Coronavirus (COVID-19): Children and Families Collective Leadership Group minutes - 7 January 2021

Minutes for the meeting of the group on 7 January 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Chair: Michael Chalmers

Meeting participants: 


  • Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) - Jennifer King
  • Care Inspectorate - Peter Macleod, Helen Happer
  • CELCIS, University of Strathclyde - Aileen Nicol (deputy for Claire Burns)
  • Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) - Elliot Jackson
  • Children in Scotland - apologies from Jackie Brock
  • Child Protection Committees Scotland - Alan Small
  • Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS) - Annie Gunner Logan 
  • COSLA - Eddie Follan, Jillian Ingram
  • Disabled Children and Young People Advisory Group (DCYPAG) - apologies from Jim Carle
  • Education Scotland - apologies from Laura-Ann Currie
  • The Promise - Scott Bell, apologies from Fiona Duncan
  • Inspiring Children’s Futures, University of Strathclyde - Jennifer Davidson
  • NHS Chief Executives - apologies from Angela Wallace
  • Police Scotland - Sam McCluskey
  • Public Health Scotland - Debby Wason
  • Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) - Neil Hunter
  • Scottish Government - Iona Colvin, Craig Kellock, Laura Meikle, Ann Holmes, Wendy Mitchell, Alison Cumming, Carolyn Wilson, Angela Davidson
  • SOLACE - Grace Vickers, apologies from Karen Reid
  • Social Work Scotland - Alison Gordon

Additional meeting participants:

  • Clare Simpson, Chair of the CYPF Advisory Group
  • Bill Scott-Watson, SG Interim Deputy Director - Strategy, GIRFEC and The Promise
  • Mairi Macpherson, SG Deputy Director – Improving Health and Wellbeing, C and F Directorate
  • Lesley Sheppard, SG Deputy Director – Care, Protection and Justice
  • Laura Holton/Elspeth Hough, SG Head of Family Unit
  • Rod Finan, SG Professional Social Work Adviser
  • Leadership Group Secretariat: Peter Donachie and Chris Lindores

Items and actions

Preparedness for supporting vulnerable children and families following latest schools guidance and online learning

Michael Chalmers thanked members for attending this additional meeting at short notice and summarised the new restrictions.  

Iona Colvin, Craig Kellock and Debby Wason provided a presentation on lessons learned from the previous wave of the pandemic; resources being provided through the winter support package; the latest clinical data on infection rates amongst children and the education workforce; and research and intelligence on the impacts of the pandemic on children and families including access to services.  

The main lessons learned includes focusing on keeping local schools open for vulnerable children and children of key workers rather than the education hub model. This will help to provide more effective support for vulnerable children. The risk of domestic abuse remains significant and greater consideration needs to be given to providing secure routes out of domestic abuse including housing provision. There were concerns over support for children and young people with disabilities during the previous wave and this needs to be improved. Greater assistance is also required for young people leaving care. Children, young people and families are continuing to highlight mental health and wellbeing as an urgent issue together with increasing financial pressures on families.

The Winter Support package includes £23.5m for children and young people in vulnerable situations; £22m for low income families; £15m for local authority capacity; and £15m for third sector capacity. 

The data indicates relatively low numbers of children becoming looked after: 25 per week since April 2020 compared with 73 per week in 2018/19. Other measures including child protection registrations have been similar in 2020 compared to previous years. There is a significant drop-off in the proportion of children and young people seen by a professional during school holiday periods particularly those with a multi-agency plan.

Infection rates have generally been lower in children than the general population and infection rates in schools have reflected those in the local community. The risk of hospitalisation was no higher among teachers than the general population, in the period after schools returned, and the risk of severe COVID-19 was lower.  

Emerging findings from CEYRIS 2 (Covid-19 Early Years Resilience and Impact Survey) highlighted concerns over access to professional staff including nursery staff; teachers; health visitors; family support workers; health visitors; and allied health professionals. A significant minority of families said they were not accessing services because they did not know services were operating; did not how to access them or did not wish to be a “burden” on services during the pandemic.  

Key points made in discussion included the following:

  • the term “vulnerable children” and how this is defined is causing some concern.  There would be benefit in adopting a more inclusive approach such as “children in vulnerable situations”
  • the first round of CEYRIS had been used as a baseline for comparison with the CEYRIS 2 results.  Overall, the data had improved from round 1 but the latest set of restrictions created risks that this progress would not be sustained
  • although CEYRIS is focused on children aged 2-7, there is a need for more data and intelligence on pre-school children perhaps through greater use of information from health visitor forms. Children on the edges of care including those previously unknown to services were also under-represented in the data
  • in response to queries, Craig Kellock provided data for children starting to be looked after at home and away from home. The number of children starting to be looked after at home per week in 2018/19 was 30 and since April 2020, it was 9. In relation to LAC away from home, the figures had dropped from 43 to 27 per week
  • it was also noted that there are lower levels of non-covid hospital admissions for children including those presenting at Accident and Emergency Departments and for respiratory conditions


  • presentation slides circulated to LG Group only at this stage as some of the data has not yet been finalised
  • Leadership Group to consider what action could be taken in response to these findings
  • Debby Wason and Wendy Mitchell to discuss how best to improve coverage of under-represented groups

Contributions from group members on preparedness in their sectors

Grace Vickers highlighted the guidance being provided on educational provision in particular the benefits of keeping local schools open for children in vulnerable situations as teachers will have existing knowledge of the support required. Schools were however receiving a large number of requests from key workers for places for their children. This could create pressures on staff capacity as staff also needed to provide remote learning for children and young people at home. Further guidance is being developed to assist work on remote learning. Grace suggested that the Leadership Group consider what action could be taken to improve support for children and young people with additional support needs.  Joint working could also take place between the Leadership Group and CERG on this group of children and young people and those in vulnerable situations. Grace also said that Margo Williamson will be joining the Leadership Group to cover the early years portfolio.    

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

Query over whether this is any information from CEYRIS on what parents were finding worked well particularly in accessing professionals. Response was that unfortunately we didn't have the chance to ask parents what worked well in CEYRIS but it does appear from it and other literature that individual contact with parents is important in offering them support and reassuring them around the development of their child. However, this is a big ask of services.

Alison Gordon noted that there was better multi-agency working and dialogue with families taking place now than in the previous lockdown. However, many families were still unsure how to access services through GIRFEC pathways. The workforce is more exhausted and anxious than in the previous phase of the pandemic. There is also greater financial and other challenges for families. The priorities for action include assisting young people in key transitions when some services are being paused; maintaining respite support and activities as much as possible; clarifying action required to deliver the child’s plan including through third sector engagement; and ensuring that there is flexibility and no cliff-edge in March in relation to funding support for families. In addition, unlike in first lockdown some areas are now seeing a significant increase in referrals. This perhaps indicates that the resilience shown previously is reducing as children and families face additional challenges    

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

Class teachers and nursery workers will know which of 'their' children live in vulnerable situations (but not known to services) are attending hubs or engaging with online learning? Can we attend to this information and proactively reach out to these families?

Alison Cumming - We'd be very happy to look at improving communications around position re childminding remaining open to support all families. It's set out in the supplementary ELC guidance (which was updated online today) and on Parent Club, and was added to the schools guidance, but we'd be really open to ideas on other ways of conveying that message so that families and services are aware this remains an option for them. We have also  had a number of queries re informal childcare, particularly grandparent care. ELC and ParentClub were very responsive to this and have circulated some good comms around this.

Ann Holmes emphasised the need for broader understanding of the role of universal health services, including health visitors and other allied health professionals, in identifying and supporting children in vulnerable situations particularly for the under-fives and those on the edge of care. There was a risk of this support being eroded if services are paused and staff redeployed to support adult acute services. More information is needed on Health Boards’ plans for services in order to better understand the risks involved in different areas.

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

It's knowing which 'at risk families' are not using hubs, nurseries or other community health resources or engaging with online learning? Multi agency information sharing about who these families/children are?

Jennifer King noted that more pupils with ASN needs are attending primary than secondary schools during the restrictions. There are also concerns that secondary school pupils in vulnerable situations are least likely to engage in learning. ADES had provided guidance on engagement and improvement planning to support vulnerable pupils and would be undertaking further work across local authorities.  Community partnerships also had an important role in assisting engagement activities.

Additional points from MS Teams chat:

Youth work organisations in 3rd sector need to be part of the answer to learning and wellbeing for secondary pupils who are less likely to engage.

Flexibility on who connects with children and young people will be important - teacher, PSA, health worker, third sector provider, PAs - anyone of them might be the most trusted person for a young person

Neil Hunter said that a mix of face-to-face and virtual approaches will be used for Children’s Hearings with as many face-to-face hearings as possible for the most complex cases. There is staff capacity issues due to childcare and other pressures. There is also a need to extend timescales for interim compulsory supervision orders and other provisions under the emergency Covid legislation.    

Elliot Jackson noted that panel member engagement was currently at 55% capacity. Capacity could decline further due to pressures on members including concerns over the increased risk of transmission of the new variant of coronavirus. There is a particular risk in relation to members withdrawing from face-to-face hearings. Action being taken to address this is to increase the use of the emergency legislation that allows less than three panel members and to seek SG support for extending this aspect of the legislation for a further six months. The largest ever recruitment campaign for panel members will begin this month with around 700 members being sought. The lack of sustainability and capacity in video and broadband services is a concern. Chromebooks and funding of broadband installations are being provided for volunteers. There are risks to effective decision-making through the availability of professional advice and late or no reports leading to hearings being deferred. Multi-agency working is currently good but challenging. Guidance on risk-based decision making is being produced to assist the work required for hearings.

Annie Gunner Logan highlighted that greater access to testing and other factors is resulting in more staff testing positive for coronavirus than previously and services operating below capacity. Essential social work visits need to be maintained. There are concerns over the sustainability of family and wellbeing services; residential care costs; and the impact of local commissioning strategies. A flexible approach should be taken to funding with resources diverted to other priorities if they were unlikely to be fully used for their original purpose. There is also a need for more timely and specific guidance for children and family services.      


  • Grace Vickers and Annie Gunner Logan to have follow up discussion on clarifying guidance relating to schools being open in terms of being the delivery method for all support for pupils including those physically unable to attend

Discussion, actions and next steps

Michael Chalmers welcomed members’ views on specific, pragmatic actions that the Leadership Group could take to address the issues that had been raised in the previous contributions. This had indicated that the areas of particular concern were at either end of the spectrum: pre-birth and pre-first engagement with ELC, and secondary-age pupils in vulnerable situations who tend not to engage with learning.  Further support to children and young people with ASN needs and identifying and assisting those at the edge of care has also been highlighted.

The following main points were made in response:

  • there should be a focus on interrogating the data, including identifying the limitations of the data and how this can be improved. This would enable the Group to better identify risks and improve service quality and delivery
  • resilience should be a standing item for each meeting
  • consider how best to encourage mutual aid across sectors as part of the broader thinking around universal services for children and families. This should include bringing together the workforce across different sectors through joint pathways provided by Children’s Services Partnerships and GIRFEC.  It should also cover enhanced collaboration with the third sector. There are challenges where children sit outside the HSCP and this requires robust links to be developed between the HSCP and Children’s Services Partnerships
  • further work should be undertaken on the role of health visitor services and family nurse partnerships in engaging and supporting pre-birth and pre-first engagement with ELC groups
  • support for mental health and wellbeing remains an urgent priority and continues to be highlighted through engagement with children, young people and families. Assistance in sustaining respite care and activities is also required
  • support for digital learning, engagement and safety is crucial. Sam McCluskey emphasised that child online sexual abuse is an ongoing and increasing issue with more children and young people using electronic devices. Greater communications work is needed to promote online safety. This could include joint communications with Community Justice Scotland and other partners. Sam also highlighted a drop in the number of child concern orders passed to police

Additional points from MS Teams chat

Angela Davidson - We're keen to build on additional support for children and families' mental health and wellbeing we've been putting in place since first lockdown. November announcement of £11.25m to local authorities for C and F mental health covid response also relevant.

Need to consider early support for families in need particularly those either not known at all or only known to individual services e.g. alcohol and drug support workers. This could include making better use of local services such as post offices; housing services; food points; pharmacies and shops to help provide early support.

Actions and next steps as a result of the meeting are for:

CERG to provide update on support for ASN children and young people.

Strategic Leads Network to consider the following issues:

  • engagement with Health Boards on protection of universal services; provision of mutual aid; and engagement with third sector. This includes a focus on maintaining universal services for under 5s
  • clearer communications on how to access local services including clearly advertised family help lines
  • joint campaign work on Child Sexual Exploitation
  • strengthening of local resilience and workforce. This will need local analysis, with national oversight, to understand potential gaps, opportunities for mutual aid, and to consider role of youth workforce/3rd sector/other organisations
  • renewed focus on tackling issues relating to domestic abuse, ensuring clear link to housing services and good communications work
  • clear guidance on respite services for children and young people with disabilities, foster care and other needs
  • continued focus on follow up contact for care leavers
  • consider role of adult substance misuse, mental health, adult social care services and impact on children and young people
  • consider local commissioning issues for third sector organisations and impact on viability
  • engagement of CYPAG to ensure continued feedback from and views of children and young people


  • LG members to email LG Secretariat inbox with further comments or updates on actions


Additional meeting to be arranged before next currently scheduled meeting on 28 January.    


LG members to email LG Secretariat inbox with suggested agenda items for future meetings.

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