Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group minutes: October 2020

Agenda items, actions, and supporting papers for the virtual meeting, held on 6 October 2020.

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 6 October 2020. A detailed updated paper covering all agenda items was issued in advance of the meeting.

Welcome, introductions and apologies

Apologies received in advance were noted from SCRA and the Scottish Child Law Centre and substitute representatives welcomed from CAPS, Advocacy Western Isles, East Ayrshire Advocacy Service and Children’s Hearings Scotland.

Children’s Hearings Advocacy Communications and Engagement Strategy

Scottish Government update

Scottish Government officials have sought and received ministerial agreement to extend the “baseline year” for the children’s advocacy in the children’s hearings from end March 2021 to end of March 2022. This means Scottish Government anticipate funding will continue at existing levels into 2021 to 2022. As always this is caveated by the fact funding is dependent on the passage of the Scottish Budget Bill through Parliament. Extending the baseline year was considered necessary as we could not demonstrate the progress nor the generation of data and evidence we would normally have had by this stage of implementation due to the adverse effect of coronavirus. Specifics where activities for this programme were affected are:

  • timeframe for the children’s advocacy services provision going into statute

  • related work in delivering The Promise of the Independent Care Review

  • the numbers of children’s hearings which have actually taken place and the challenges around recovery planning in the weeks/months to come

Action: The Scottish Government will write to the advocacy organisations directly to confirm this position regarding continuation of funding for the financial year 2021 to 2022 with the review point now extended to end of March 2022.


Further to the detail provided in the update paper, the Scottish Government confirmed time had been secured in the parliamentary schedule and work is ongoing to support the passage of the legislation through the necessary procedure. The Minister for Children and Young People is expected to attend the Education and Skills Committee to answer questions about the provision. This looks likely to happen on 28 October. If parliament is content and agrees the draft Regulations the full provisions at section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, it will come into force from 21 November 2020.

Children’s Hearings Recovery Plan

An update was provided by the Children’s Hearings Improvement Programme representative and a group discussion followed. In summary the key points raised were:

  • the plan usefully explains the work that’s being ongoing through the phases since lockdown in March

  • it is helpful to the advocacy organisations as it offers trajectories of where things are going

  • it is recognised that lots of good work is happening but it’s not straightforward. COVID-19 is presenting many complexities and challenges to overcome going forward and there will likely be more bumps on the way

  • a main theme being capacity of all people and professionals around the child and not only of families

  • local authorities and children’s hearings locality managers have been working on mapping capacity issues over the months ahead and this is supporting the thinking and planning;

  • virtual hearing has played a crucial part in keeping the system going and these take significantly longer to conduct

  • ensuring compliance with Covid-safe rules and guidance for face-to face hearings to take place also raises a number of matters to resolve, for example, including the need to repurpose other buildings/venues in some localities

  • this plan is a living document. There will continue to be opportunities to provide views which will help inform and develop the way forward

Action: all members are invited to review the document and to continue to offer any feedback as per contact details shared in the update paper.

Communications and engagement

The Scottish Government provided an update on activities highlighting some of the activity noted in the update paper and strategy document. 

Discussion on the new website raised some minor suggestions for improvement which will be taken forward. Leaflets have also been developed and issued to the advocacy organisations for use. The leaflets will be a useful tool for referral partners and children and young people publicising the service. 

The Group acknowledged we are aware the children and young people with lived experiences of the hearings system have not yet been involved in co-producing materials. A project bid has been developed and sent to Our Hearing’s Our Voice (OHOV) to ask for their support and ideas to further develop age appropriate resources. This was as a result of an action raised by the National Providers Network. An initial meeting with Jaqcui Dunbar, project lead with OHOV to discuss interest is arranged for 7 October. 

Discussion on communications and guidance for local authority staff also raised a few points including:

  • clarity on the responsibilities of social workers with regards to profiling advocacy services and those with key relationships having a role to enquire on the child’s behalf and assist the child/young person to get in touch with services. The onus to make contact with services should be fully on the child/young person. This picks up on the “choice” element of the provision. The Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings is available at any stage of a child’s journey through the hearings system and whilst it is envisaged that social workers will be the main referrers at the time of assessment, it was recognised that Police Scotland and personnel in the Education Authority have a key role to play in explaining advocacy to children and young people and supporting them to make the contact with the advocacy organisations

  • considering young people in secure care this new service also needs to be actively promoted and young people supported to find out about the role of advocacy

  • as the Action Research explained, sharing information about advocacy at the earliest opportunity is important and the success of these advocacy services is reliant on social workers and the provider organisations working on the process but within their own remit to explain and support children/young people to engage

  • the National Practice Model also sets out clearly that all children and young people should be able to access advocacy therefore for children with complex needs and disabilities the advocacy provision may be non-instructed

The Scottish Government acknowledged all these points and agreed to keep this under review. If it is discovered through practice that there is an issue with children and young people receiving support to access the advocacy provision the Group will consider the need for additional information for the professionals surrounding the child and family.

The contributions from members of the ERG comms and engagement sub-group and from the National Providers Network in taking forward these activities was acknowledged. Scottish Government considered the tasks identified and work decided upon on by the sub-group at the last ERG meeting are now completed. Should subsequent tasks be required another meeting of the ERG comms and engagement sub-group will be convened.

Scottish Government is working with our ministerial communications team to work up plans and activity to officially mark the launch of the new national service. A few suggestions were made about connecting with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner to help with publicity among professionals and linkages with other key developments around UNCRC, Additional Support for Learning and Autism Strategy.

Action: Scottish Government to look at the wording on the website where it says advocacy organisations provide “advice” and change this to “information”. 

Action: Also explore how the website could become visible on google searches by use of key phrases and tags. It was acknowledged however that the website had gone live the very morning of the meeting and as yet had not be publicised via provider contacts. That in itself will raise the profile of the website and make it more visible on google searches. 

Action: Scottish Government to provide feedback on OHOV response to the project bid.

Action: Scottish Government will update ERG members on communications planning for marking the launch.

National Provider Network update

Partners in Advocacy have taken the lead on initial work to establish the National Providers Network and the group’s Terms of Reference. This will help understanding of how the level of decision making and influence – the things that can be progressed locally and where national governance is needed and via ERG. The group identified three themes to progress initially; agreeing terms of reference, reporting and evaluation, and information for children and young people. The role of chair and secretariat responsibilities will be rotated between all the organisations.

Action: The National Provider Network Terms of Reference will be shared with ERG members.

Training and CPD

Brief summary of the information provided in the update paper was given. Thanks was extended to Clan Childlaw for all the work they put into delivering the pre-service mandatory sessions and to the advocacy organisations for encouraging and supporting their staff, all 79 people in total, to complete this. The feedback was positive and after resolving digital connection issues by changing from Vscence to use the Zoom platform, the sessions all ran smoothly. There’s still time for people to complete and return the post-course evaluation forms. The evaluation of comments from participants will be used to inform the plans for on-going training needs. The Scottish Government proposed that a meeting of the CPD and training sub-group members could be convened in November to help develop thinking and take forward any actions arising. 

The longer term ambition to provide children’s advocacy workers with a professional qualification should also remain in our focus.

Action: Any members not already part of the CPD and training sub-group who would like to join, should let the Scottish Government know so they will be included in the meeting arrangements.


Scottish Government confirmed all quarter one grant monitoring reports had been received. The period April to June was not typical so the evidence and intelligence gathered was proportionate and reflective of this. However, all organisations provided good reports, creating headings using the information requirements within the grant offer letter. Scottish Government emphasised these reports should be proportionate to what the organisation is delivering and the task shouldn’t detract from main work on delivering the provision.

The National Providers Network is also looking more closely at reporting and evaluation with a view to contributing on measuring outcomes in a consistent and coherent way for the period after April 2021. 

Action: Scottish Government to remind provider organisations that quarter two claims and report are now due for the period from July to end September 2021.


Scottish Government informed members that an Initial meeting has been held with SCRA. The SCRA update with the meeting papers signposts to where data can be found. 

SCRA are moving to a new management system so will not be able to get trend/comparable data as using two systems. But we may be able to get bespoke data sets if we identify a gap in what is already published/available.

Action: ERG members to review the data that is routinely available and provide Scottish Government with any feedback on what data is required going forward.

Implementation learning

Scottish Government will work with analytical colleagues and aim to bring together all the aspects of qualitative and qualitative information. However, a formal research project may need to be developed, to provide a broader understanding of the effectiveness of implementation and the outcomes it delivers. The ERG (and National Providers Network) would be asked to input with scooping the details on what, how and when etc. and this conversation can be progressed once the legislation is in place and the national service formally started.

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