This publication brings together a wide range of information on children's social work in Scotland and covers: children looked after, child protection and secure care and close support accommodation.
Looked After Children
Local Authorities have a responsibility to provide support to certain vulnerable young people, known as 'looked after children'. A young person may become looked after for a number of reasons, including neglect, mental, physical or emotional abuse, parental substance misuse or poor parenting skills, complex disabilities which require specialist care, or involvement in the youth justice system, as well as other reasons. The majority of looked after children and young people come into one of two categories:
Looked after at home, where the child or young person is subject to a Supervision Requirement (with no condition of residence) through the Children's Hearing system. The child or young person continues to live in their normal place of residence (often the family home).
Looked after away from home (i.e. their normal place of residence), where the child or young person is subject to a Supervision Requirement (with a condition of residence) through the Children's Hearing system or a warrant from the Sheriff Court or Children's Hearing System, is provided with accommodation under section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (voluntary agreement) or is the subject of a Permanence Order. The child or young person is cared for away from their normal place of residence (e.g. in a foster care placement, residential/children's unit, a residential school, a secure unit or a kinship placement).
Local Authorities also have duty to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have reached minimum school leaving age at the time they leave care. A young person is eligible for aftercare services if they are being compulsorily supported or if the person is being discretionarily supported. The definitions of which are:
Compulsorily supported person: a young person to whom, the local authority has a duty to provide support and assistance under section 29(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, that is a young person who has ceased to be looked after over their minimum school leaving age but who is under 19 years of age.
Discretionarily supported person: a young person to whom a local authority has agreed to provide support and assistance to in terms of section 29(2) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, this is a prospective supported person the authority has agreed to support.
Current Planned Series of Short Term Placements
A child is subject to a current planned series of short term placements where, for the purposes of respite, a child stays away from home for a continuous period of more than 24 hours, he or she is being provided with accommodation and the local authority has additional duties towards him or her as a child who is looked after by them.
'Child protection' means protecting a child from child abuse or neglect. Abuse or neglect need not have taken place; it is sufficient for a risk assessment to have identified a likelihood or risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect. Equally, in instances where a child may have been abused or neglected but the risk of future abuse has not been identified, the child and their family may require support and recovery services but not a Child Protection Plan. In such cases, an investigation may still be necessary to determine whether a criminal investigation is needed and to inform an assessment that a Child Protection Plan is not required.
Child protection is closely linked to the risk of 'significant harm'. 'Significant harm' is a complex matter and subject to professional judgement based on a multi-agency assessment of the circumstances of the child and their family. Where there are concerns about harm, abuse or neglect, these must be shared with the relevant agencies so that they can decide together whether the harm is, or is likely to be, significant.
Significant harm can result from a specific incident, a series of incidents or an accumulation of concerns over a period of time. It is essential that when considering the presence or likelihood of significant harm that the impact (or potential impact) on the child takes priority and not simply the alleged abusive behaviour.
There are no absolute criteria for judging what constitutes significant harm. In assessing the severity of ill treatment or future ill treatment, it may be important to take account of: the degree and extent of physical harm; the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect; the extent of premeditation; and the presence or degree of threat, coercion, sadism and bizarre or unusual elements. Sometimes, a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm, for example, a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning. More often, significant harm results from an accumulation of significant events, both acute and long-standing, that interrupt, change or damage the child's physical and psychological development.
Secure Care & Close Support
Secure care generally refers to accommodation for children and young people who pose a significant risk to either themselves and/or others and are likely to run away or abscond.
In Scotland, children and young people can be 'placed' in secure accommodation, provided they meet the following criteria: (i) they have a history of absconding and are likely to abscond from other types of accommodation and (ii) if they abscond they are likely to suffer significant harm or are likely to injure themselves and/or others.
However, although a child or young person may meet the above criteria, placement within secure accommodation can only be determined by the authority of a Children's Hearing or by the order of a court.
Close support is residential accommodation providing a safe structured nurturing environment. A child can be placed in close support either as a route into secure accommodation or on the way out of secure to help with the transition back to their families or communities.
Email: Denise Macleod