National Child Protection Leadership Group minutes: September 2021

Minutes from the 22 September 2021 meeting of the National Child Protection Leadership Group.

Attendees and apologies


  • Clare Haughey MSP, Minister for Children and Young People (Chair)
  • Jackie Brock, Chief Operating Officer, The Promise Scotland 
  • Claire Burns, Co-Director, CELCIS & Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures
  • Cathie Cowan, Chief Executive, NHS Forth Valley
  • Eddie Follan, Chief Officer Children and Young People COSLA 
  • Alison Gordon, Chief Social Work Officer, North Lanarkshire & Social Work Scotland
  • Neil Hunter, Principle Reporter/Chief Executive, SCRA
  • Elliot Jackson, National Convenor of the Children’s Panel and Chief Executive of Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • SallyAnn Kelly, Chief Executive, Aberlour
  • Joanna Macdonald, Deputy Chief Social Work Adviser, Scottish Government 
  • Lindsay MacDougall, Acting Head of Child Protection, Scottish Government 
  • Peter MacLeod, Chief Executive, Care Inspectorate
  • Margaret McGuire, Executive Nurse Director for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde
  • Jane Moffat, Deputy Director, Strategy, GIRFEC and the Promise Division, Scottish Government
  • Angela Scott, Chief Executive Aberdeen City Council. Strategic Lead for Children and Education, including Child Protection, SOLACE
  • William Scott-Watson, Interim Deputy Director for Strategy, GIRFEC & the Promise Division, Scottish Government
  • Lesley Sheppard, Deputy Director: Care, Protection and Justice, Scottish Government
  • Ruth Sills, Child Protection Programme Lead, CELCIS
  • Kay Tisdall, Professor of Childhood, Edinburgh University 
  • Michael Wood, Professor of Education, University of Dundee and General Secretary, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland


  • Prof Carlene Firmin, Professor of Social Work, Durham University
  • Fiona Marshall, Senior Policy Advisor, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Frank Martin, Team Leader, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government
  • Siân Robson, Policy Officer, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Robert Scott, Team Leader, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government
  • Lesley Swanson, Team Leader, Child Protection Unit, Scottish Government


  • Role vacant, Chief Nursing Officer, Scottish Government
  • Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive, Education Scotland
  • Mairi Macpherson, Deputy Director, Improving Health and Wellbeing, Scottish Government
  • DCS Samantha McCluskey, Head of Public Protection, Police Scotland
  • Moira Price, Head of Victims and Witnesses Policy, COPFS
  • Alan Small, Chair, Child Protection Committees Scotland
  • Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Government


  • Eddie Doyle, Scottish Government Senior Medical Advisor for Paediatrics (attending on behalf of Dr Gregor Smith)
  • Jamie Lipton, Principal Procurator Fiscal Depute, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, attending on behalf of Moira Price
  • DSU Martin Maclean, Head of National Child Abuse Investigation Unit & Lead for Child & Adult Protection, Police Scotland (attending on behalf of DCS Samantha McCluskey)

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions 

The Chair welcomed attendees to the meeting, including new member, Jane Moffat and guests and noted apologies. 

The Chair noted this is the first full meeting of this Group since December 2020 and thanked members for their oversight and input to the revision of the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021, which was published alongside National Guidance for Child Protection Committees Undertaking Learning Reviews on Thursday 2 September

Minute and actions from 23 April 2021 meeting

The Group agreed that the minute of the meeting on 15 June 2021 was accurate.

Participation and engagement

Neil Hunter gave an update on Actions 1, 2, and 3 from the December 2020 meeting relating to Participation and Engagement. The subgroup have been focussing on Action 3 from the NCPLG action plan, working on:

  • ensuring that effective engagement with children and young people is embedded in the new national child protection guidance by contributing to text relating to effective models, early engagement, safeguards, development of good practice and compassionate listening
  • building on effective practice. Work on comparisons between the UK and the EU has not progressed much since January 2020 due to COVID
  • workforce and skills development has also stalled due to COVID

Neil updated that after discussions with colleagues in the Scottish Government Child Protection Unit, Ruth Sills and Kay Tisdall, it was proposed that work on participation and engagement be integrated with implementation of the Guidance and covered by the National Child Protection Guidance Implementation Group. The Participation and Engagement subgroup would therefore be dissolved. 

Joanna Macdonald commented as Chair of the Implementation Group that she supports this idea and it makes sense to integrate this work in implementation. Other members were also supportive, so the proposal was agreed.

Child protection data mapping

Ruth Sills gave an update on Action 5 from December 2020 relating to child protection data mapping. After the December 2020 NCPLG meeting, the data group developed an action plan with 20 areas of work. This plan will be shared at the next meeting in December 2021, but Ruth noted some key actions that have been progressed:

  • the annual national child protection data return and associated data collection guidance have been reviewed and updated to reflect features of the 2021 national child protection guidance such as inter-agency referral discussions and child protection investigations. The revised data collection guidance has been shared with data collectors for comment
  • the Local Authority Social Work Statistics (LASWS) group are now holding more frequent (quarterly) meetings focussing on more specific topics e.g. the new social work statistics return
  • the first iteration of the Minimum Dataset for Child Protection Committees has been reviewed, the second iteration has been developed and was shared with CPCScotland at their meeting on 15 September 2021 to a largely supportive response
  • CELCIS have developed a Knowledge Hub for children’s services professionals to share learning and challenge relating to data. It launched in August 2021 and is open to anyone to join, the name of the group is Children’s Care and Protection Data Community for Scotland

Kay Tisdall asked how children’s rights indicators are being considered. Ruth noted this will also be considered as part of implementation of the national Guidance and Kay offered to support work to ensure meaningful indicators are developed. Lesley Sheppard noted that connections will also be made with the UNCRC Strategic Implementation Board. Action 1 – Ruth Sills and Kay Tisdall

Implementation of the national guidance for child protection in Scotland

Joanna Macdonald gave an update on Action 1 from June 2021 relating to implementation of the Guidance. The National Child Protection Guidance Implementation Group met for the first time on 10 September. The Group will meet every two months for the next 18-24 months, which is the agreed timeframe for implementation. There are some gaps in membership that the Group are looking to fill e.g. around perinatal and pre-five year old children.

Since the first Implementation Group meeting, Scottish Government officials have met with various members to discuss next steps. Lived experience and the voice of children and young people has been a key discussion point. The Group will look to harness existing resources in a meaningful way and to ensure consistency with other upcoming changes. The Group had a sense that hearts and minds are on board with the new Guidance and there is a determination and confidence in the Group that implementation will result in the desired improvements for children and families.

Members discussed how to join up the child protection and revised GIRFEC guidance to improve early intervention. A presentation on this topic was given to education leads at the Scottish Learning Festival on 21 September and Scottish Government members explained that they are linking with colleagues to ensure alignment. The Implementation Group will gather local insights into how the Guidance is being used and how to support delivery at a local level.

The Implementation Group also discussed plans for communication coming into and going out from the Group. Advice will be sought from Group members, but Lindsay MacDougall asked Leadership Group members to also put forward any suggestions around communication. 

Members discussed how implementation work can contribute to improvements in collection, use and sharing of early intervention data e.g. with named person and lead professionals. Upskilling of the workforce will be needed, local areas are reporting that they need additional support around data analysis. Professor Brigid Daniel will be involved in advising the Child Protection Unit around early intervention. The Programme for Government gives a commitment to additional funding around family support so a case could be made for this type of work to be supported.

Other actions from the December 2020 and June 2021 meetings have been completed or will be covered by this meeting’s agenda.

Priority actions,linked programmes and completed actions - Papers 1, 1a and 1b

The Chair asked members if they find these papers useful, which they did. The Chair noted that Officials plan to review and update the actions relating to the priority areas and linked programmes to ensure that they are relevant.

Joint investigative interviews and Barnahus – paper 2

Lesley Swanson updated that on 14 September, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Government published a joint report outlining the foundations of a Bairns’ House model in Scotland, and held a symposium on the subject. The report recognises the significance of the policy as potentially transformational for child protection and justice and states the need to put children and young people at the centre of the design of the house. There are areas that still need careful consideration, including: design of buildings to cover a wide age range, facilitation of collaborative working, resource for training, support for families and for therapeutic recovery from the start, the impact of the National Care Service, awareness of vulnerable witnesses legislation. The Visions, Values and Approach paper is a statement of intent which will inform discussions moving forward. Phase 2 work will involve drafting, consulting on and publishing standards in 2022. There will be an award ceremony on 30 September to recognise the achievements of Scottish Child Interview Model (SCIM) interviewers. 

Members noted the strong links between the Bairns’ Hoose, SCIM and Joint Investigative Interview models. Lesley reassured that the status of the standards will be consulted on, either through targeted engagement or a formal consultation to understand the consequences of introducing any legislation around these. Peter MacLeod noted that the timescale for engagement is short, but that the Care Inspectorate will not change their inspection model until expectations around the standards are clear. Lesley will provide an update to the Group at the next meeting. Action 2 – Lesley Swanson

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children – paper 3

Eddie Doyle noted that this group of children often exhibit considerable health issues so there should be strong engagement with NHS colleagues around their needs. Frank Martin explained that COSLA and the Child Strategy Group are working through the detail of how the scheme will be administered, and will certainly consider health. Cathie Cowan noted that this has been done effectively in the past. Frank also noted that age assessment training will be rolled out shortly.

Chief Officers’ induction resource and leadership event planning – paper 4

Ruth Sills explained that planning for a Chief Officers’ leadership event in 2020 was paused due to COVID so the planning group have focussed on developing a public protection induction resource for Chief Officers. The resource has been reviewed by four Chief Officers’ Groups (COGs) with positive feedback. Slight adaptations were made after the feedback and the content is now finalised, including incorporation of sections relating to the new Child Protection Guidance and Learning Review Guidance. The resource will now be worked on by a design team then sent by email to Chief Officers. Chairs of COGs will be asked to signpost new Chief Officers to the resource as part of their induction. 

Angela Scott stated how welcome this resource is, since public protection is a complex environment and is a potential area of risk for new Chief Officers. There were suggestions that a peer mentoring scheme would also provide support for Chief Officers and Peter MacLeod suggested that National Action Learning Sets could be a useful platform since many Chief Officers will already be involved in these sets so there is an opportunity to link in with existing groups. Alison Gordon noted it would be useful to sight Chief Social Work Officers on the resource since they commonly act as Lead Officer supporting the COG Chair.

Contextual safeguarding – presentation and discussion

Professor Carlene Firmin, Professor of Social Work at Durham University gave a presentation on Contextual Safeguarding in Scotland.

The contextual safeguarding approach was proposed to resolve the mismatch between extra-familial risks and typical responses to child protection concerns which focus on the family. The contextual safeguarding framework proposes that an effective response should target extra-familial risks, incorporate them into child protection legislative frameworks, develop partnerships and measure outcomes. Core values underpinning the framework are that the response is collaborative, rights-based, ecological, strengths-based and rooted in young people’s lived reality. Two levels of the approach can be adopted: level 1 involves taking context into account in existing work with children and families, level 2 involves assessing and responding directly to contextual risks.

A Scottish steering group was established in 2019 to consider implications of using a contextual safeguarding approach. Currently only one area (North Lanarkshire) has formally committed to using it.

Learning from implementation of contextual safeguarding has included: context weighting, whereby professionals consider which context presents greatest risk of harm, moving from everyone’s responsibility being to make referrals to a responsibility to create safe spaces around children and supporting existing child protection systems and creating new processes to address contextual risk.

Strategic implications of the approach include the need for workforce development and buy-in, oversight of responses, engagement with the community, embedding in existing safeguarding strategies, considering thresholds for harm, and reviewing whether services meet contextual needs.

The section on contextual safeguarding in the 2021 Child Protection Guidance and the contextual safeguarding practice insight are clearly worded and note key ideas like alignment with My World Triangle, context weighting, creating conditions that allow safer choices, targeting context through interventions and creating partnerships to identify concerns. 

Recommendations to progress contextual safeguarding in Scotland:

1. Establish more test locations and build a Scottish local area network.

2. Broaden steering group membership to include key strategic bodies and use it to consider policy implications of test work.

3. Identify elements of contextual safeguarding unique to Scotland through testing.

4. Consider key policy issues to ensure policy stays ahead of local practice.

Alison Gordon described the experience of applying contextual safeguarding in North Lanarkshire. The work was initiated after hearing Carlene speak and seeing the potential to use the approach in complex cases where the current processes were not always working well. 

Social work and multi-agency training was undertaken then a twin track approach was taken to: 1) begin practice change by getting tools out to social workers, encouraging flexibility and consideration of different ways of working, considering input and analysis, 2) building ownership to embed the approach at a broader community level, with support from CPCs, COG, etc. There is a senior officer in place to coordinate the activity, an active practitioners forum, multi-agency case considerations, a panel to compliment the child protection system and participation in research on trauma-informed practice alongside implementation of the contextual safeguarding approach.

Challenges have included: ensuring practitioners use consistent language moving away from terms like ‘children at risk’ or ‘not engaging’ to identifying factors causing risk, considering why children don’t always trust the current system and why the system is sometimes having difficulty supporting children. 

There is some evidence of level 1 of the approach being embedded in North Lanarkshire. In case reviews, thresholds of risk are considered when moving to formal measures, and there is consideration of how to build on welfare aspects. New alliances have been built with a wider range of partners and working in different ways than previously e.g. sexual health colleagues. There is greater engagement with education, leisure, shop owners etc. Context is beginning to be evident in planning and responding to risks. Mapping work has been undertaken around concerns about exploitation. There has been learning around the Promise, building trust, information sharing, and the complexity of some young people’s challenges. There has been good buy-in from staff particularly in children’s services and there is a sense of optimism about the approach and the opportunity to develop practice outwith normal boundaries. 

Practical examples include identifying a bike theft criminal exploitation ring, outreach work with youth work and park staff around concerns about playing fields, work with British Transport Police about young people loitering in train stations.

Future considerations will be around how the approach differs in Scotland particularly in relation to whether children are over or under 16 and whether they are considered victims or perpetrators. North Lanarkshire are keen to be involved in a wider practice network and have case studies that they could share. 

The Chair and Members thanked Carlene for an interesting and stimulating presentation. Neil Hunter and Peter MacLeod noted that SCRA and the Care Inspectorate would be happy to support consolidation of contextual safeguarding across Scotland. The Group noted the complexity of community data and discussed how to use learning from North Lanarkshire’s use of these data, and how to feed this in to named people and lead professionals. Ruth will take forward consideration of how to pull these data together, keeping in mind information-sharing principles. Lindsay MacDougall commented that now is a good time to connect data needs and intelligence. Carlene noted that it is important to work collaboratively with young people around collection of data so that it does not feel like surveillance and have the effect of pushing them away. One area in England has created a pathway in their system that allows sharing of information around contextual risks. Action 3 – Child Protection Data Subgroup and Alison Gordon.

Ruth provided feedback from Alan Small who was unable to attend today, but who indicated that Child Protection Committees Scotland would be keen to support a contextual safeguarding group.

New and emerging risks, challenges and opportunities

No items were raised.


No other business was raised. In future, if meetings are over two hours, a comfort break will be factored in. The next meeting will be on 15 December 2021 and will feature Professor Kate Morris who will present on Protecting Children: A social model.

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