Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group update: April 2020

Update from the Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group in April 2020.

Items and actions

Agenda items, actions, and note of supporting papers for the meeting, arranged for 18 March 2020. This meeting did not take place due to Covid-19 arrangements, therefore a written update paper and communications were produced and circulated in April.

Items and actions

This note provides an overview of the agenda planned for 18 March meeting of the Children Hearings System: Expert Reference Group (ERG) and the papers shared for this. The meeting was cancelled at short notice and an update paper on activity related to children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System was produced.  

The items covered in the paper included these agenda topics and other related activity during the end of March and into April. 

Recap of 18 March meeting agenda and update

The meetings papers were sent to the group on 10 March 2020 and the agenda was expected to cover topics of: 

  • actions from previous meeting 22 January 2020
  • Advocacy Organisation Portfolio
  • group discussion on Hearings Procedures
  • legislative timelines
  • communications and engagement

Outcomes of the expression of interest – advocacy organisation portfolio

At the end of March, we secured the support of a portfolio of nine third sector organisations to prepare for and deliver the national provision of children’s advocacy within the Children’s Hearings System. We are working closely with these nine organisations to make sure they stand ready to support children and young people to make their views and wishes known within their Hearings, further reinforcing children’s rights. Their work will focus initially on recruitment and training plans, development/creation of locally relevant information and publicity materials, and advancing local relationships.

  • Advocacy Western Isles. Coverage: Western Isles
  • Angus Independent Advocacy. Coverage: Angus
  • Barnardo’s Scotland. Coverage: Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Glasgow
  • Borders Independent Advocacy Service. Coverage: Scottish Borders
  • CAPS Independent Advocacy. Coverage: East Lothian, Midlothian
  • East Ayrshire Advocacy Services. Coverage: East Ayrshire
  • Independent Advocacy Perth and Kinross. Coverage: Perth and Kinross
  • Partners in Advocacy. Coverage: Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Inverclyde, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire 
  • Who Cares? Scotland. Coverage: Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Highland, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, Shetland, Stirling, West Lothian

You will recall we were making arrangements for a primary provider in each local authority (and we have secured that). We are also progressing discussions with some organisations to secure agreement for alternate provision for each local authority. This allows choice for children and young people and provides for continuity of relationship where a child or young person already works with an individual advocacy worker employed by an organisation who is not the primary provider in that local authority area. This work will also involve the development of guidance for the advocacy providers and we will provide further communication about this as the work progresses.  

Emergency adjustments to Children’s Hearings and Child Protection Procedures – response to Covid-19

This work has been progressed within the confines of the rapidly changing environment. Key communications include – 

Children’s Hearings Scotland statement of 27 March regarding adjustments to the handling of Children’s Hearings in direct response to Covid-19 pandemic.  

The Scottish Government has, with support from some of you through consultation, also prepared emergency legislation within the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was published on 31 March and debated and approved by the Scottish Parliament on 1 April.  

We are also working to ensure that advocacy is available and is accommodated appropriately within Children’s Hearings model of virtual hearings – work continues to layer in participation and value to virtual hearings. The joint statement from CHS and SCRA issued on 20 April explains the range of work on-going with the operation of Children’s Hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the practice of virtual hearings. See the detail and latest guidance

Care Review - pledge to care experience people 

The Scottish Government remains fully committed to deliver on its pledge to care experienced people in Scotland by accepting and responding to the care review conclusions and to put into place quickly the infrastructure to develop and deliver an action plan to implement the outcomes reached and ‘#KeepThePromise’.

This statement from the Care Review on 31 March affirms this.

Timescales for section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 

You will recall that the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government commitment for introducing children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System is spring 2020. Due to Covid-19 impacts, we were unable to achieve our planned commencement of section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 for roll-out - scheduled for 21 June 2020. However, as soon as the conditions permit, Ministers will consider the next best opportunity to take the legislation forward. In the meantime, Ministers remain dedicated to making as much progress as possible - working with the advocacy organisations and all partners of the Advocacy in Children’s Hearings Expert Reference Group to get the provision up and running. Advocacy for children and young people to support them within the unique decision making context of the Children’s Hearings System is absolutely necessary. If anything, the restrictions on hearings in the current circumstances render it more vital and valuable.

Communications and engagement

The Communications and Engagement Strategy was issued providing a summary of activities undertake and planned. This includes activity with local authorities and other partners, development of a dedicated website and content for Children’s Hearings advocacy, and supporting the portfolio of advocacy organisations to prepare for services starting.

Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings National Practice Model guidance 

The National Practice Model guidance documents has been reformatted to conform to Scottish Government’s publications and accessibility guidelines.  We would encourage all organisations to update links on their websites and internal resources to this new version of the guidance published on the Scottish Government website.

Continuing professional development and training

Clan Childlaw have worked with members of the expert reference group and independent advocacy providers to consult and seek feedback about what practitioners consider will be useful to include in training. This helped to inform the training programme content with the Children’s Hearings Advocacy team and a plan was agreed. The delivery model for the training is under review in consideration of the circumstances and response to Covid-19.  

The children’s Hearings advocacy team will be scheduling virtual meetings over the next few weeks to discuss the individual circumstance with each of the children hearings advocacy organisations. This will help inform development of revised training delivery plans. Further updates will be shared with ERG members in due course.


Members were invited to: 

  • review these updates and respond to the Scottish Government’s Children’s Hearings Advocacy Team with any questions or updates from organisations, that need addressed or shared with the ERG
  • note the Scottish Government’s intention to invite those organisations from the new portfolio of providers who are not already a member of the ERG to join us in taking forward Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings. To be clear these organisations are East Ayrshire Advocacy Services, Angus Independent Advocacy and Advocacy Western Isles
  • provide feedback on arrangements that would suit best, in these circumstances of Covid-19, to facilitate the sharing of information and encourage maximum participation with the group
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