Improving outcomes for children, young people and families: review of Children’s Services Plans and strategic engagement activity

Summary review of children’s services plans for 2020 to 2023, in line with the Children and Young Peoples (Scotland) Act 2014, statutory guidance part 3. Highlighting key strengths, areas for development and details from strategic engagement with local children’s services planning strategic leads.

2. Background

Legislative Requirements

Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 seeks to improve outcomes for children, young people and families across Scotland through a number of duties over each three-year cycle. These require the local authority and health board to work collaboratively with public bodies, specified service providers, the Third Sector, and children, young people and families, to jointly plan and develop a Children's Services Plan for their local area. There are requirements to engage with stakeholders at different stages of the Plan's planning, development, delivery, review, and progress reporting.

Each CSPP must publish an annual report detailing the extent to which the aims of their Children's Services Plan have been achieved. This should demonstrate how wellbeing outcomes have been improved for all children, young people, and families, as well as for those with specific wellbeing needs (for example unaccompanied asylum seeking children; young people moving through the transition from children's and adult services; families affected by poverty; young people with care experience; young carers; children in conflict with the law; and those impacted by complex health needs or other socio-economic considerations).

Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 sets out the statutory aims for Children's Services Planning:

(a) that children's services in the area concerned are provided in the way which; (

i) best safeguards, supports and promotes the wellbeing of children in the area concerned, (

ii) ensures that any action to meet needs is taken at the earliest appropriate time and that, where appropriate, action is taken to prevent needs arising,

(iii) is most integrated from the point of view of recipients, and

(iv) constitutes the best use of available resources

(b) that related services in the area concerned, are also provided in a way which, so far as is consistent with the objects and proper delivery of the service concerned, safeguards, supports and promotes the wellbeing of children in the area concerned.

"Taken together, these aims are about creating and maintaining a local environment which facilitates effective Getting it right for every child practice for individual children and young people. The Children's Services Plan itself is the description of how public bodies and their partners will work together to achieve this, providing services which are organised and equipped to deliver high quality, joined-up, trauma-informed and responsive, and, where possible, preventative support to children and families..." (p. 16 Pt 3 Statutory Guidance (2020)).

A Children's Services Plan should describe how services, support and improvement activity will be delivered in the local area in line with local and national priorities, and should consider provision of both related and children's services (those provided directly to children and young people). Further detail can be found in Section 8.

'Related Services' are not provided directly to children, but have an impact on children and young people's wellbeing. These services would include consideration of streamlined support through the transition between children's and adult services, provision of adult services to address drug or alcohol use, mental health needs, or offending, and community-based services such as housing providers, libraries, welfare advisory services, and recreation facilities.

Context since the 2019 review of Children's Services Plans

The initial review of 2017-2020 Children's Services Plans was carried out in 2018 with a national report shared with key stakeholders, the Children's Services Planning Strategic Leads Network, and the Deputy First Minister in 2019. This provided summarised themes from analysis of individual Plans, alongside findings from a programme of national appreciative enquiry strategic engagement visits undertaken by Scottish Government officials with each Children's Services Planning Partnership.

The 2019 report concluded by identifying aspects of Children Services Planning on which to focus support and improvement in Scotland's evolving approach. Key themes were:

  • The majority of CSPs reflected the views of children, young people and families; Better demonstration of how those views influenced the priorities, aims and actions of the local CSP was needed;
  • The majority of Plans clearly presented governance and accountability mechanisms;
  • The majority of CSPPs completed a joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA) to inform development of their Plan; but greater alignment between the identified needs and the CSP's stated priorities, actions and services was required;
  • All Plans addressed the needs of looked after/care experienced children and young people, but only 3 referred to provision of support for families on the edges of care (Part 12);
  • Disability/complex health needs were mentioned in most CSPs, but not often as a strategic priority;
  • All Plans included reference to the Third Sector, but with variation in the extent to which Third Sector organisations were integrated in the development of the Plans' priorities and actions, use of data to identify needs, and in strategic planning and local delivery of services;
  • Greater reference to the contribution of 'related services' to Children's Services Planning was required, including clearer links between children's and adult services through transitions, and in the support provided to parents/carers by adult services in relation to mental health needs, or addressing drug and alcohol use.

Following the 2019 review of CSPs, the Scottish Government carried out a formal public consultation to evaluate whether Part 3 of the Statutory Guidance should be amended to make improvements to this based on learning from its application in practice. Following analysis of the responses, the Scottish Government published a consultation response and carried out further stakeholder engagement to inform revisions to the Statutory Guidance. This was published in 2020.


The COVID-19 pandemic which began in the UK in March 2020, has seen unprecedented impacts on the wellbeing of children, young people and families across Scotland. The collaborative role of Children's Services Planning Partnerships has been key to galvanising a collective local response across statutory and Third Sector organisations, to rapidly assess emerging local needs, adapt current service provision, and develop flexible, innovative support to address the needs of infants, children, young people and families, during and after lockdown restrictions.

As a result of the pandemic, in July 2020 the CSP Strategic Leads Network[3] was advised of flexibility in statutory submission timescales for publication of 2020-2023 Children's Services Plans, with an extension to 31 March 2021[4].

This recognised that CSPPs may wish to update their CSP to reflect current and emerging needs of children, young people and families in light of the pandemic. Those CSPPs not in a position to publish their Plan in April 2020, were asked to publish a statement which provided clarity on the interim Plan driving local joint working, and set out a timetable for finalising the new CSP.

It was acknowledged that:

  • Plans may initially need to be published in draft, pending the conclusion of impacted internal governance processes;
  • CSPPs may elect to set local priorities and outcomes focussed more immediately on resilience and pandemic recovery;
  • Pandemic circumstances may impact longer-term planning. The process of annual review was highlighted as an opportunity to revise Children's Services Plans as needed, to adapt to the changing circumstances and needs of local children, young people and families;
  • While the extent and nature of stakeholder engagement would inevitably have been impacted, CSPPs were expected to facilitate engagement with children, young people, families, and other stakeholders to the fullest extent possible.

Eleven Children's Services Plans were submitted to the Scottish Government by 31 March 2021, and the remaining 19 Plans were received by the end of October 2021.

Children's Services Planning Strategic Leads Network

A national conference - Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People - was held in June 2019 to share learning from the appreciative enquiry strategic engagement visits (see above). The conference provided CSPPs with an opportunity to share experiential learning, innovative ideas and emerging practice. The value of a continuing forum which facilitated Children's Services Planning Strategic Leads to meet collectively and contribute to improvements in Children's Services Planning was recognised.

The Children's Services Planning Strategic Leads Network (the Network) was convened in October 2019, and is co-chaired by the Director for Children and Families, Scottish Government, and a representative on behalf of the CSP Strategic Leads. The Network's membership includes the Strategic Lead for each CSPP, Scottish Government policy teams with an interest in wellbeing of children, young people and families, and representatives from key public and Third Sector organisations.

Network Development (2021-2022)

An engagement exercise with the Network took place in December 2020 to consider opportunities for its development, with an aim of strengthening shared ownership and interaction of the Network, and identifying areas for improvement. A number of these were put in place over 2021-2022.

Engagement feedback informed revision of the Network's Terms of Reference and membership in March 2021 (found in Appendix D). This more clearly set out the Network's broad improvement intentions, and provided clarity on its role and strategic context at both a national and local level. Other improvements included adaptation of the Network's form and function, and reflecting expectations of Strategic Leads as the liaison point to/from their local CSP strategic governance forum and the Scottish Government, with a role in ensuring the wider views of each Children's Services Planning Partnership contributed to Network decision-making.

Strategic Leads emphasised the value of the Network in sighting CSPPs on priority national developments and workstreams, and welcomed opportunities for peer support as part of its agenda, with colleagues sharing emerging local practice and experiential learning. 'What Good Looks Like' has become a regular feature of Network meetings, where CSPPs showcase how improvements have been made in the local approach to a particular aspect of Children's Services Planning.

These have included planning considerations (for example children and young people's participation in determining local strategic priorities and improvement actions), as well as a deeper-dive focus on improved collaborative approaches in areas of service delivery aimed at improving local outcomes in relation to a particular aspect of wellbeing (e.g. children and young people's mental health).

The Network initially met quarterly, with introduction of additional topic-specific engagement sessions in 2021 to facilitate more in-depth discussion and wider participation by other colleagues from CSPPs. From December 2020 to March 2022, these sessions have included:

  • The COVID-19 Children & Families Collective Leadership Group Action Plan
  • Establishment of the National Care Service (NCS)
  • Development of the Children, Young People & Families Outcomes Framework
  • Whole Family Wellbeing
  • GIRFEC Policy and Practice Guidance refresh.

Collaborative working has also been strengthened between the CSP Strategic Leads Network and other stakeholder and governance fora, where CSPPs have a key role in piloting tests of change, influencing development of policy and practice, and implementing national approaches at a local level. CSP Strategic Leads have subsequently been included within membership of a number of aligned stakeholder groups (below) and the Network reports to the COVID-19 Children & Families Collective Leadership Group (CLG):

  • GIRFEC Leads/Stakeholder Network
  • Family Support Advisory Group (Commissioning and Framework Sub-Groups)
  • UNCRC Implementation
  • Alcohol and Drugs: Partnership Delivery Framework Implementation
  • Workforce Resilience Subgroup
  • National Child Protection Leadership Group.

As a result of the pandemic social-distancing restrictions, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings, with Network feedback supportive of hybrid working and a blended approach of face-to face and virtual meetings. This acknowledges travel implications for Strategic Leads from remote and rural areas, and reflects members' views that online engagement has increased Network participation, as well as facilitating ad hoc engagement. Opportunities for Network interaction have been enhanced through creation of a virtual space, which facilitates online discussion of topics relevant to Children's Services Planning, and provides an additional platform for provision of feedback on policy and practice developments and signposting to resources.

A Children's Services Planning Strategic Lead[5] began a year tenure as the CSP Strategic Leads Network Co-chair in December 2021, building further on an ethos of shared ownership and collaboration.

COVID-19 Children & Families Collective Leadership Group

The COVID-19 Children & Families Collective Leadership Group (CLG) was established by the Scottish Government in May 2020 with a remit to review data, intelligence, research and policy in order to identify and respond to immediate concerns for children, young people and families with vulnerabilities during the pandemic. The work of CLG has also focussed on broader cross-cutting issues relevant to wellbeing of children and young people, including mental health, child poverty, whole family support, and workforce development, underpinned by engagement with, and feedback from children, young people and families.

In January 2021, CLG developed a 3-month action plan focussed on urgent action across 10 priority themes. This included: Access to services, Child Protection Awareness, Workforce Resilience, Domestic Abuse, Respite Care, Early Years/Under Fives, Care Leavers, and Children's Hearings System. Updates on the action plan were shared with a number of key strategic forums, with recommendations made on intermediate and longer-term action required.

The CLG Action Plan was informed by and contributed to by a number of strategic forums.

This work strengthened connections between CLG and the Children's Services Planning Strategic Leads Network, which worked closely to obtain data and progress the action plan. The contribution of Children's Services Planning Partnerships was acknowledged as central to two CLG Action Plan workstreams: Access to Services and Workforce Resilience. Summarised details of these can be found in Appendix C.

Longer term actions for CLG relate to broader work to improve outcomes for children, young people and families with a focus on: recovery and renewal from the pandemic; developing a Children, Young People & Families Outcomes Framework, holistic whole family support and Keeping The Promise.

2021 Review of Children's Services Plans

In line with legislative requirements, the Scottish Government, on behalf of Ministers, is required to review all Children's Services Plans in the year of their submission and provide individual feedback reports to each Children's Services Planning Partnership. Review of the 2020-2023 CSPs was undertaken with individual feedback reports provided to each CSPP in December 2021.

Analysis of CSPs considered the extent to which each CSPP has provided information to demonstrate it has met the statutory review Criteria for Children's Services Planning set out in Part 3 Guidance. Feedback was intended to supplement local self-evaluation activity and to contribute to a cycle of continuous improvement activity throughout each 3-year strategic planning period by identifying areas of strength and for development in how the CSPP has articulated the development and delivery of its Children's Services Plan.

Feedback was not a statement on individual organisational compliance with associated legislation, nor an assessment as to the quality standards of associated service delivery. These are determined through a combination of local quality assurance approaches, and scrutiny and inspection activity.

The Scottish Government is also required to produce an analytical evaluation report which provides an overview of the findings from review of all Children's Services Plans. This is the report for the 2020-2023 planning cycle.


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