Q14: Do you have any further comments on the National Guidance? -
Around 105 respondents made a comment at Question 14. Many of these comments addressed issues covered elsewhere within the analysis. The analysis presented below focuses on additional issues raised.
One theme raised concerned complaints. The public body with a role in considering complaints about social work care, including matters of child protection, noted that relevant themes from their casework include:
- Failure to listen to and take the views of children into account.
- Failures to gather all relevant evidence and provide a clear rationale for key child protection decisions.
They welcomed the shift in tone and emphasis in the draft guidance to collaboration and transparency, the focus on children's rights and the recognition of the importance of learning. However, they also made suggestions for improvement including:
- Recognising the importance of actively encouraging the raising of concerns and the importance of being open to and learning from them would be welcome.
- Referring to the importance of seeking a resolution-focused and restorative approach when there has been conflict or a breakdown of relationships. This could be positively supported by reference to available resources, particularly from agencies such as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and the Children and Young Person's Commissioner for Scotland.
- In the section on learning culture, reference learning from complaints when describing the range of mechanisms that should inform learning. It may also be appropriate to note that, to be completely successful in maintaining a learning culture, there is a need to provide appropriate support to staff when they are complained about.
Suggestions from other respondents included that:
- Child Protection Committees should adopt a robust complaints system incorporating a strict system of reparation when the Child Protection Committee's and associated agencies' involvement has resulted in significant harm to the family or child.
- The Scottish Government should consider overhauling the current complaints system operated by local authorities to make them more accountable to the public.
The inclusion in the guidance of references to GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) was welcomed. However, it was noted that at the end of the UK's transition period when exiting the EU, the GDPR was incorporated into UK data protection law as the 'UK GDPR' and this sits alongside the DPA 2018. This should be updated within the text of the guidance.
In their response, the public body whose role is to uphold information rights in the public interest (The Information Commissioner's Office), raised a range of specific points covering four areas in particular: the first principle of the UK GDPR (lawfulness, fairness and transparency); Privacy by Design and Default; the Data Sharing Code of Practice; and their new detailed right of access guidance. (Please note that their full response can be accessed on the Scottish Government's website).
There were a small number of comments relating to impact assessments for the guidance. These included a query as to whether a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment has been undertaken as part of the development of this guidance. If it has not, it was suggested that the assessment should be carried out as a matter of urgency.
It was noted that from an island authority perspective, it will be important to understand the conclusion of the Island Communities Impact Assessment. It was suggested that the strengthening of the understanding of rural practice will be crucial to ensuring the guidance has efficacy across Scotland, and not just in urban areas.
On a similar theme, it was suggested that the coverage of service delivery in rural areas could be strengthened. It was stressed that all children deserve a high standard of care and support, regardless of where they live, and there was a call for the guidance to make this clear.
Respondents also highlighted a range of other issues which should be covered within the guidance. These included:
- Staff support: One of the gaps is an acknowledgment of the difficulties and stresses that working in child protection situations can place on staff - whether that is Social Work, specialist NHS staff and Police who deal with it daily or colleagues in other agencies who may only deal with it rarely. The importance of good support, opportunities for debriefs and a framework that helps staff to cope with what can be traumatic for them is very important. Support to staff who find themselves in Learning Review situations should also be acknowledged.
- Training: A lack of reference to training in the guidance, including supervision, was said to be a concern. It is critical that training is jointly delivered between health and social care staff to build collective knowledge, working relationships and understanding among professionals of the whole facet of impacts neglect and abuse can have on children.
- Intention: There is a need to revisit intention. It was felt that in many scenarios descriptions, such as 'sibling rivalry', are used to explain what might otherwise be termed abuse.
- Children with learning disabilities: Connected to intention (above), it was reported that the applicability of child protection guidance is not always clear when intent cannot be established. It was reported that often children are at risk because their parents are unable to meet their highly complex care needs. This includes risks associated with lack of awareness of common dangers, self-injury or aggression to others (including siblings). As there is not intentional neglect/harm, these needs tend not to fit into child protection frameworks and there can be high levels of ongoing risk and actual harm to the child and/or other siblings that are not picked up. In addition, suspicion of abuse is often not properly investigated due to children's communication difficulties.
- Looked-after children: There is a need for specific approaches for providing care and support to looked-after children, particularly when their situation has arisen as a result of abuse. There needs to be a clear set of guidance for mental health practitioners to support this group, including through Children's Hearings, to ensure that specialist support enables children and young people to recover as best as they can.
- MAPPA: MAPPA is only referred to as related to children who are at risk from perpetrators of sexual violence. There is no mention of young people who may be managed as part of a MAPPA process.
- Role of independent advocacy: The role of independent advocacy, including in supporting children and young people with formal child protection meetings, care experienced parents and care experienced individuals within child protection processes were all highlighted.
- Independent Childrens Safeguarders: Specific mention should be made of the role of Independent childrens safeguarders. They are distinct from the advocacy role which is mentioned and are appointed by the Sheriff or the Children's Hearing. They have a key role in the Children's Hearing system and often raise child protection concerns which have not been highlighted by other agencies or individuals.
- Faith organisations: The 2014 guidance made comment about faith organisations having employed professional staff to undertake child and adult protection (more commonly referred to as safeguarding work). This seems to have been lost in the update.
- Safeguarding and sport: Organisations sitting outside of the sport's governing body network do not have access to the same level of safeguarding support and over-sight and may have less robust safeguarding governance in place.
List of consultees: The omission of some organisations from the consultation list, notably some religious groups such as the Salvation Army and the Church of Scotland along with some of the smaller support charities, was seen as surprising.