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

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

Advocacy in Children’s Hearings – Expert Reference Group

Update paper 18 June 2020


The last update to the group was a written paper dated 15 April.  This covered a number of issues and since then, we have exchanged emails and met virtually with most of you. 

We are absolutely aware that written updates alone are no replacement for face-to-face or teleconferencing discussions and we are working towards having alternative ways of holding our virtual meetings.  As you know, for this update paper we are setting out the agenda topics (covering points you have mentioned to us) with context, and we will follow this with a video/teleconference using Microsoft Teams to assist discussion and get further value from your input. 

Thank you for completing the doodle poll with your availability.  The most suitable date and time for our meeting is on Wednesday 24 June at 11:15-12:30.  In advance of the meeting we will issue a structured agenda and to allow us to manage proceedings. Please indicate, if possible, in advance if there are particular questions or items that you would like to speak to.  Obviously on the day you can participate in the conversation as it progresses and something comes up you wish to discuss.

As we have said before, we appreciate feedback at any point about the usefulness of these meetings and structure and content of papers.  If there are things that aren’t working well for you, please let us know and we will do all we can to make improvements.

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 Pam and Louise.

Agenda Items

  1. Alternate Provision progress

In terms of alternate provision we have considered all the evidence and information from organisations and from other Government sources and have provided the rationale and policy position for the way forward with alternate provision across Scotland.

The Expressions of Interest exercise carried out in September 2019 for grant funding for advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System resulted in strong applications and the securing of Scotland-wide primary provider provision.  However, based on the spot-purchase arrangements for alternate coverage, only partial interest was expressed. 

In order to provide equity across all of Scotland, further work was carried out to consider options to providing alternate coverage.  Discussions were held with organisations who expressed an interest in working in children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System.  Feedback from those organisations confirmed our thinking that the model of spot purchasing was not an attractive option for most organisations as they would find it difficult to free up/find or retain resources to effectively manage unpredictable caseloads.  Without some type of staff retainer funding, this would be a challenging model for both small (local services) and larger (services in multiple areas) advocacy organisations. 

Scottish Government gave additional consideration to the administrative impact for both the Scottish Government and organisations, in terms of the wide range of activities that would be required to fully implement the spot purchasing model.  There will be a requirement to consider case-by-case applications.   Assurances from organisations will be required that  appropriate checks are in place as well as ensuring staff had carried out the necessary training, to allow Scottish Government to be satisfied the advocacy workers are appropriately trained/qualified to provide advocacy to children within their Hearings under this alternate national provision.   Organisations would then have to invoice the Scottish Government and further resource would be involved in processing one-off payments. 

Consideration was also given to the fact there could potentially be a delay in seeking and gaining approval to actually engage with the child or young person, with the burden on both the Scottish Government Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearing Team and on organisations themselves in terms of time and resource to process case by case applications on a national scale.  This would add an additional layer into the tightly regulated timeframes of the Hearing’s System.  For these reasons, we are persuaded that a blended model of both spot purchase and grant funding arrangements will provide the best balanced option to manage provision taking into account pertinent environmental factors and organisational set–up.

We have been clear we expect instances of alternate provision being utilised to be minimal and have developed a rationale which is as follows:

We have made our major investment in the primary provision, and it is our expectation that the number of alternate requests will be low.  We have, therefore, calculated maximum available funding allocation based on spot purchasing costs at a £30 hourly rate for an average of 15 hours per Hearing which gives a total of £450 per Hearing.  We have estimated 1% of the total number of Children’s Hearings held (figures from SCRA official statistics 2018-19) per year to be the maximum number of alternate provision cases. 

Given all of the information above Scottish Government would, where possible, like to fund organisations via the grant offer model where there are clusters of local authorities to be covered.  This will streamline the administrative burden on organisations and on Scottish Government.  This also gives the added advantage of organisations being aware of the maximum amount of funding available and allows planning and resourcing work to be undertaken.  This is particularly important where the level of demand for alternate provision is unpredictable.

The spot purchase model will operate within the blended approach, for those local authorities where it is not practical nor cost effective to offer grant funding.  For example, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. 

We are in the throes of putting final touches together but we are delighted to say that we now have coverage for alternate provision Scotland-wide.  We will update you in due course with which organisation is working in which local authority clusters and you can begin, if not already started, to make connections with the primary provider in your areas. 

ERG member action –

We invite you to:

  • Note the alternate provision coverage is almost confirmed.  We will revert to you in the coming days with exact details of Scotland-wide coverage.
  • Note the progress on drafting guidance on alternate provision arrangements and the Scottish Government’s intention to continue to work on this directly with input from the advocacy provider organisations with the aim of completing this by end August 2020.
  • Note Scottish Government intention to convene the Communication and Engagement sub-group to assist work on refining key messaging for local authorities/and other key partner organisations about when alternate provision may be needed and how to access this.
  1. Communications and Engagement

Activity with Local Authorities

On 28 April, the Scottish Government wrote to all local authorities Chief Social Workers, Directors of Education and Children and Families, Heads of Children’s Services and Children’s Services Strategic Leads Group.  This provided an update on Children’s Advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System including in summary:

  • Scottish Government’s Programme for Government commitment “In spring next year, we will introduce a national children’s hearings advocacy scheme, backed by £1.5 million, to further reinforce children’s rights and make sure the interests of each child is at the very heart of their hearing.”
  • Explaining that due to Covid-19 impacts, we were unable to achieve our planned laying dates of section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 for coming into force.
  • 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.  
  • All 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. 
  • Confirming, at the end of March we secured the support of a portfolio of 9 third sector organisations, and provided the names and areas of coverage, to prepare for and deliver the national provision of children’s advocacy within the Children’s Hearings System. 
  • progressing discussions with some organisations to secure agreement for alternate provision for each local authority.  
  • Strongly emphasised the introduction of a national provision of children’s advocacy in Children’s Hearings, funding by Scottish Government, absolutely does not replace the duty and needs for children and young people to be able to access local advocacy provision for other matters.  Advocacy for children and young people specifically for Children’s Hearings, must enhance, and add to, local provision. 
  • Developing and ramping up or communications is a priority and key focus of our activity.  
  • Will continue to be guided by and work with the Children’s Hearing’s Advocacy Expert Reference Group to develop and deliver all parts of our communications and engagement strategy – both for strategic and local level needs. 
  • The Scottish Government absolutely 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’

Next steps:

  • We were delighted to have received positive constructive feedback from some local authorities in response.  We will write again to local authorities in July with a focus on addressing these matters –training requirements for advocacy workers,
  • technological capability to participate in virtual hearings,
  • what alternate provision means and when it may be appropriate to consider and support a child to access this, and
  • sharing more about how local authorities will work alongside the new service and other existing services.

National messaging for use in publicity materials

We have been asked about, and spoken before within the Communications and Engagement Sub-Group, about whether we can give guidance on generic messaging and use of Scottish Government branding that would help advocacy organisations to develop local level publicity materials e.g. leaflets, websites, posters etc.  This will help ensure a consistent message is used and understood, leaving little chance for confusion and different interpretations.

The Scottish Government has drafted a short guidance paper aiming to set out our policy statement and high-level messaging for advocacy organisations and others to use in local level publicity material.  We invite you to review this and provide any feedback on any part of this.  Is it helpful and provide what you would like it to?  Is there anything missing? 

PAPER ATTACHED SEPARATELY – Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings System: Publicity Guidance

Communications and Engagement Strategy – tracking activity

Please see the attached communications and engagement strategy document.  Please note the activities that have taken place, and the activities and opportunities in planning.  We would ask you to consider if there is anything else that should be  recorded in this. 

PAPER ATTACHED SEPARATELY – Children’s Hearings Advocacy Communications and Engagement Strategy

Expert Reference Group information on website

Updates will be made to the Scottish Government website following the meeting, to reflect the addition of new Members representing East Ayrshire Advocacy Service and Advocacy Western Isles.  The update will also record the withdrawal of Advocard on the members list..  A summary of topics and actions arising from the meeting will also be published.

Dedicated website for Children’s Hearings Advocacy

We mentioned in the last update that we had been looking into options, to purchase a domain name, and would be asking for help to develop this.  We have not made much progress on this in recent weeks but will be hoping to take this forward again shortly.

Next steps

You will note there are a few communication and engagement activities being progressed.  We would welcome support and guidance on these important areas of work.  We think this would be a good time to Convene another meeting of the Communications and Engagement Sub-Group to support and guide us on these activities including developing communications with local authorities social work and education, and website development.

ERG member action –

Invite you to:

  • Provide any updates on activity undertake that should be added to the Communications and Engagement Strategy.
  • Agree that the Communications and Engagement Sub-Group should be convened to look at the detail of designing the website format and content and communications with local authorities
  • Offer views on the draft paper – policy statement and core national messaging for use in publicity materials.
  • Note Scottish Government will be updating its website information about the group and its work.
  1. Legislation

In the April update we mentioned the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government commitment for introducing children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System is spring 2020.  Due to the impact of Covid-19 in March we were unable to achieve commencement of section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 – as was planned for 21 June 2020. 

We continue work to assess the practicalities and advise Ministers on the next appropriate opportunity to take the legislation forward.  As we’ve previously said, Ministers remain dedicated to making as much progress as possible.  And we have been delighted with progress the advocacy organisations have been making to get staff in place and services ready. 

We will continue to work setting a new timetable for taking forward the legislation but this absolutely should not hold up the work with all partners of the Advocacy in Children’s Hearings Expert Reference Group getting the provision up and running. 

The next crucial part of this is ensuring the ‘making advocacy real in the modernised children’s hearings system’ training is delivered and completed by all advocacy workers.   This will be set in Regulations and as such we will ensure this is available and delivered in advance of Regulations being in force.  Our current planning is that training will take place from July to September and that from September onwards we will be able to press forward with national start-up.  The Regulations may be in force at the earliest by mid-November.

There are of course a number of variables still necessary to observe and that may impact on timescales and the position of partners, including the phased return of face-to face hearings, progress in respect of Scotland’s route map through and of the Covid-19 crisisSee the next section providing more detail regarding the training. 

As soon as any dates are fixed, we will inform you of this.

ERG Member action –

We invite you to:

  • Note the Scottish Government will continue to work on timetabling the legislation but this should not prevent services starting.  We will keep you informed as and when any dates are set. 
  1. Continuing professional development and training

Update on the training for children’s advocacy workers.

Why? – the training will be mandated through the Regulations

The training ‘Making Advocacy Real in the Modernised Hearings System’ will be mandated within the Regulations that will underpin section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011.  This must be completed by any person providing children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System, through this Scottish Government funded national scheme.

It is recognised that many advocacy workers will have an excellent working knowledge of the law and procedure around Children’s Hearings, however some may require an update on the law, or a refresher in certain areas and others may be completely new to working in the children’s hearings system.

The aim and focus of the training will be to equip advocacy workers with the knowledge to spot where the law could improve the child or young person’s situation and is designed to enable advocacy workers to use the law themselves when advocating on behalf of a child or young person.  

The benefits of recognising where the law may be used to help the child or young person are to help the advocacy worker to spot early on where steps can be taken to resolve the situation before it gets complicated or more difficult.

What?– understanding the legal context of children’s hearings and how the advocacy workers role fits in to this

The content has been produced by Clan Childlaw who have worked with the Scottish Government, and involved members of the Expert Reference Group and advocacy providers in its development.  Clan Childlaw have been supporting advocacy workers in the children’s hearings system for a number of years through its legal information telephone/email service.

The format will include overview presentations (these may be pre-recorded by Clan Childlaw) and case scenarios for discussion on the day.  Some preparatory materials for reading or watching will be provided in advance of the training sessions.  As much opportunity as possible will be built into the training for the advocacy workers to discuss their practice and ideas.  We will, as part of the discussions, encourage advocacy workers to identify where further or ongoing training is required.  

Fictional case studies will be used as a basis for the training so real life application of the law can be discussed.  The focus will be on what the child or young person should know before making an informed decision, and where to find that information.  Clan Childlaw have built up data on what the main issues are that advocacy workers from around the country contact them about and have used this information, and their own experiences to identify and address the main areas through the presentation and case studies.

The context will be covered within five key topical areas:

1.    Overview/refresher of the legal framework of the children’s hearings system – routes in, grounds, first hearings

2.    Who’s Who in Children’s Hearings proceedings – roles of main participants including Relevant Persons, Reporter, Safeguarder, Legal Reps

3.    Children’s rights and participation at Hearings – including how these are balanced with rights of others.

4.    Hearings decisions – outcomes reaches and entitlements touching on secure care and appeals rights

5.    Moving forward and leaving care – including care leavers rights

When and where? – schedule for training dates delivered digitally via Vscene (through video conferencing)

We are planning to bring the training online from end of July through to September.  Dates are being identified and will be communicated directly to the advocacy provider organisations shortly.  Alongside that a request for information will be made, for example, about the number of staff requiring training, their experience level and their role.    That information will help with the facilitation of these sessions.

Many of you will know Vscene is a simple way to connect with people on different devices and conferencing systems.  The digital platform is being used by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and Children’s Hearings Scotland to facilitate the virtual Children’s Hearings.  You do not need to have an account to access Vscene and we will offer test sessions if required,  and provide instructions on how to use it in advance of the training.

Who is it for? – advocacy organisations funded by the Scottish Government for the purpose of the children’s advocacy in the children’s hearings system national scheme

All advocacy workers employed by organisations (under agreement with the Scottish Government) to deliver children’s advocacy in the children’s hearings system.  This includes both primary and alternate provider organisations and their staff included in this service – including advocacy workers and managers.

ERG member action –

We invite you to:

  • Note this update and plans for training dates to start from July through to August.  More information will be sent directly to the advocacy provider organisations following the meeting to outline dates and seek some more information that will help with the planning and facilitation.  There will be an opportunity to speak about this at the meeting, should you have any questions.
  1. Monitoring and Reporting

During the period March to May Scottish Government has spoken individually to all provider organisations.  Good progress is being made with recruitment and inductions.  Since Covid-19 emergency regulations came into place, the number of Hearings have been significantly reduced to focus on the ‘high priority cases’.  In many of these earlier cases children have not participated in the virtual Hearings.  The role and support children’s advocacy can provide to help ensure children and young people’s views are able to be heard in their Hearings is a hugely important contribution.

The first quarterly grant monitoring reports are expected from advocacy provider organisations by end of July.  This will provide the first opportunity to gather evidence and intelligence on the progress of the services becoming established and provide any early insight into the practice taking place across Scotland.  This will be useful to further develop our work plans to ensure children’s advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System is understood and being delivered as consistently as possible.  We will aim to synthesise this information for the Expert Reference Group’s consideration for next update/meeting in September.  We have sent advocacy providers a reminder by email outlining what we expect from them and know they have everything in hand.  We have been asked a few clarification questions and invite others to do this too if you have any issues.

ERG members action –

We invite you to:

  • Note the next meeting in September will consider the information about service establishment provided in the first quarterly grant monitoring reports.
  1. Providers Network

A Provider’s Network was suggested to us by a provider and we have discussed with all the others.  Everyone is keen to be involved in this.  Scottish Government was asked to facilitate this, which we are happy to do.  However, our role would be limited to making arrangements and facilitating contact.  The purpose of this network is for provider organisations to share learning and experiences of practice and problem solve challenges together that specifically relate to advocacy in the children’s hearings system.  The terms and agendas should be set by the advocacy providers.  Our discussions have considered that initially this may be for the advocacy managers to set-up and then to involve the advocacy practitioners as and when appropriate.  This will be a forum to support each other and where necessary agree actions to bring to Scottish Government – directly via grant relationships or via the Expert Reference Group.

ERG Action –

We invite:

  • Advocacy Provider organisations, to provide views.  How would you like this to be taken forward?
  • All members, to offer any suggestions to help this network establish themselves?
  1. Other News

Connecting Scotland Initiative - connecting vulnerable individuals and families

An email was sent to providers on 9 June 2020.

In considering ways to ensure participation for those children and young people who did not have easy access to digital means to access services and support the detail below outlines how organisations working with vulnerable individuals and families can make contact with The Connecting Scotland initiative.  You may, of course already be involved in this and may have information to share, if so I would encourage you to share evidence you have.  Links to do that are included below for your use.

The Connecting Scotland initiative aims to connect up to 9,000 more people on low incomes who are considered clinically at high risk so they can access services and support and connect with friends and family during the pandemic.  

Organisations working with vulnerable individuals and families can get in touch with the programme using this link or through to share any evidence they have and express an interest in helping to reach and support vulnerable people to get online.

Consultation on raising the age a young person can be referred to a children’s hearing

The Scottish Government published a consultation on raising the age a young person can be referred to a children’s hearing on 17 June 2020. 

It runs until 7 October 2020 and can be found online at:

We are keen to hear views on:

  • whether all under 18s should have the opportunity to be supported in a child centred system which can address identified needs and risks;
  • the structural, resourcing, service design and practice implications of the proposed changes; and
  • whether additional protections and support are necessary for victims of crime.

We want to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to take part and contribute their views and we would be delighted to discuss any potential opportunities for stakeholder engagement.  Please get in touch if you would like to discuss possibilities.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - current situation   

The First Minister announced and published on 21 May Scotland’s Route Map through and out of crisis.  The First Minister will announce on Thursday 18 June the outcome of our review into lockdown restrictions which may confirm a move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of our plan for reopening the economy and lifting restrictions more generally. 

For the latest information on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Scotland, including supporting guidance and data, please visit the webpage.

Resumption of face to face Children’s Hearings, was included in Phase 1 of the Route Map.

The current pandemic measures preventing physical hearings should be in place only for as long as they are needed.  We are anxious to provide full service to children and families as soon as it is safe.

Focused preparatory work to support service recovery in the Children’s Hearings System has begun.  There will be considerable lead-in time to prepare premises, train and equip staff, make system adaptations and ensure physical distancing.  No physical hearings will be possible for a number of weeks after the point that it is agreed it is safe to hold them. This long lead-in, and the intrinsic complexity of holding hearings, were key factors behind children’s hearings’ inclusion in Phase 1.

A blend between virtual and physical hearings will persist for the foreseeable future.  We expect remote hearings to continue to be the default for some weeks to come, and they will continue to operate in line with the guidance issued by the Principal Reporter of SCRA and the National Convener of Children’s Hearing Scotland on 20 April.

The system has continued to operate entirely remotely since 23 March.  It has been reliant on the flexibilities offered by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 to discharge business.  The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration has submitted recovery proposals to Health Protection Scotland this week.  The aim is for some Reporter staff to return to centres shortly to prepare for the resumption of children’s hearings - a blend of online participation with physical attendance from core participants (children, families and panel).  

There are statutory notice periods required to convene hearings lawfully. Subject to cleared risk assessments, the agencies are aiming for some hearings activity from mid-July.

Safeguarders in virtual hearings

Partners in Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and Sheriff Courts are fully aware that Safeguarders remain available for allocations where they are needed.

Wherever possible, Safeguarders are participating in virtual hearings, whether directly, or by giving their views to the Reporter prior to the hearing.  Safeguarders are also making full use of technology where available and appropriate to undertake their roles while keeping children and families safe in accordance with government advice.

Independent Care Review – Chair of the Care Promise Oversight Board

On 21 May, the Deputy First Minister announced that Fiona Duncan, Chair of the Independent Care Review has formally accepted the role of Chair of the Care Promise Oversight Board.  Parliament was notified via a Government Inspired Question and announced on Twitter by the Deputy First Minister.  Mr Swinney said:

“The Scottish Government is fully committed to deliver on its pledge to care experienced people in Scotland by accepting and responding to the Care Review conclusions and by putting in place the infrastructure to implement the outcomes reached and ‘#KeepThePromise’.

The COVID-19 emergency response has undoubtedly impacted upon the ability of the Scottish Government and key partners’ to make as much progress as we would have wished to in our response in the short term.

 However, the Scottish Government has been working hard to ensure that the principles of the Care Review’s “Promise” are reflected in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including in practice guidance and policies underpinning emergency legislation.

I am pleased to advise Parliament that Fiona Duncan has agreed to Chair the oversight of implementation which will ensure the ethos, approach and commitments of the Care Review can be at the heart of this process. We will work with Fiona Duncan to put in place the necessary arrangements to ensure that the Promise is implemented in the way that the Review, care experienced people and the wider sector envisaged.”

Children's Social work 2018/19 Statistics publication

The 2018-19 publication of statistics on looked after children, children in child protection and secure care was published on 31 March 2020. This is also the page which contains all the Children's social work statisticsThe children’s social work statistics are based on three annual data collections, from local authority administrative systems covering looked after children and the child protection process.  Data is also collected from secure units in Scotland. 

ERG member action –

We invite you to:

  • Note the updates above and ask any questions.
  • Provide any feedback from your organisations on whether or not they have used the Connecting Scotland Initiative
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