Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference Group update paper: February 2022

Update paper from the meeting of the group on 17 February 2022.


This paper aims to provide a short summary of issues of importance for further consideration at the video conference meeting on Thursday 17 February. We may not necessarily have time to discuss all these at the meeting but if there is anything in particular members would like to raise, these can be considered under any other business agenda item.

ERG member action: before the meeting please, if there are any matters you would like to speak to, or if you cannot make the meeting but have comments, share these with SG – Pam and Louise.

Grant funding for the Children’s Hearings Advocacy Scheme – spending to date and commitment beyond 2022

Up to end March 2021, the investment from the SG directly to the children’s advocacy in children’s hearings scheme totalled £1,099,784.73. The funding commitment for the first full year 2020 to 2021 was £1.5 million, this supported all aspects of delivering the scheme such as the mandatory training of the advocacy workers provided by Clan Childlaw and spot purchase arrangements.

In March 2020, a total allocation of £203,000 was made through Grant Offers. This was based on organisations anticipated costs provided in expression of interest applications. Of this total allocation, £112,489.83 was claimed as actual spend.

For the financial year April 2020 to March 2021, the Scottish Government (SG) renewed the Grant Offer awards with the funding commitment remaining at £1.5 million. In this full year, the total claimed as actual spend was £906,416.18. This funding by large, supported the primary provision, with £40,293.50 claimed for the delivery of alternate provision. The spot purchase arrangement by invoice was not used.

In the year 2020 to 2021, further Grant Offer awards were made to the primary provider organisations to support COVID-19 safety measures and digital capacity for advocacy. The expedited grant funding was allocated under the Winter Plan for Social Protection – Children’s Hearings Recovery Project. A maximum total of up to £63,000 was divided between the nine organisations, of this £53,378.90 was claimed as actual spend.

For this current financial year 2021 to 2022 the budget increased to £1.8 million from July 2021 when the provision was expanded to also support the right of siblings to participate in Children’s Hearings, where they are invited to give their views on when or how they want to see their brothers or sisters.

The Scottish Parliament concluded stage three proceedings of the Budget (Scotland) Bill on 10 February. We are pleased to let you know within this we have secured budget of up to £2 million for the delivery of the Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings National Scheme for the next financial year 2022 to 2023. 

In addition, Ministers have also given endorsement to a multi-year commitment of £2 million per annum up to 2023 to 2024 in order to provide an element of assurance to the current portfolio of advocacy providers. We will be reviewing our total available budget with a view to considering scope for marginal uplifts to reflect rising staffing costs. To date we have not received reports of any unmet demand resulting from a shortage of funding.

This year we will commission an external evaluation to provide evidence on the effectiveness of the implementation with a view to this being concluded and the basis of considerations for beyond March 2024 – see item four below for more detail.

Year one National Progress Report March 2020 to March 2021

The SG has been asked by partner agencies for a national progress update to share information on outcomes achieved and learning around implementation in the initials phases of this service provision launching. We have therefore prepared a national progress report – year 1 March 2020 to March 2021 setting out information reported to us, largely by the advocacy organisations but also other partner agencies regarding progress. We hope this will be a useful learning aid and will help to share good practices, identify outputs, areas for improvements and actions needing taken as we move forward with the children’s hearing advocacy work. We also hope this will help all ERG members to think about the kinds of information we are collecting and how we can most usefully highlight/share data in relation to this current year.

In the scheme’s first six months up to March 2021 there were 543 “new” referrals for children and young people to access advocacy via the national provision. Of the referrals reported 527 were to the primary provision, and 16 to the alternate with the main reason being to mitigate conflict for siblings being supported. Referrals were received from all local authority areas except Shetland.

Sources of referrals - The main source where referrals were made was from social work - representing 88%. Other sources of referrals included 7% from family or self, 2% from another advocacy provider, the other 3% covering carers, school and safeguarders.

Sex and Gender - Of those children and young people who responded and from the data reported on sex and gender, 47% were male and 53 % female. Some chose not to say and less than 1% identified as transgender or non-binary.

Ethnicity - Of those children and young people who responded and from the data reported on ethnicity, 78% identified as White Scottish or British. A further 9% White other, 2% Polish, 9% preferred not to say, and less than 1% identified as Black, Asian British, or Mixed race.

Age - of all children and young people supported by advocacy services; 2% were aged under five years olds (65% of these were four years old); 53% were aged from five to 10 years old; 38% were aged from 11 to 15 years old; and 6% were aged 16 or 17.

The following six months of April to September 2021 saw referrals accelerate to over 700 new referrals. Analysis of the reported data for this current full year 2021 to 2022 will be carried out in due course.

External evaluation

Work has started on commissioning an external evaluation of the children’s advocacy in the children’s hearings provision. It is at an early stage and we aim to progress matters in the coming months.

We started by asking ourselves the question “What do we want to know?”. From there we have considered: budget; who would carry out this work; methodology; which partners to involve; and, what timeframes are we working towards. These points have been considered within SG in order to develop a proposal which we will bring to the ERG for consideration. 

The “what do we want to know” question gave us the answer: the impact of children’s hearings advocacy scheme on children’s hearings - for children and young people, Panel Members, Reporters, Social Workers, Safeguarders, legal representatives and other professionals involved in the Hearing. 

Additional questions being considered:

  • what value are professionals get from hearing children’s views?
  • does it make their decision making any easier?
  • does the advocacy aid processes during the Hearing?

We are exploring ways in which to get the evidence and information we need to answer our question. We have considered a wide range of activities, including a widely circulated questionnaire, focus group, one-to-one interviews with individuals. We know there is also a wealth of quantitative data already available. The same can be said for children and young people’s testimony, and in order to ensure we are not asking the same questions of the same people over and over again, we will seek to use relevant existing information.  For example we have views and comments from children and young people, via case studies and commissioned pieces of work (i.e OHOV Board members) and we will utilise this rich source of information as much as we can. We will work to firm up methodology in the coming weeks.

We are keen to involve as many people and organisations as we can to ensure we get the best evidence available. If you have any suggestions or ideas you would like to feed into the SG Team at this stage, please let Pam and Louise know.

ERG member action: any suggestions for activity that could inform the external evaluation to be passed to SG - Pam and Louise.

Training and CPD and sub-group

SG convened a further two meetings of the training and CPD sub-group on 13 July and 31 August to progress work on developing detail for a workforce plan and our vision for a recognised qualification.

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. Particular attention has been 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 was, however, agreement that the development of a niche qualification for children’s advocacy in the Children Hearings System qualification for advocacy workers could 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 considered in more depth this year. An initial meeting with The Glasgow Advocacy project took place in November to learn about their approach to developing their qualification.

Clan Childlaw have continued to deliver the “making advocacy real in Children’s Hearings” mandatory training. The induction training for newly started advocacy workers under the national scheme involved e-learning in advance of a lawyer-led group training session in September 2021. All existing advocacy workers were also invited to complete a lawyer led refresher training group session in November covering changes to the law around sibling participation and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Clan Childlaw also continue to deliver the legal support helpline and launched an online bank of resources for advocacy providers.

To that end we would like to suggest that we convene a meeting of the training and CPD sub-group in the coming weeks. If you are not already a member of this group and you would like to be involved, please let Pam and Louise know and you/your organisation will be added to the distribution list.

ERG member action: If you would like to volunteer to sit on the Training and CPD Sub-Group please let SG - Pam and Louise know. We will assume that existing members are content to continue as participants unless we are advised otherwise.

Non-instructed advocacy

Non-instructed advocacy has been the focus of recent discussions both at the National Provider Network and in representation to SG and to SCRA. We are currently operating a system of a case by case basis whilst more detailed discussion takes place. It has emerged that not everyone’s definition of non-instructed advocacy is the same and to that end, providers are beginning work on creating a common definition and shared understanding. SG, CHS and SCRA have discussions scheduled to explore potential barriers. Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) in the meantime have been approached to consider their 2009 Guidance on Non-Instructed Advocacy to take into account working with children and young people (as it stands the existing guidance primarily relates to working with adults). 

Communications and engagement

Further modifications have been made to the website. Content has been added to the Advocacy Q&As to explain how siblings can access the advocacy services. A resources section has been added for easy access to the poster, leaflets, video animations and the new evaluation framework and tools. A leaflet is now available in Gàidhlig and translations of the leaflet in the top 15 languages requests made to SCRA will be produced soon. 

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.

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 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.

Hearings advocacy webinar

We held a very successful webinar was held on 19 January to mark the first year milestone of the Children’s Advocacy for Children’s Hearings National Statutory Scheme which went live on 21 November 2020. There was great attendance (178 delegates) and feedback is in the main, very positive.

The SG held this event to recognise the remarkable progress that has been made and to thank those practitioners delivering benefits to children and young people. We want to share with you the valuable suggestions and comments received through feedback about how to make improvements to the next webinar / learning opportunities we can provide. We will use this learning as we consider next steps and the way forward.

All the webinar presentation materials are available on the Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP) website.

Evidencing the outcomes from advocacy at children’s hearings

The National Providers Network, supported by the SG have completed work with Wren and Greyhound to develop an outcomes framework and tool kit to help to bring consistency to how the advocacy providers gather evidence on the outcomes from advocacy for children’s hearings. This should also support a consistency of reporting to the SG over the course of the next year and build the evidence to support further advocacy provision developments. The evaluation package is available on the resources part of the hearings-advocacy website.

Strategic work for children’s hearings advocacy in the next two years

We would like to discuss our work programme for the next two years with ERG members. We are keen to hear what direction you think we should be taking. There are obvious areas of work we will become involved in, such as The Promise work (more on what we are doing below), the Care and Justice Bill consultation, the National Care Service (consultation responses show that Children's Services should be included in a National Care Service). We have also considered whether the time is right to review the alternate provision guidance. Some organisations use the funding for alternate work and others don’t. Perhaps some tweaks are required? And the spot purchase model has not been used at all, so should we review this aspect of the provision? Of course there is also the External Evaluation work to be factored into our thinking, along with work on a bespoke qualification for advocacy workers. All in all, a lot to be included in our work programme already. We would be keen to hear from ERG members where other areas of work should be considered for inclusion.

The Promise – change programme one

We are very mindful of the place of our Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings scheme in the context of The Promise and the ask for life long advocacy for care experienced children and their families. We are linking closely with various teams across SG to ensure a joined up approach. 


Advocacy is a priority of Keeping the Promise Change Programme one. A good childhood, what is required -“All care experienced children and their families will have access to independent advocacy at all stages of their experience of care. Advocacy provision will follow the principles set out in the promise. Care experienced children and young people will be able to easily access child centred legal advice and representation.”

The Promise Scotland’s assessment and next steps – “The Promise Scotland will look at scoping a national model for the provision of advocacy services to ensure independence and rigour in providing advocacy that is easily available across all care placements.”


Hearing, and responding to, young people’s views is especially vital at stressful and uncertain points in their lives where others’ decisions can have major impacts. Advocacy workers’ support for children not only improves the quality of discussions and decisions, but is essential to children properly understanding, and realising, their rights. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.” 


In November 2020, we launched a national advocacy service to support all children and young people who may need independent, expert advocacy support to reinforce the rights of children involved in the Children’s Hearings.

The children’s hearing advocacy scheme is a demand-led service. Children and young people are offered support to express their needs and views on decisions that affect their lives within this particular tribunal setting.

From July 2021, the provision was expanded to also support the right of siblings to participate in Children’s Hearings, where they are invited to give their views on when or how they want to see their brothers or sisters. The national scheme was backed by an initial £1.5 million, and will increase to £2 million in 2022-23. The funding provided, via Grant awards, supports the training and provision of advocacy workers.

This Children’s Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference group supports the design, delivery and implementation of the service, which is offered Scotland-wide by ten third sector providers. This scheme meets part of the Promise Scotland’s ambition for advocacy.

Learning from the implementation of this national scheme could inform the work they’ve committed to do in scoping a national model for advocacy which is accessible to care-experienced children and young people. To deliver on our shared objectives, we rely on commitment from all professionals and volunteers surrounding and supporting the child. Together, we all have a duty to ensure the most vulnerable children in Scotland have a platform for raising their voice, their voices are heard and their needs and wishes are respected and acted upon – while mindful of the overarching need to secure their best interests.

We’re also currently Grant funding a project of a legal advice service delivered by Clan Childlaw for advocacy workers to ensure their practice in hearings is legally informed and where necessary can support a child to access legal representation when needed.

In addition we will be carrying out an external evaluation of implementation of the scheme to be completed by 2024.

ERG member action: Consider what strategic path/actions you want to see taking place over the next couple of years. If you will not be present at the meeting on 17 February to participate in the discussion but would like your comments, thoughts and views fed in to the meeting, please let Pam and Louise know in advance. Alternatively, please email your comments and suggestions to email.

Grant monitoring and reporting

SG have met with six advocacy organisations so far in respect of quarter three reports with the remainder meetings being held in the coming weeks. We are pleased to hear that over the year all organisations are reporting an increase in referrals and in children supported through the advocacy provision.

Unmet demand due to limitation of funding has not been reported to SG, despite it being a real concern when we first started the scheme. We know the last two years have not been typical and we remain alert to the possibility that demand will outstrip supply. We urge all provider organisations to let us know if they start to experience this. There is no need to wait until the Grant reporting timescale, we would prefer to know as soon as there is an issue.

As we near the end of the financial year, it is imperative we receive quarter four claims from organisations by 16 March 2022. We must be able to process claims before the end of the financial year. As you know we are unable to carry funding from one financial year to the next.

ERG member action: continue to report any issues, particularly around unmet demand, to SG - Pam and Louise.

Advocacy organisations - please note the deadline for receipt of Q4 grant claims (16 March) to ensure payments are made in this financial year.

Other relevant updates

Keeping the Promise

In accepting the review’s conclusions, this Government is committed to work with all of its energy and focus, along with local authorities, care providers and all relevant stakeholders, to make the changes to the system that the review considers necessary.

Our commitment to Keep the Promise by 2030 will be overseen by a cross Government Programme Board and by the end of this Parliamentary year we will publish our Implementation Plan setting out the steps we will take to meet our commitment.

Care and Justice Bill – consultation proposals

A consultation will be published shortly on the Care and Justice Bill. Key highlights of the bill include the commitment to raise the age of referral to children’s hearings to include all under 18s. The Bill intends to ensure that the principles of Kilbrandon are maintained for all children and young people regardless of whether referred to the hearings system on welfare or offence grounds. The SG is seeking views and feedback to inform the development of this legislation, intended to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament later this year. 

In parallel, work continues to meet the objectives of The Promise with the Hearing System Working Group taking forward the commitment to rethink how the Children’s Hearing System operates. The working group, led by Sheriff David Mackie, is expected to publish a first report by spring 2023. The Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP) will meet again on 24 February.

Youth Justice

Work is also ongoing to investigate various community initiatives to reduce the number of children who are on remand, with the aim of developing a framework for practitioners by September 2022

We are continuing to work with Secure Care providers and Scottish Prison Service to evaluate the needs of the current Young Offender Institution population and ensure further supports are in place by December 2022, as well as investigating the funding requirements with all delivery partners for placing young people in secure care. Talks are ongoing to finalise a new funding model and a new commissioning approach by Summer 2022.

Legislation and guidance to ensure the views of brothers and sisters are heard when making any decisions that will impact contact

We have implemented legislation (the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Looked After Children (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021) which place a duty on local authorities to keep sisters and brothers together, where appropriate. This is supported by keeping brothers and sisters together guidance (published on 26 July 2021) which champions the importance of children and young people’s voices, including through independent advocacy. Advocacy was a central consideration when developing the guidance and will continue to be so as our focus turns to implementation. An Implementation Group, co-chaired by the SG, was established as a result of extensive engagement across the sector, with the full range of stakeholders responsible for successful implementation actively involved in this work, including Children’s Hearings Scotland; the SCRA; and Who Cares? Scotland. The Group is focussed on effectively supporting families and professionals to overcome any challenges to maintaining sibling relationships. We have put in place resources to help implement the legislation, with £1.4 million made available through the Promise Partnership Fund from the SG, STV Children’s Appeal and Cattanach Trust. This will support collaborative approaches that help maintain safe, loving relationships.

We will gather data on whether sisters and brothers are remaining together. This data must reflect the complexity of family situations and include reference to why decisions were made.

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 – fully commenced

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 was fully commenced on 17 December 2021.

Statutory guidance relating to use of the power to take a child to a place of safety, and for investigative interviews was published on 2 September 2021, and a list of places of safety was published on 15 December 2021.

Operational guidance in relation to investigative interviews, and which had been developed and agreed by Police Scotland, Social Work Scotland and Cosla, was published in early December 2021.

An expressions of interest exercise for suitably qualified solicitors to be included in the register for Child Interview Rights Practitioners (ChIRPs) took place over the summer. Following pre-registration training, the Minister for Children and Young People invited successful candidates to join the ChIRPs register. Whilst each local authority does not have a dedicated representation, we have Scotland-wide coverage; all ChIRPs are willing to travel outwith their immediate local authority, and some are willing to travel Scotland-wide.

We will consider whether there is a need for another expressions of interest exercise, as operation of the Act proceeds.

National Care Service review

Consultation analysis was published 10 February – Overall, the majority of respondents agreed that Children's Services should be included in a National Care Service (NCS). Three quarters of individuals who responded to this question and a similar proportion of organisations were in agreement. A number of key stakeholders however did express concerns about the proposals with several suggesting that more evidence on the likely benefits of the proposals is required. There were a number of risks identified here by individuals and organisations, including the potential loss of a local dimension to responding to need and the potential loss of the link to education in favour of including Children’s Services.

National Care Service: consultation analysis

Information on the National Care Service: consultation analysis can be found on the Government website.

Understanding children’s lives and outcomes

In keeping with Scotland’s policy ambitions to create the conditions for children to grow up loved, safe and respected in order that they realise their full potential, the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) aims to facilitate and contribute research that monitors how Scotland is doing and what needs improved. More information is on the website.

Understanding children's lives and outcomes | SCAD

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 information and guidance is also available.

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