Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group update paper: June 2021

Update paper from the Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group meeting on 9 June 2021.


This paper aims to provide a short summary of issues of importance for further discussion at the video conference meeting on Wednesday 9 June. It also includes short updates on matters we consider will be of relevance and interest to the group but that we may not necessarily have time to discuss at the meeting.

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 Scottish Government - Pam and Louise.

Siblings - participation in children's hearings update

At the last ERG meeting (23 April) the Scottish Government has an action to provide an update on the definition around siblings within this context of Children’s Hearings, noted as - “Scottish Government will go back to the detail in the Policy Notes at the time of the Children (Scotland) Bill, as introduced in parliament 2019, and subsequent Regulations, to provide the group with an update on the definitions within and further explanation of what we were handling.”

Provided here is an update around ‘sibling personal relations’ and the policy rational of who may fall within this definition. 

This Policy Memorandum relates to the Children (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 52) as introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 2 September 2019 people. 

Duties in relation to looked after children and their siblings – background

Section 17 of the 1995 Act provides that: “where a child is looked after by a local authority they shall, in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe, take such steps to promote, on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contact between the child and any person with parental responsibilities in relation to him as appear to them to be, having regard to their duty to promote the welfare of the child, both practicable and appropriate”.

There is no equivalent provision for promoting sibling personal relations or direct contact in primary legislation. There is simply a duty set out in regulations to assess contact with family membersThe Bill places a duty on local authorities to promote sibling personal relations in the same way as they are required to promote personal relations and direct contact with a child and their parent where this is practicable and appropriate.

The Bill clarifies that local authorities must take the views of siblings into consideration when making their assessment of their duties.

Policy analysis

The policy is to ensure that priority is given to the child sibling relationship at the earliest point when children are being taken into care. The Scottish Government understands that there may be competing interests between sibling children and the welfare of the child concerned and this has to be considered. In a small number of cases the relationship between siblings may be inappropriate or harmful. For example, an abusive family may not have established appropriate sexual boundaries or excessive sibling rivalry may undermine a child’s sense of self-esteem or aggravate their challenging behaviour.

The Scottish Government considers that a sibling relationship can be wider than a biological brother or sister. The duties are to extend to full, half, step and adopted siblings and include sibling like relationships. This might be influenced by who a child sees as their sibling as well as being an objective assessment of the relationship. For example, if a child is brought up in the same household as their cousin, that could be a sibling like relationship. If a child shared a room with another child in a foster home for one occasion overnight that would not. The policy intention is that all siblings capable of giving a view to a local authority will be able to do so. This furthers compliance with the UNCRC.

The policy note has been published -The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Rules of Procedure in Children’s Hearings) Amendment Rules 2021.

Policy objectives - opportunity to participate

During a Children’s Hearing there may be decisions which directly and significantly affect contact or the possibility of contact between the child at the centre of the hearing and their sibling(s). The Scottish Government is clear that all siblings should get a proper opportunity to provide a view to decision-makers on their contact with their brother or sister who is the subject of the hearing. The SSI provides for appropriate rights of involvement for siblings whilst protecting the focus of proceedings on the child at the centre of the hearing, whose own best interests remain the paramount consideration. Ministers recognise that the preservation and development of sibling relationships and contact will usually have a positive impact on the subject child’s best interests, as well as on the rights and interests of their siblings.

Siblings, particularly those who are children or young people, may not always fall within the accepted definition for ‘deemed’ relevant person status. In order to be deemed a Relevant Person the applying individual should have, or have recently had, significant involvement in the upbringing of the subject child. This ‘quasi-parental’ role – while applicable to some sibling relationships is often qualitatively different to the legitimate interest of siblings in growing up together, or in maintaining their relationships and staying in contact where they cannot grow up together. The children’s hearings system does provide opportunities for a number of participants in hearings - parents, social workers, safeguarders etc - to elicit and reflect the views of siblings and provide these to the hearing. It is recognised that a sibling should have opportunity themselves to either provide a report or, to attend the hearing in person and be supported to give their views where a decision is likely to affect their contact with their brother or sister.

The purpose of section 25 of the 2020 Act is to enable others to have an opportunity to take meaningful part in Children’s Hearings. Participation would provide certain rights including:

  • the right to be notified of the hearing
  • the right to provide a report or other document to the hearing
  • the right to be provided with documents specified in the rules
  • authorisation to attend the hearing
  • the right to be represented at the hearing
  • the right to seek a review of a compulsory supervision order

Section 25 also provides that the criteria for defining the ‘opportunity to participate’ will be laid out in regulations via section 177 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2011.

In order to benefit from these provisions, an individual seeking to have an opportunity to participate must be living or have lived with the subject child, have an ongoing relationship with the character of a relationship between siblings (whether or not they have a parent in common), the children’s hearing is likely to make a decision significantly affecting contact or the possibility of contact between the individual and the child, and the individual seeking participation is capable of forming a view on the matter of contact between themself and the subject child.

An opportunity to participate can be in many forms such as providing a written view, a recording or attendance and direct verbal participation at the hearing. Attendance of the individual will have the necessary support in place to play a full part in discussions on the issues relating to contact, and siblings will also have the right to representation.

The regulations will provide the chairing member of the Children’s Hearing a power to end the individual’s participation in the hearing once their legitimate interest in the hearing – namely, the relevant issues related to contact, have been concluded.

Training and CPDGBG

Making advocacy real in the children’s hearings system – training

The initial series of training mandatory training sessions were held in August/September 2020. We are now working with Clan Childlaw to deliver the next round for any new starts under the national scheme. The advocacy organisations should provide the individuals basic contact information to SG as soon as practicably possible.

The training is open to advocacy workers, and managers, working under the nationally funded scheme for children’s advocacy in children’s hearings, and must be undertaken. For simplicity, we have renamed this training to ‘induction training’ and this next round will be delivered from 1 June in two component.

  • self-study part (approximately four hours of training) involving the completion of e-learning models of: reading, pre-recorded video presentations, quiz to test learning and a certificate on completion. This covers the five modules: Background and Referral; Who’s Who; Children’s Rights; Hearing Decisions; and Leaving Care. This should be completed within four week
  • this will be followed by an interactive session (approximately two hours of training) involving practice discussion using case studies. This will likely be facilitated online using Zoom or another web conferencing tool. Two dates will be arranged for September

Refresher training

You may remember that we have also spoken about providing annual refresher training for all advocacy workers employed under the national scheme to ensure their learning and knowledge keeps pace with any legal changes over the course (e.g. siblings participation and UNCRC incorporation are recent examples) and to further support shared practice learning. Clan Childlaw will also be providing this as part of the training offer and our current planning is for sessions to be arranged for the end of this year November / December time – around one year on from the formal starting of the provision. We will keep you updated as the arrangements are progressed.

Developing a workforce plan and vision for a recognised qualification

The SG convened a meeting of the training and CPD sub-group again on 18 March to reflect more on this work and develop further. 

In summary, the discussion covered how the skills and knowledge framework is presented, its purpose specifically understood by children’s advocacy workers within the Children’s Hearings System, and recognised as part of the wider children’s services sector. This will be the focus of further attention and discussion. Particular attention will be given to concerns raised around perception of a “levels” style framework giving the impression there could be a hierarchy of advocacy worker. 

In considering the development of a qualification for advocacy workers, it was highlighted again that this has previously raised a split in opinion. There is, however, agreement that the development of a niche qualification for children’s advocacy in the Children Hearings System qualification for advocacy workers can be realised and should be worked up collaboratively with those involved in this area of work. The pathway to obtaining an ‘optional’ professionally recognised qualification will be more fully considered in due course.

There is an action outstanding from this meeting to be taken forward by the Scottish Government. Arrangements will be made for the sub-group to reconvene in the coming weeks. For that meeting, a question set will be developed to help guide the discussion and the work to populate the skills and knowledge framework with more details. We said we would set this up for after the Easter holiday period. This has not yet happened as we have prioritised other matters, such as the work around siblings. This is still in our work plan and we hope to make some more progress in the coming months.

The note of the meeting has been shared and can be made available again on request.

ERG member action - invite you to:

  • provider organisations only - notify the Scottish Government of staff needing to complete this next round, over June-July, of mandatory induction training

  • note Scottish Government will convene a further meeting of the sub-group to work on populating and further progressing a workforce development framework plan and the vision for developing a professional qualification for children’s advocacy workers working within the Children’s Hearings System

Communications and engagement

Working with Our Hearings our Voice (OHOV)

Our Hearings Our Voice have continued to support our work. They have given feedback to SCRA colleagues who have been supporting the development and maintenance of the national dedicated website and other associated publicity materials such as the leaflets and posters. We also asked Hearings-experienced young people from Our Hearings, Our Voice what they think about how advocacy workers can help. A new page ‘Here’s what they had to say’ has been added to the website.

Their feedback has also informed the design of a poster. This has been finalised and copies are being printed and will be distributed to all the hearing centres. It would be really good to get it into schools too. Ideas of how we could do this would be welcomed.

The poster design is included with this paper – it is a separate PDF file.

We have also made a request to the advocacy organisations to ask for their help to develop testimony style content for the website to make it more engaging for children and young people – and listening and responding to the feedback from OHOV. We asked provider organisations for help to develop this in an anonymised way. We also asked if a few advocacy workers would be happy to speak to camera about their role – so bringing the Q&A text to life. We continue to consider options to make improvements and work with the organisations on any developments.

Website analytics – 15 February to 12 May 2021

The webpage analytics between 15 February and 12 May 2021 are as follows:

  • page views – 1,224

  • home page views – 560

  • about advocacy page views – 175

  • contact someone local page views – 159

  • children hearings page views – 105

  • advocacy Q&A page views – 98

  • children’s hearings advocacy and the law page views – 49

  • how advocacy can help page views – 48

  • contact us page views – 32 views

Top search requests: Parents – Hearings Advocacy; Family court; Referral hearings; Siblings and advocacy; Corporate parents; Age and advocacy.

  • 78.6 % DESKTOP USERS
  •  3.4 % TABLET USERS

Communications and engagement with the sector

Communications and engagement activities are continuing well, particularly at a local level. Advocacy organisations are reporting mostly good working relationships although some localised issues have arisen. A really useful and positive meeting also took place between representatives of the National Provider Network, SCRA, CHS, and SG also joined the discussion around perspectives and experiences in the early months of implementation.

We continue to monitor and offer support to resolve or take action as may be necessary. We understand there is more work to do to help shift ‘hearts and minds’ behaviours, and we will need to continue to give this attention. As we’ve said before, we welcome details of any successful strategies we can share and work on with the group. There are a few matters around communications that could be explored and some guidance from members would be helpful. We would intend to reconvene the sub group to discuss how best to take forward the strategy. Look out for an invitation to the next meeting soon.

Pam presented a paper to the last CHIP meeting (April 2021) outlining the sterling work done in implementing the children’s advocacy provision. That paper and presentation was very well received with CHIP members commenting that they were pleased to see how much progress has been made, despite the restrictions due to the pandemic.

A copy of the CHIP paper is attached with this paper as a separate document. 

Pam and Louise (SG) and Melissa (SCRA), met with representatives from the Glasgow Infant and Family Team (GIFT) at NSPCC. A very interesting discussion was had on working with children under 5 years old and we are pleased to have made those contacts.

We will continue our engagement as we think through our policies relating to under 5s.

ERG member action -invite you to:

  • provide any updates on activity undertake that should be added to the Communications and Engagement Strategy

  • provide ideas/suggestion of how we can get the new posters circulated/out to schools

  • please continue to promote the hearings-advocacy website as much as possible via social media channels. A new visual will be made and it would be really useful if all members with social media accounts could share this

  • note Scottish Government’s intent to convene in the coming weeks a meeting of the Comms and Engagement Group to discuss a plan of targeted activity to support social workers understanding and practices

The Scottish Government has received grant monitoring reports from organisations for the final Q4 period January to April and end of year account. We will be reviewing this is due course and consolidate any particular learning points into the implementation learning paper that we started as a means of sharing good practice and highlighting and issues for resolve or monitoring.

In responding to learning through the reporting process, we recently developed a reporting template to help bring some coherence as to why we are asking for certain pieces of data and how we would like this reported. This raised some questions within the National Providers Network and we have met to offer further detail and clarification.

Despite all of the challenges of further covid related lockdown in the New Year, we are pleased to note that all organisations have reported an increase in referrals and in children supported through the advocacy provision. The Scottish Government team are working through all of the Q4 and end of year reports and we will advise the ERG of findings when that work is completed.

The excellent progress in implementing the provision is all thanks to the work, the innovative practices and the dedication, and especially communications and partnership work being undertaken by all providers and public bodies involved in the hearings. We are all working well together.

Other relevant updates

Children's hearings - recovery plan on-going

The COVID recovery plan for the children’s hearings system across 2020 and 2021 remains under regular review and updating of the COVID-19 Group on children’s hearings who meet weekly. The intention to keep the plan responsive and adaptable based on feedback, and then move at pace to consider the innovation and improvement possibilities – with partners and service users. The recent focus of the group has been on developing recommendations on the effective use of funding and investment in improving ongoing digital performance and capabilities, for example, migrating online hearings to the MS Teams platform. Feedback and comments can be provided to the CHIP email address: CHIP Partnership; copying in Elaine.

Virtual hearings - new support materials 

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration has updated their website to include a new section with guidance, tips and frequently asked questions on Virtual Hearings. 

Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) – new website launched

SIAA have launched a new SIAA website on 2 June. This should be useful to anyone benefit from understanding more about independent advocacy and their recent news item covering some key areas of the new site is available.

Children's Rights – Scottish Government introductory training tool

The Scottish Government’s Children's Rights team have updated its introduction to Children’s Rights training tool.

This resource provides a broad overview of children's rights and the many rights-based frameworks and legislation which support them in Scotland and internationally.

It provides a comprehensive overview of how these rights are embedded in Scottish policy and practice and includes information on how to complete a Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) along with information on including children and young people in decision-making.

Child Protection – public awareness campaign about staying safe online

The Scottish Government (CSEtheSigns) and Police Scotland ran complementary public awareness campaigns throughout much of March to raise awareness about staying safe online. Collectively the campaigns sought to:

  • educate and inform parents and carers by offering advice on how to check and monitor their child's online activity and speak to their child about online safety

  • provide information to children and young people to better equip them in protecting themselves online (with partners and carers as the route to deliver this)

  • change the behaviour of perpetrators who exploit children online with a campaign encouraging them to seek help

  • inform the public of the action being taken by Police Scotland and Scottish Government, in partnership with others, of how the growing concern of online harm is being addressed

Improving Transitions for Disabled Children and Young People

The Scottish Government are continuing to support ARC Scotland to develop and deliver the Principles into Practice trial programme, which aims to improve transitions for young people who require additional support as they leave school and move into adult life. For anyone who wants to find out more about this, ARC Scotland have now developed a website which provides further information on both the Principles into Practice and the trial programme. The website will be added to and developed as the trials themselves develop, see the website.

Scottish Government’s Youth Justice Strategy

The Youth Justice team are finalising preparations for publishing a new vision for youth justice and accompanying action plan. The vision entitled 'A Rights-Respecting Approach to Justice for Children and Young People – Scotland's Vision and Priorities, will be published alongside a suite of youth justice related documents on 16 June. This is the same day as this year's virtual Youth Justice Conference. The vision represents a shared foundation between the Scottish Government, key partners and children and families, to work together to ensure that the rights of children in Scotland are protected and upheld, to prevent them from being involved in behaviour which leads them into conflict with the law. It includes priorities for delivery over the next three years based on the views of young people, key stakeholders and partners and aims to meet key asks from the Promise and other recommendations from reports and inquiries over the last few years. 

Each and Every Child – tackling narrative and perceptions around care experience

A new initiative – Each and Every Child - which aims to transform the current public narrative and perceptions around care and care experience by identifying and tackling challenging assumptions and attitudes was launched on 18 May.

Funded by CELCIS, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Life Changes Trust, The Robertson Trust, Social Work Scotland and The Scottish Government, the initiative and its resources are informed by research with people with care experience, organisations, and the public, across Scotland, carried out by the Frameworks Institute.

A free, open-access ‘toolkit’ is available to support people and organisations to shape how they speak, write and communicate about care experience in ways that have the potential to shift public attitudes and improve the life chances of care experienced people now and in the future. More has been published on the CELCIS website.

The Promise

The Promise Scotland has been set up as a non-statutory company and will sit independent from Government allowing oversight and scrutiny, ensuring that the recommendations of the care review are implemented. The Promise Scotland have now published the Plan 21-24 - The Promise. The plan sets down a number of key targets to 2024. The Scottish Government will respond to this, outlining the role it will play in helping to deliver a real transformational change in the 'care system'.

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 – draft regulations will be introduced to parliament and Expressions of Interest for Child Interview Rights Practitioners (ChIRPs) is published

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (Register of Child Interview Rights Practitioners) Regulations 2021 are due to be laid in parliament on 11 June.

As long as the behaviour being investigated relates to when the child was under 12 years of age, a child who is under 16 years of age (or who is 16 or 17 years of age and subject to a compulsory supervision order) may be the subject of an investigative interview under the Act.

Section 51 of the Act, provides for a child who is involved in an investigative interview to have a ChIRP appointed to them. The ChIRP will provide the child with advice, support and assistance in connection with, and during an investigative interview.

Section 56 of the Act sets out:

  • Scottish Ministers’ obligation to establish and maintain a register of persons of ChIRPs;

  • the regulation-making powers in connection with establishing and maintaining the register of ChIRPs;

  • the payment of expenses, fees and allowances;

  • the appointment of ChIRPs to cases; and

  • taking the views of the child into account.

An expressions of interest for inclusion in the Register for Child Interview Rights Practitioners (ChIRPs) was published on 4 June. The exercise runs until 9 July and we would be grateful if ERG members could share the information with any contacts they think may have an interest in applying.

Application Guidance is now available.

The ChIRPs Code of Practice was also published on 4 June..

Scottish Government consultation on the regulation of child contact centres

We are seeking views from a range of individuals including children and young people which will inform the development of the regulation of child contact centres.

Child contact centres can play an important role in allowing a child to have a relationship with a parent. Child contact centres are safe venues for conflict-free contact between children, parents, and other people in the child’s life.

The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to regulate child contact centres. This consultation seeks views on various aspects of what regulation would look like. The consultation closes on 12 July. 

Regulation of child contact centre services - Scottish Government - Citizen Space is available to view.

Scottish Government Cabinet and Ministerial appointments – new cross government focus on COVID-19 recovery

The First Minister has appointed a new Scottish Cabinet and a ministerial team: New Scottish Cabinet

John Swinney MSP has been reappointed as Deputy First Minister and will take on the role of Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery. The Deputy First Minister's immediate focus will be on Covid response, Covid recovery and delivery of the commitments for the Government's first 100 days.

This new post aligns with the government's top priority to lead the country through the pandemic and deliver a recovery that supports our NHS, protects and creates jobs, backs our young people and contributes to our ambition to be a net zero nation. 

For children’s advocacy in children’s hearings interests the new lead Minister for Children and Young People is Clare Haughey, and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 – reporting

We have been working with SCRA, CHS, courts and local authorities to collate information required to satisfy the formal reporting requirements under the ‘Scottish Act’, and committed to in relation to the Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the UK Act’). In terms of section 15 of the Scottish Act, the Scottish Ministers are required to report to Parliament every two months on the status of the provision throughout each reporting period, how the powers have been exercised, and the continuing necessity of the provisions. The reports includes a section on the use and continued necessity of the children’s provisions related to children’s hearings:

The fifth report to Parliament covers the period 1 December to 31 January: Coronavirus Acts: fifth report to Scottish Parliament. 

The sixth reports to Parliament covers the period 1 February to 31 March: Coronavirus Acts: Sixth Report to Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Government published News Releases and Guidance related to Coronavirus

Statements from the First Minister and other Ministers to outline COVID-19 updates are published online. The latest Coronavirus in Scotland information and guidance.

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