National Care Service - children's social services: overview

Overview of social services provided to children and families in Scotland. It forms one of a collection of contextual papers about social care and related areas in Scotland, linking to the National Care Service consultation.

This document is part of a collection

Other welfare and support services

The needs of children and families supported by social services differ widely and do not always require the statutory approaches available in child protection procedures or the children's hearing system. Some have needs which can be addressed simply and swiftly through appropriate interventions and support. Other children and families may require longer term and intensive support for complex and long-lasting needs.

Children who are at risk of becoming looked after or being placed into residential care may need support to remain with their families in a manner that is safe, nurturing and which promotes their welfare. Social services are significantly involved in multi-agency whole system and Getting It Right For Every Child[20] (GIRFEC) approaches. These include early and effective interventions which support the child and their family (where child welfare concerns emerge) to avoid crises, reduce the risks of offending behaviours by the child and prevent the need further down the line for statutory interventions or for children to become looked after. This will involve working within a multidisciplinary forum for children who are neither categorised as "looked after" children nor placed on the child protection register. Social workers will attend meetings with universal services (such as education and certain healthcare services) where a child wellbeing concern has been identified. This will happen under the GIRFEC framework which ensures that support for the child, from the right people, is put in place at the most appropriate time through a single planning process that may result in a single child's plan coordinated by a Lead Professional.

Referrals may also be made for children, young people, and families to targeted services provided by third and independent sector organisations which play an important role in improving outcomes for children and families. Services may include befriending, mentoring, outreach, and intensive family support. Delivery of the whole system and GIRFEC approaches have contributed to the downward trends in recent years of children who are referred to the children's reporter, and for the length of time that children remain on child protection registers.

In order to avoid bringing children into the criminal justice system, social services support diversion from prosecution. This may include offence and behaviour focused work through addressing the needs of children and young people who have offended and/or who are at risk of doing so. This is often carried out either by children and families social work, youth justice social work or criminal justice teams and provides early and effective interventions and diversions from the courts and the children's hearings system whilst also reducing the risks of (re)offending. Other interventions include diversion programmes.

The services provided under section 22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 local authority duty includes services for disabled children under the age of 18, children affected adversely by the disability of any other person in the family, and children whose health or development may be affected or may fall below a reasonable standard without services from the local authority. Social work services will often route the child and their family to other professional services such as speech and language therapy, psychology, addictions and a range of healthcare provision.

The Social Care (Self-Directed Support) Act 2013 affects the way that particular forms of support for children and families are arranged and provided to children and families. In particular, it provides the opportunity for children and families to take greater control over the support provided to them. The 2013 Act imposes a further duty to provide choice and flexibility with respect to the relevant support to children or families. It requires the local authority to provide a range of options to the child/family. In a great number of circumstances (including all support to children affected by disability but not restricted to such support) the provision of alternatives such as direct payments or individual services funds can provide a creative and positive means by which to meet the child's needs. However, in some instances the local authority's safeguarding function will affect the form of support which is necessary to safeguard the child's wellbeing, and therefore the extent to which additional choice and control is possible.


For queries relating to a child at risk of harm please contact the appropriate local authority directly.

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