National Child Protection Leadership Group minutes: February 2023

Minutes of the meeting held on the 7 February 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government


  • Claire Burns, Director, Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection (CELCIS)

  • Laura-Ann Currie, Head of Inclusion, Health and Wellbeing and Equalities, Education Scotland

  • Alison Gordon, Chief Social Work Officer, North Lanarkshire and Social Work Scotland representative

  • SallyAnn Kelly, Chief Executive, Aberlour

  • Joanna MacDonald, Deputy Chief Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government 

  • Lindsay MacDougall, Head of Child Protection, Scottish Government

  • Caren McLean, Head of Protection & Permanence, CELCIS

  • Moira Price, Head of Victims and Witnesses Policy, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)

  • Angela Scott, Chief Executive, Aberdeen City Council, Strategic Lead for Children and Education, including Child Protection, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE)

  • Kay Tisdall, Professor of Childhood, Edinburgh University

  • Alan Small, National Chair, Child Protection Committees Scotland (CPCScotland)

  • Jayne Smith, Early years and Children’s Services Professional Advisor

  • Alison Taylor, Deputy Director, Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing, Learning Directorate


  • Tam Baillie, Vice Chair of Child Protection Committees Scotland on behalf of Alan Small, National Chair, Child Protection Committees Scotland who joined later in the meeting

  • Stephen Bermingham, Head of Practice and Policy on behalf of Elliot Jackson, National Convenor of the Children’s Panel and Chief Executive of Children’s Hearings Scotland

  • Cara Cooper, Unit Head, GIRFEC on behalf of Jane Moffat, Deputy Director for Strategy, GIRFEC and the Promise Division, Scottish Government

  • Dr. Eddie Doyle, Senior Medical Advisor for Paediatrics on behalf of Professor Sir Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Government and Mairi MacPherson, Deputy Director, Improving Health and Wellbeing, Scottish Government

  • DSU Martin Maclean on behalf of DCS Samantha Faulds, Head of Public Protection, Police Scotland

  • Lesley Thomson, Nurse Director, South Health and Social Care Partnership on behalf of Eddie Docherty, Executive Nurse Director, NHS Lanarkshire


  • Professor Brigid Daniel, Chair, Children’s Services Research Steering Group

  • Dr Heather Ottaway, Head of Evidence and Innovation, CELCIS

  • Louise Long, Chief Executive Officer, Inverclyde Council

  • Jamie Aarons, Professional Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government

  • Angela Latta, Professional Social Work Adviser from the Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government

  • Fiona Marshall, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government

  • Teresa Rack, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government


  • Jenny Stenton, Senior Policy Adviser, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat)

  • Siân Robson, Policy Adviser, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat)


  • Ms Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People (Chair)

  • Sam Anson, Deputy Director, Workforce, Infrastructure & Digital, Learning Directorate

  • Laura Caven, Chief Officer, Children and Young People, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)

  • Cathie Cowan, Chief Executive NHS Forth Valley

  • Ian Donaldson, Deputy Director, Rights, Protection and Justice, Directorate for Children and Families

  • Neil Hunter, Principal Reporter/Chief Executive, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA)

  • Jackie Irvine, Chief Executive, Care Inspectorate

  • Fi McFarlane, Head of Public Affairs, The Promise

  • Victoria Milne, Team Leader from the Adult Support and Protection Unit, Scottish Government

  • Michael Wood, General Secretary of ADES and Professor of Education at the University of Dundee

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Iona Colvin introduced herself and advised that she was chairing the meeting because Ms Haughey was unable to attend.

Iona welcomed all members, delegates and guests, including new members Jayne Smith and Alison Taylor, and noted apologies from new members Sam Anson and Ian Donaldson.

National Care Service journey to date, issues and opportunities

Iona noted that the presentation given at the meeting on 7 December had been shared with members by email in advance of this meeting. Angela Scott gave a recap of the presentation, explaining that it identified potential areas for improvement in the journey so far. The National Care Service (NCS) may represent an opportunity to reduce risk of harm to children. Options could be to ‘lift and shift’ the current child protection systems into the NCS and use the time between now and then to improve them; or to ‘lift and twist’ – adapting aspects of the current system to approach child protection in a different way in the NCS. The National Child Protection Leadership Group should drive improvement in the run-up to and during the transition to the NCS, and encourage any new NCS boards to follow the improvement agenda. Angela raised that she will soon be meeting with social workers from Brazil to discuss differences between systems here and there.

Professor Brigid Daniel noted that Heather Ottaway is leading research on children’s services and the NCS at CELCIS, while she herself is chairing the independent steering group for the research and that either of them could answer questions regarding the research. There were no questions from members on the research or policy.

Iona noted that the ministerial decision on inclusion of children’s services in NCS won’t be made until the end of the year.

Louise Long facilitated discussion of further issues and ideas raised by members. Tam Baillie raised that although once services know about children at risk they tend to do a good job, there seems to be a great deal of under-reporting. He gave examples of recent publications that have indicated that 20% of people report having experienced child sexual abuse (CSA); however only 1.5% of children are reporting CSA through the child protection system. CSA is only an example, there will be other types of abuse that are under-reported such as online abuse. Tam asked how we can ensure the system doesn’t miss vast numbers of children who may be being abused. He noted that there will be disruption when the NCS comes in. He also highlighted the current mainly familial approach to protection and asked whether that needs to reorientate.

Eddie Doyle noted that aspects of child protection will change when Bairns’ Hooses are introduced, so why not use that as an opportunity to make greater change to make services the best we can, rather than trying to shoehorn current services into a new system. Louise observed that only a small number of children involved in child protection systems will be involved in Bairns’ Hoose but noted Eddie’s point.

Louise stated that she advocates for social work services being ‘cradle to grave’ and mentioned that social workers are sometimes nervous about balancing rights and freedoms – sometimes they have to remove someone’s rights in order to improve outcomes for someone else.

Lesley Thomson noted that currently some services that impact children are considered to be children’s services and others are not, and it will be the same in an NCS, for instance midwifery and obstetrics, 16-18 year olds, and up to 26 year olds in relation to The Promise. She asked how we give recommendations about this to the NCS work. Angela Scott stated that organisations will always have to ‘slice and dice’ services and there may be issues however this is done, but as long as these are flagged to Scottish Government before the system is designed, they can be factored in to design of the system. She agreed with Tam that there is a huge amount of under-reported harm and that professionals are not aware of all risks. She reiterated that however an NCS is ‘sliced and diced’, we need a design that aims to detect all harm so we need to consider how we could change the system, structure, policies and practice to do that.

Claire Burns commented in the chat that Angela raises significant overarching questions about the role of the state and approach to risk that will be required to implement key policy such as national child protection guidance, The Promise etc.

Alan Small asked what a successful model of children’s services in the NCS would look like, what governance for child protection would be in place, and what would the role for leaders such as Chief Officers be? A vision and strong leadership would be important for success. He noted that from the number of case reviews compared to the number of cases, the system is generally successful and when Police Scotland are alerted to a case they often proactively identify many more victims. However, he agreed that there is hidden harm. Heather noted that the strands of research will take a holistic view in trying to answer the question of what is needed to ensure children and families receive the support they need when they need it. They will consider inequality and extra-familial harm but would welcome views here on what other contextual factors to consider.

Brigid noted that the research will give valuable evidence whatever final structures are decided and that it will provide baseline data that could be built upon in future. She reflected that given there are so many different arrangements internationally, there is obviously not one best way to do it. She proposed that international comparisons may help identify a balance where people trust the level of monitoring without feeling it is intrusive, and feel confident to come forward and seek help. She noted it would helpful to discuss conceptual issues like this further, along with more structural things like organisation of services.

SallyAnn Kelly noted that whatever the NCS looks like, we need to be realistic about what is achievable – we cannot eradicate risk. We need to be able to manage and support the families who need help, ensuring families receive the right type of support at the right time. Not all families where children have been harmed need support if harm came from outwith the family so we shouldn’t assume social work need to be involved in every case. Now would be a good time to review prevalence statistics in relation to this. SallyAnn suggested that inclusion of Contextual Safeguarding in the national guidance might help with this. She suggested that the social model of safeguarding be included in considering the vision for children’s services but noted this model requires more resource. She noted that the cost of living crisis will increase concerns not because of individuals’ behaviour but because of context. She stated that families often don’t feel they’re being listened to, so we need to think about a different cultural response in organisations on how they engage with families to be more humble and less judgmental about families. Better engagement with families results in better overall outcomes.

Iona noted that the research is an opportunity to reflect on where we are and where we need to go, regardless of decisions about care service. No matter what is decided there will be change because there are currently mixed levels of integration of services. Adult support and protection will be in the NCS and local care boards. She felt that there are key questions about how to build a collaborative approach between agencies and how to hold partnerships to account in delivery of that collaboration. Things often go wrong when leaders do not work together or give their staff the opportunity to work together. She also noted a need to change culture to not be judgemental, and be trauma-informed. She noted it is not as simple as acting in a rights-protecting way because sometimes someone’s rights must be limited in order to protect someone else. These ambitions will be the same regardless of decisions about NCS.

Louise summarised the discussions. She noted that the group raised the need to identify children in need early; that there will be change regardless of where children’s services sit in the NCS; and that transitions need to be carefully managed. SallyAnn added that there was discussion about highlighting risk arising from significant change coupled with staffing issues in social work and social care and how this group can support this nationally and locally.

Angela Scott stated that this group needs to consider their contribution to the design of whatever goes ahead. The group has a responsibility to use their collective knowledge to give advice to the Scottish Government, the Minister and Cabinet colleagues, so as to inform the design rather than be a commentator on it. The Group should find opportunities to reflect on Brigid, Heather and Iona’s upcoming work. Chief Officer’s Leadership Events could be a space for discussions too. She noted that members can link with the SOLACE group if needed.

Iona noted that she will give an update once they have developed a plan around public protection after consultation with Ministers. Brigid and Heather will keep the group informed on the outputs of their research. Iona reflected that there may need to be an interim plan as there is not going to be an instant solution and risk increases when things change. She also noted that work around a national social work agency is also relevant in this context.


Iona stated that the next meeting will be on 8 March in person at Victoria Quay with a hybrid option. There will be a substantive discussion on the role and remit of the National Child Protection Leadership Group, and Professor Alexis Jay OBE, Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales will talk to the Group about the recommendations of the Inquiry.

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