Coronavirus (COVID-19): Children and Families Collective Leadership Group minutes - 20 May 2021

Minutes from the group's learning event on 20 May 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Michael Chalmers, Co-Chair CLG, Scottish Government
  • Grace Vickers, Co-Chair CLG, SOLACE
  • Alexander McTie, presenter, CELSIS
  • Alison Gordon, presenter/CLG, SWS
  • Mike Burns, presenter/SLN, Glasgow
  • Andrew Murray, presenter, Safer Families 
  • Marsha Scott, presenter, Scottish Women’s Aid
  • Peter Macleod, CLG, Care Inspectorate 
  • Margo Williamson, CLG, SOLACE
  • Claire Cusick, SLN, West Dunbartonshire
  • Graeme Simpson, SLN, Aberdeen City
  • James Simpson, SLN, Aberdeen City
  • Michael Roach, SLN, Inverclyde
  • Elaine Cruickshank, SLN, NHS Tayside 
  • Helen Happer, CLG, Care Inspectorate 
  • Claire Monaghan, SLN, South Ayrshire
  • Judith Tait, SLN, East Lothian 
  • Claire Burns, SLN, CELCIS 
  • Vicky Wan, SLN, Children in Scotland 
  • Amy Woodhouse, CLG, Children in Scotland 
  • Carrie Lindsay, SLN, Fife
  • Patricia Renfrew, SLN, Argyll and Bute 
  • Alison Sutherland, SLN, North Ayrshire
  • Karen Wilson, CLG, NHS NES
  • Tim Ward, SLN, West Lothian
  • Marion MacAulay, SLN, East Ayrshire 
  • Charles Rocks, SLN, East Ayrshire 
  • Fiona Dyer, CELCIS
  • Emily Lynch, Improvement Service
  • Jennifer Davidson, CLG, Strathclyde 
  • Sara Lacey, SLN, Falkirk
  • Jennifer King, CLG, ADES
  • Jackie Brock, CLG, The Promise 
  • Thomas Carlton, CLG, The Promise
  • Alan Small, CLG, CCPS
  • Neil Hunter, CLG, SCRA
  • Eddie Follan, CLG, COSLA
  • David Gibson, SLN, Western Isles
  • Claire Carthy, SLN, East Dunbartonshire
  • Susan Manion, SLN, East Dunbartonshire
  • Karen Dyball, SLN, Glasgow City
  • Susan Orr, SLN, Glasgow City
  • Dominique Harvey, SLN, Glasgow City
  • Liz Simpson, SLN, Glasgow City
  • Samantha McCluskey, CLG, Police Scotland 
  • Jane Mackie, SLN, Moray
  • James Carle, CLG, Scottish Care
  • Deborah Wason, CLG, PHS
  • Liam Purdie, SLN, South Lanarkshire
  • Caroline Mackie, SLN, Tayside
  • Kirsty Lee, SLN, Tayside
  • Jim Lyon, SLN, Orkney
  • Kate Rocks, SLN, East Renfrewshire
  • Kathleen Carolan, SLN, NHS Shetland
  • Sharon McAlees, SLN, Inverclyde 
  • John Trainer, SLN, Renfrewshire
  • Joan Tranent, SLN, Midlothian
  • Anne Holmes, CLG, Midwifery and Nursing – SG 
  • Elliot Jackson, CLG, CHS
  • Laura-Ann Currie, CLG, Education Scotland 

Scottish Government:

  • Iona Colvin
  • Diana Beveridge
  • Joanna Macdonald
  • Catriona Hayes
  • Ann Holmes
  • Carolyn Younie
  • Kate Smith
  • Alison Cumming
  • Laura Holton 
  • Carolyn Wilson
  • Jacqueline Yule
  • Donna Martin
  • Bryony Revell
  • Jennifer Hamilton
  • Clare McFadden
  • Peter Donachie
  • Holly Ferguson

Items and actions


Michael Chalmers welcomed attendees to the event and thanked them for their efforts in tackling the impact of the pandemic on children, young people and families. Michael highlighted the wealth of innovation and examples of good practice that have been developed during the pandemic. Some of these will be discussed today while others are provided in the information sent to attendees.

There will be continuing challenges from the long term effects of the pandemic. In particular, an ongoing collective response will be required to reduce inequalities and lessen the economic harm to the most vulnerable. It will be crucial to continue to support prevention and early intervention work. We have to keep getting better at working collaboratively and making the best use of our collective resources. There is a need to further develop an outcomes-based approach aligned to the National Performance Framework and based on wellbeing and children’s rights. We also need to fully embed GIRFEC and the Christie Commission as the manuals for improvement. Amongst other aims, this will enable us to successfully take forward UNCRC Incorporation and Keep the Promise.

Michael noted the new Ministerial appointments relating to children, young people and families. John Swinney has become Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery and has overall responsibility for delivering the Promise; Shirley-Anne Somerville is Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills; and Clare Haughey is Minister for Children and Young People.            

Deep dive work with local authorities on hidden harms

Alex McTier provided a presentation on the deep dive work on hidden harms that national partners have been undertaking with seven volunteer local authorities (Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee City, Glasgow City, North Ayrshire, and Western Isles.). This provided a mix of urban and rural areas.

The rationale for the work was to investigate why the apparent increase in need and demand during the pandemic – as shown by increases in child protection referrals and inter-agency referral discussions (IRDs) – is not reflected in increased activity in later child protection stages or in children becoming looked after. 

Local areas recognised the increase in the number of concerns and IRDs. The pandemic also had an impact on the further development of prevention and early intervention services. The main concerns were the same as pre-pandemic but appear to be more complex and more acute. This includes children and young people’s mental health; domestic abuse issues and parental mental health, alcohol or substance misuse.  Increased pressures due to poverty are also being reported.

The work had identified the following groups who need further support:

  • children and young people in the “unmet needs” middle tier i.e. those who do not meet the high tariff thresholds required for Child Protection Registrations but require greater support than those provided through universal services. Although the numbers of children and young people in this middle tier are increasing, it is difficult to quantify exact figures
  • ‘new’ families that had not previously been involved with their services and may not actively approach services. This includes new parents, families struggling financially and those who have been shielding
  • young carers not receiving the support they need
  • children, young people and families affected by bereavement
  • increased child sexual exploitation as lockdown has resulted in much greater use of social media and mobile devices
  • care leavers who risk being particularly disadvantaged in adverse economic circumstances

There is a predicted upturn in demand through to July 2021. Most local areas felt that they were in a better position to respond to future demand due to their service developments over the last 12 months but budgets and recruitment could prove challenging. 

Alex highlighted the following “asks” of national partners:

  • continued and reinvigorated focus on GIRFEC
  • increased funding for preventative, family-centred services
  • more conducive operating environment for Third Sector
  • increased capacity within mental health services
  • continue to build a trauma-informed workforce
  • (re) emphasise the importance of and need of Throughcare and Aftercare services and transition planning
  • support in meeting recruitment and retention challenges across children’s services workforces
  • balance priorities within Scotland’s schools and education system

Alex concluded by noting that further analysis is planned in relation to under 5s; those in the “unmet needs” middle tier; and young people’s transitions in adult services.

Attendees raised the following queries and discussion points:

  • there is a continuing need for investment in community and third sector efforts to alleviate the effects of the pandemic with less barriers and more collaborative working across all partners
  • case-loads and other pressures on staff remain high with an increased risk of “traumatised decision-making.” There are also significant recruitment and retention concerns. It is therefore crucial that ongoing efforts are made to support staff and sustain services
  • the findings from the “deep dive” local authorities reflected the experience of other areas present. Some local areas offered to provide information from their data sets to assist further analysis particularly in relation to children and young people’s mental health issues
  • it would be helpful to undertake further analysis by gender particularly to develop the evidence base on the disproportionate impact on girls and young women and the extent of “unmet needs” in relation to domestic abuse issues

Alex agreed to provide further analysis by gender and welcomed the provision of further data from local areas. However, the “deep dive” work is time-limited and there are restrictions on the amount of additional analysis that can be undertaken.

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

  • remote and island recruitment is an immediate and critical issue particularly now that hospitality and tourism opening up
  • Scottish Government has appointed a joint post with NES to develop a more strategic approach to trauma training for the children’s workforce
  • not all children who are in receipt of targeted services will be looked after or on the child protection register
  • Police Scotland will review IRD thresholds to see how consistently they are applied although there will probably always be a 'rub' in terms of thresholds and these should be resolved locally
  • on disproportionate effect of COVID on certain groups, in addition to gender, ethnicity and disability will also apply


  • “deep dive” work to provide analysis by gender

Introduction to next session and summary of the previous learning from last session

Diana Beveridge highlighted key areas of learning from the previous session:

  • the importance of collective leadership with a common purpose, sense of togetherness and more joined-up approach to setting and achieving outcomes
  • working more flexibly and collaboratively with reduced bureaucracy and heightened permission for agencies to act on their own initiative
  • improved, ongoing collection of data but it is important to keep asking whether the right data is being collected and the best use is being made of it
  • keep identifying and promoting good practice and innovation while asking how dowe know the changes led to an improvement; what is the scale of the impact; how do we know there was no undesirable cost elsewhere; and how can we spread what works most effectively

COVID direct payments projects in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow

Alison Gordon described North Lanarkshire’s work in maximising the impact of time-limited, non-recurring Covid grants. The project had empowered both the staff and families involved using the principles of strengths-based practice and self-directed support. Practitioners were able to authorise direct payments of up to £500 per child or £1,500 per family. This improved choice and flexibility to meet identified needs and provided a quicker, less bureaucratic process. The project took a multi-agency approach beginning with social workers across children and families; justice; and adult social care and subsequently extending to involve Head Teachers. 1,925 families were supported through the project. To help evaluate the impact of the project, there were surveys of those supported and interviews with staff.  Initial feedback has been extremely positive with staff and families enthusiastic about the opportunities provided which included purchasing essential items such as beds; desks and other equipment to support learning; and greater access to clubs and sports. North Lanarkshire will be building on the outcomes of the project so that, while the fund may not be available on a long-term basis, the principles and forms of support can be further developed.

Mike Burns discussed the approaches used for the Winter Social Pressure Fund and the applications of the lessons from the national Child Welfare Inequalities Project. The desire is still to successfully align GIRFEC, the Promise and integrated children’s planning with specific action to reduce poverty and inequalities. This included a strong focus on prevention and early intervention work. As a key part of this the strategy has been based on a recognition that services were too often focused on moving from risk to removal, rather than on reducing risk while maintaining existing relationships. The outcomes included a 42% reduction in the numbers of children entering care over the last five years; and a further 13% (118) secured during the challenges of COVID 19. Mike also highlighted the value of a multi-agency approach with a common purpose and joined-up working from health visitors, education and children’s services had all participated in the project and the anti-poverty approach. 

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

  • really helpful food for thought about how something quite small at an early stage can help prevent or alleviate pressures tipping families into crisis
  • especially important to ask families for feedback--a bit of 'customer satisfaction survey' that is instilling respect and dignity from beginning to end of the project
  • keeping the Promise means we have to get better at supporting families. But this also means getting better at providing effective help QUICKLY to adults to address their problems that are impacting on their ability to care for their children - whether that be addiction, mental health, justice services.... This cannot just be the responsibility of children's services
  • still need to address the system challenges and barriers preventing self-directed support initiatives making the most impact – mainstreaming and embedding; reducing bureaucracy; ring-fenced funding; and difficulties with delegated authority/internal audit

Safe Families Edinburgh

Andy Murray summarised the work of Safe Families in providing support to children, family and care leavers. Andy emphasised the significant benefits that an extensive community-based volunteer network can provide. This ranged from host families who could look after children for a couple of nights up to a couple of weeks to resource friends who can provide much needed items or skills to those who can connect with isolated families over the phone or making deliveries.

Safe Families Edinburgh had supported 200 families over lockdown including 172 “edge of care” children. Feedback from the families involved had shown the positive effects for social relationships; confidence; and positive parenting.

Andy McWhirter commented on how the City of Edinburgh Council’s work with Safe Families had prompted reflections on the different aspects of family support; the breadth of action that can be taken to support families at the edge of care; and the role of the voluntary sector including faith groups. There are also issues to address such as the extent of autonomy given to voluntary groups and individuals. Andy encouraged attendees to consider how facilitating stronger links with the voluntary sector can help to support those in the “unmet needs” middle tier described in Alex McTier’s presentation.      


  • evaluation report of Edinburgh’s work with Safe Families to be circulated for information

Scottish Women’s Aid - responding to domestic abuse  

Marsha Scott presented Scottish Women’s Aid’s response to the pandemic. The pandemic had created significant difficulties for SWA in connecting with young people as their school support system had been severely disrupted. SWA responded with a rapid and radical service redesign. This included moving more of their support services online and working with children and young people to develop creative ways of digital engagement. The increased digital engagement helped some young people to participate through, for example, the greater flexibility and sessions available. Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline was adapted to better respond to the needs of children and young people including piloting a webchat service. Covid support funding was allocated to broad public messaging targeting isolated and rural children and young people via social media.  

Marsha highlighted key issues and challenges for the recovery stage. These include:

  • stable and adequate funding of specialist services
  • a national strategy for funding frontline services to tackle domestic abuse rather than current patchwork
  • a convincing plan for Safe and Together implementation
  • funded, consistent meaningful participation by children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse
  • dealing with the huge court backlog and a better understanding of how Children and young people’s participation in civil and criminal courts has been affected by the pandemic

Marsha also suggested that a key lesson to learn is why education and children’s policy responses to the pandemic did not take sufficient account of the needs of children living with domestic abuse from the outset given the scale of the problem and the consequential expectation they should have been a priority consideration.  SWA were glad that system responded to correct this but have no reason to believe the same situation would not recur without some system reflection and response by the Collective Leadership Group.

Break out groups: reflecting and thinking about learning and what’s next

The main points from the break-out rooms in response to the discussion questions were as follow:

What – what are the key points/facts you took from all the presentations?  

Better use of data and understanding of the landscape – and how this might be applied more widely.

Shifting power relationships between people and services which is potentially transformational

Shift in altruism and culture as a result of Glasgow and N. Lanarkshire projects: raised experience as a social worker and unintended consequences for resource. Glasgow have used evidence base for the approach; trust and anchoring in what the belief is. 

North Lanarkshire use of public funds as a preventative measure must have saved many times the expenditure in addition to preventing crisis and harm. Brave but impressive taking a totally new approach.

The necessity for trust. Trust that families will do their best for their children, and trust that people working with families will do their best. Work taking place during CV19 has shown that trust, and the opportunity to work from that basis (rather than numerous checks).

So what – what themes are coming out and what are the implications for your service or local area? 

Need to remove barriers and reduce bureaucracy - the amount of reporting is disproportionate to finance.

National learning were we need to be more prescriptive/directive with funding nationally about what works. Local authorities interpreting need and risk based on financial/budget constraints. 

Procurement is not straightforward for local authorities, 32 different approaches and interpretations. All local authorities try to be creative and permissive but don’t always get advice required to be bold and do things differently.

Need a rebuild of third sector capacity and capability and shift in relationships between statutory and third sector. We won’t make progress on current commissioning and procurement paradigms.

Short term funding is all very well, but changes take decades and are inter-generational.

Crucial to continue to develop data and intelligence work and support localities in identifying and responding to emerging trends in hidden harms.

Now what – what needs to happen next and what role can CSP Partnerships, the Collective Leadership Group and the Strategic Leads Network play in take these forward

Work should focus on addressing barriers, looking at implementation and improving situation for vulnerable people

Family Support Delivery Group will follow up on presentations and conversations. Meeting coming up shortly on the road map.

COSLA and Local Government partners are discussing commissioning and procurement with our third sector colleagues. That’s being carried out under the Family Support Delivery Group. We hope to engage with strategic leads as this work progresses

Support and develop skill-set of staff to reflect trauma informed knowledge in consistent practice. 

Use of locality models to build upon economies of scale given future resource challenges.

Christie Commission report is 10 years old in June. Funding/investment/children's wellbeing budget. This could be our response to the 10th anniversary... let's make Christie the reality.

Be clear on our collective asks. Be cautious of rollback. Look at scaling solutions.

Summary and check out

Grace Vickers summarised her reflections as:

  • the benefits of joined-up working had been clearly shown in the good practice examples and discussions and needs to continue
  • the value of taking a holistic approach to family support
  • clear messages on the need to reduce unnecessary barriers and bureaucracy in delivering support to children, young people and families

Grace thanked the presenters, participants and organisers for an excellent event.

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