This summary presents key themes from the independent analysis of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. The consultation paper and the draft guidance are available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/consultation-revised-national-guidance-child-protection-scotland-2020/
The consultation ran from 21 October 2020 and closed on 31 January 2021. In total, 159 consultation responses were received. The majority of responses (123 responses) were submitted by organisations, with the remaining 36 responses submitted by individual members of the public.
In addition to the main public consultation, seven virtual stakeholder engagement events were held during November and December 2020. These events were used to engage with Child Protection Committees and practitioners, with a facilitated discussion structured around the consultation questions.
Key themes from the analysis
Accessibility: The guidance was described as comprehensive and thorough, but this inevitably means it is a long and relatively complex document. Online publication, including the use of hyperlinks, will help readers navigate the document and developing tailored/accessible versions for key groups – such as children and families – will be important.
Audience for the guidance: It was suggested that the guidance is likely to be a helpful source document for partnerships when shaping their local guidance. However, there was also a concern that the intended audience is not clear and that it is a mixture of strategic and operational guidance. Meeting the needs of a very wide audience was acknowledged as challenging, including because it may mean that the document cannot be too specific or prescriptive.
Legislation and policy coverage: Overall, it was felt that the legislation section provides a comprehensive framework of developing local practice and that the coverage of policy themes is robust and thorough. Themes which respondents thought could be given more prominence included The Promise, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), transitions to adult services and the role of Education Services. It was noted that the guidance, and in particular the coverage of policy and legislation, will need to be kept up to date in order to remain relevant and at its most useful.
GIRFEC: Respondents generally thought that the revised guidance is fully integrated with the language and core components of the Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) practice model. It was suggested that the integration of GIRFEC emphasises that the support and protection of children is part of a continuum, allowing the 'right help at the right time', but that there could be greater clarity on the named person. It was noted that GIRFEC is due to be refreshed, and there were queries as to how this will impact on the guidance, both in terms of the relative timelines for publication and how the revised GIRFEC will be included and reflected in the guidance.
Practices and Processes: The guidance seeks to accurately and proportionately describe the practice and processes critical to the protection of children. Many of the general comments acknowledged the prescriptive nature of the relevant sections of the guidance. Although some felt this will support consistency in practice across Scotland, there was also a concern that maintaining local flexibility, and reflecting the contextual differences in various areas, may be challenging.
There was an acknowledgment that child protection work can leave children and families feeling disempowered; ensuring they are at the centre is a challenge for all partners. The inclusion of a distinct section on the principles of involving children and families in child protection processes was therefore welcomed. However, it was felt that the guidance could do more to ensure that the experiences, needs and 'voice' of children and families are integrated into the Initial Referral Discussion (IRD) process in particular.
Assessment Section: A new section provides advice about child protection assessment practice. Many respondents welcomed the guidance on assessment, finding it comprehensive, clear and easy to understand. Some respondents commented that there could be greater clarity on incorporating the UNCRC into assessment in practice. It was also suggested that there should be reference to models of assessment practice other than those presented, to avoid those included in the guidance being seen as the preferred model.
The inclusion throughout the guidance of information on trauma-informed approaches was welcomed. However, it was noted that the trauma references could be more specific to assessment and could be strengthened.
Description of child protection processes and procedure: There was a concern that the IRD and Joint Investigative Interviewing processes set out are prescriptive and that this could present challenges for some local areas. A connected suggestion was that the potential for local variations should be acknowledged through the inclusion of a statement that Child Protection Committees, and their constituent members, will be accountable for the adoption (or not) of the processes.
The importance of relationships between practitioners and families, along with person-centred risk management that keeps children safe and promotes their wellbeing, was highlighted; it was suggested that this could be more clearly acknowledged within the guidance. It was also suggested that there could be greater emphasis on a strengths-based approach, as the biggest influence on the protection of children.
Integration of health guidance: The integration of health guidance into the revised child protection guidance was generally welcomed, including because the approach acknowledges the key role of health professionals, widens the audience for the guidance and supports multi-agency working. The recognition of health professionals as full partners in the IRD process was also welcomed. However, some respondents questioned whether incorporating the health guidance into the wider child protection guidance may make it harder for health professionals to access the information they require, and which is most relevant to them.
Neglect: A broad and overarching theme highlighted by a number of respondents was that any definition and coverage of neglect should not infer the fault of parents and/or carers. Further comments included that it is vital that an intersectional lens is applied to any definition and where systemic stressors occur, neglect should not be defined as abuse. It was also noted that there are varying definitions of neglect across the guidance, but that a consistent definition/description would be preferable.
It was noted that the word 'neglect' is often referenced alongside abuse, and there was a concern that this could lead to an over identification of neglect as a conscious abusive activity and reduce consideration of neglect as a reflection of either emotional or practical parenting capacity, including but not exclusively related to poverty. The importance of focusing on harm, or risk of harm, experienced by the child, irrespective of the motive of the parents or carers and the associated stressors affecting the family, was also highlighted. However, it was acknowledged that the response within a child protection plan will vary depending on the contextual circumstances.
Pre-birth assessment and support: The inclusion of a section on pre-birth assessment and support was generally welcomed, although it was also suggested that there needs to be a clear focus on pre-birth support throughout the guidance. There was particular support for the focus on earlier intervention, including that a pre-birth meeting should be held as soon as possible. However, there was also a call for some flexibility to enable well-established, and positively inspected, local practices to continue.
A number of respondents addressed the timing and timescales of different aspects of practice, including in relation to IRDs. A general observation was that the timescales set out within this section require further consultation and clarification. Other comments included that the role of the father could be strengthened.
Specific areas of concern: Part 4 of the guidance covers specific forms of abuse and neglect, concerns and circumstances and signposts further resources. Part 4 was described as useful, helpful or accessible, and the comprehensive set of issues covered was welcomed. However, there was also a concern that there could be a risk that practitioners focus on the information in Part 4 and inadvertently overlook valuable information in earlier sections.
Further comments included that the section on protecting children with disabilities should be set more clearly within a children's rights framework, and that the section on domestic abuse should set out the principles of Safe and Together. This latter point echoed other comments that the coverage of domestic abuse is insufficient across the guidance. There was a particular concern that the principle of partnering with the non-abusive parent has not been embedded.
There were also suggestions for other specific concerns that should be included within Part 4 (or possibly elsewhere across the guidance). Transitions was a frequently raised issue, and it was suggested that Part 4 may be a suitable place to include a section with a specific focus on this issue. Groups that respondents suggested should be covered included young carers and children (in families) with no recourse to public funds.
Implementation: Many respondents agreed that Chief Officer Groups and local Child Protection Committees, supported by Child Protection Committees Scotland, the Scottish Government and a range of other partners, are the key fora for implementation of the guidance. It was noted that a multi-agency approach will be pivotal to the successful implementation of the guidance. However, there was a concern that the guidance does not provide a clear outline or intention of the role of Scottish Government in respect of child protection. There was also a concern that the non-statutory status of the guidance could lead to variation in how agencies engage with it.
COVID-19: There were frequent reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to new ways of working and has accelerated changes to ways of meeting and communicating in particular. It will be important to consider which of those changes have been positive and led to more flexible and potentially efficient working. The consensus was that at least some of the practice changes – especially in relation to remote meetings – should continue post-pandemic.
Remote IRDs were generally reported to have been particularly successful, with increased attendance rates from across a range of key agencies. Children, young people, and families have often found online engagement to be less stressful and a preferred way of taking part. However, it is not right for everyone, and the needs of individuals will always need to be considered. Blended approaches are likely to be needed going forward.