence and reporting to SG.  The evaluation framework should bring consistency across organisations in evidencing the identified outcomes.  The resources also include extra tools that can be added to the organisations/workers kits they will be using. 

The process of developing a logic model and change outcomes was explained, starting with mapping the outcomes across the range of sources advocacy organisations are guided by to identify five core advocacy journey outcomes:

  • outcome one - avocacy puts children and young people first and involves them in shaping the service

  • outcome two - all children and young people can access independent advocacy when they need it, and it should be appropriate to their needs

  • outcome three - children and young people are informed about their rights and options and empowered to make choices

  • outcome four - children and young people can recognise and challenge power imbalances

  • outcome five - children and young people know their voice and choices have been heard

The guide sets out principles on how to gather evidence and how the range of evaluation tools can be used to gather feedback from children and young people and other partners. It also gives guidance on how to conduct the feedback session and explaining to the child or young person what happens to the information they give.  The evaluation framework, tools and promotional materials are published on the dedicated hearing advocacy website.

PiA (Pauline) commented that the project had involved all the organisations providing input, including testing tools with children and young people and SG also attending the development sessions. PiA asked their volunteer student to test these tools for them and a report is being written and happy for this to be shared with the other organisations.

In summing up, it was acknowledged all organisations will develop their own ways and tools they will use. How the organisations capture and report to SG will be added to the agenda for the next NPN meeting in March.

Supporting siblings

Monitoring remains ongoing as we learn more about the practicalities of sibling participation. Numbers of referrals have been small. PiA confirmed they have received no referrals for participation rights yet. WC?S have had experience of hearings where participation rights have been exercised and this has been good but it has made the hearings lengthy.  There was also a sense that some people are still unaware of the new rights, some people are aware but are unsure how to implement, and inconsistencies in who’s allowed in is adding to the confusion/confidence.  Barnardo’s felt the small numbers may be encouraging if disputes are being handled early, which is what is needed. 

CHS clarified that it is a duty for all hearings to consider siblings, as well as the added category ‘siblings’ participation’. Early monitoring across CHS also identifies a lower than anticipated so the experience of the advocacy organisations feels normal.  It is still early to know the impact.


NPN past/present Chairs Barnardo’s (Selwyn) and PiA (Tracey McFall) are due to meet with Sheriff Mackie Chair of the Hearings Redesign group. Ahead of this meeting, NPN members are invited to feed in any key points they would want raised at the meeting.  There will be a chance to discuss this at the next NPN meeting on 10 March.

Action- SG and NPN will consider how the organisations capture and report to SG at next NPN meeting in March

  • NPN members to feed in any key points they would want raised at the meeting to Chair.  There will be a chance to discuss this at the next NPN meeting on 10 March

CLAN Childlaw

SG (Louise) invited Clan Childlaw (Vicky) to give an update on the latest rounds of the specific children’s hearings advocacy scheme training and the progress of the legal service. The induction training sessions took place with prior e-learning followed up with interactive sessions.  The refresher focus was on the new law for sibling participation, and the format was interactive practice discussion sessions based on examples raised in prior training or via the legal support helpline.  Since the legal support helpline was launched in July, they have handled 79 enquiries.  Clan Childlaw have also been able to provide a free offer of training funding through another project to advocacy workers with 46 attended session on continuing care, and 25 attending aftercare sessions.  Agota the project coordinator has been contacting the advocacy organisations to get feedback on the type or support advocacy workers would find most valuable.  This has helped Clan Childlaw develop online resources about the current issues and needs for example, section 11 Orders, non-disclosure, aftercare etc.  These will be expanded upon moving forward.  Work is ongoing to create short video snippets from key parts of the induction training presentation videos.  

PiA (Pauline) asked for an update on plans for further rounds of induction training. Clan Childlaw confirmed there are no dates fixed yet.  All new workers will be given access to the e-learning as part of their induction. SG are working with Clan Childlaw to develop the plans for the facilitated interactive aspect of the training. To assist with the planning SG will be in touch with the advocacy organisations very soon to get an idea of recruitment plans for this year in order to understand the demand for the induction training.  SG will provide an update on plans and dates as soon as these are finalised.

Action: SG to gather information from the advocacy organisations about recent/planned recruitment over this year in order to firm up plans with Clan Childlaw to deliver the mandatory induction training.

Group discussion – strategic planning

The Chair introduced this topic, drawing member’s attention to the detail in the SG written update paper item 10. Members were also invited to consider the detail of the National Progress Report Year 1 March 2020 to March 2021. It was highlighted that the areas SG had identified for strategic work plans over the next two years should include:

  • exploring how alternate provision is working

  • spot-purchase model it not been used, is it needed?

  • scoping out and carrying out an external evaluation, see SG update paper item four

  • developing a qualification

The Chair asked Members for any immediate feedback, no comments were given. PiA asked if it was okay to share the National Progress Report with other local partners.  SG responded that it was inviting feedback from ERG members as the detail had been provided/gathered from them.  A response by 28 February to flag any inaccuracies or issues of concern within the Report was requested.  If none received, then SG will be content for the Report to be more widely shared.  In addition, SG undertook to publish the Report on the Scottish Government website on the children’s advocacy in children’s hearings pages after the 28 February.

All members were invited to take some time to digest the papers and consider the SG ideas. If there is anything not mentioned or something that should be given more or less priority, members should make their views known to SG by 28 February.  These will be factored into the SG work plan for 2022 to 2024.


  • all members to review the National Progress Report by 28 February and flag to SG any inaccuracies or issues of concern within the Report was requested. If none received, the report can be more widely shared and will be published on the SG website

  • all members should consider the ideas/suggestions presented by the SG in the written update paper regarding strategic work plans. If there is anything not mentioned or something that should be given more or less priority, members should make their views known to SG by 28 February for factoring into the 2022 to 2024 work plan

Reflections – recent learning, outputs, next steps

SG (Louise) drew members attention to the two papers issued - Feedback and Q&A from the Hearings Advocacy Webinar 19 Jan 2022. These key points were made. SG was pleased with how this event had gone. It was very well attended with 178 delegates present on the day.  The feedback was also mainly very positive and we really value the ideas and suggestions for developments provided.  This gives us a good understanding of what people want to know more about. Themes which came through strongly included hearing from:

  • others particularly from children and young people – the experiences, how advocacy has helped them

  • advocacy organisations – showcase their experiences / how has it felt / what are they learning

  • panel members and social workers – how has advocacy helped their role / supported the decision making processes

  • those with more analysis / precise data

The suggestion to convene a meeting of the training and CPD sub-group was mentioned again and agreed to give more attention to the themes and ideas for future learning opportunities or sharing information about children’s advocacy and work out a plan for things we should progress.

Members were asked if they had any questions or reflections on anything within these papers or regarding the webinar that wanted to mention or discuss. No comments were made.

Any other business

The Chair reminded all organisations who received Grant Funding from SG to ensure their quarter four claims were received by SG by 16 March 2022.

SG (Sharon) made an offer of information / briefing in relation to the Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, if this would be useful - contact her by email.

No other matters were raised.

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