3. Key Initiatives for taking forward Children's Rights during the Reporting Period 2018-2021
The Scottish Government has taken forward a wide range of measures throughout the reporting period to better support children and young people to experience their rights. Many of these initiatives were highlighted in the progress reports published in 2019 and 2020. Some of our key achievements in the reporting period 2018-2021 are as follows:
Meetings of the Scottish Cabinet with children and young people, ensuring that children's voices are heard at the highest level of Government.
The annual meeting between Cabinet members and children and young people, which has taken place since 2017, enables children and young people to raise issues that matter to them and to inform the Scottish Government's agenda over the coming year. At the end of each meeting, children, young people and Cabinet members have collectively agreed actions for the year ahead and published reports on the progress made in taking these forward.
The Permanent Secretary and the Scottish Government Executive Team have also met annually with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament to discuss issues of significance to young people in Scotland. The most recent meeting in November 2021 offered an opportunity for the Executive Team to hear from members of the Scottish Youth Parliament on topics taken from their Manifesto. Topics of greatest significance to young people in Scotland were discussed including rights and participation, mental health, education and gender recognition.
Measures in the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 to ensure that the rights of the child are at the heart of any family law case and that their views are heard
The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 (the 2020 Act) removes the presumption that a child aged 12 or over is considered mature enough to give their views in family court cases, Children's Hearings and permanence and adoption cases. This was in response to concerns that the presumption was leading to the views of younger children not always being heard, which was not the intention when the presumption was introduced. The 2020 Act places a requirement for a child's views to be sought when a court or a Children's Hearing is making a decision that concerns the child unless the court is satisfied that the child is not capable of forming a view. The child's preferred method of giving their views is to be used, unless it is not reasonable to do so, or the child has not expressed a preferred method of giving their views.
The 2020 Act also places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to make such provision as they consider necessary and sufficient to ensure that all children concerned in proceedings in which the court is considering making an order under section 11(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 have access to appropriate child advocacy services.
Work to implement the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019, giving children the same legal protection from assault as adults.
The Scottish Government supported the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Scotland Act 2019 during its passage through the Scottish Parliament. The Act, which came fully into force on 7 November 2020, removed the common law defence of "reasonable chastisement" from the law of Scotland, essentially making all forms of physical punishment of children by a parent or carer unlawful in Scotland from that date.
The Scottish Government has provided information on the Act in a factsheet, including in an easy read version; on mygov.scot; and on Parent Club. We have also prepared promotional materials about the Act for parents and carers, and for children and young people. In addition, the Scottish Government ran a marketing campaign and developed digital resources for families to promote positive parenting in line with its commitment to provide support to parents and carers as part of implementation work for the Act.
Our commitment to #KeepThePromise and help transform how Scotland cares so that all children grow up loved, safe and respected.
In 2017, the Scottish Government established an independent root and branch review of the care system for children and young people in Scotland, to help identify how to change the future of the care system for the better and improve both the quality of life and outcomes of young people in care. The review concluded with The Promise in February 2020, setting out over 80 recommendations.
The First Minister is fully committed to #KeepThePromise and has since supported The Promise Scotland to become a non-statutory company, allowing them to provide support and oversight to enable full implementation of the Care Review's conclusions. The Promise Scotland published The Plan 21-24, the first of three plans setting out the priorities to realising the ambition of implementing the Promise. This was followed by Change Programme ONE. The Scottish Government will play a pivotal role in keeping the Promise and is committed to delivering the transformational change required.
Fourth Anniversary of the baby box – with over 190,000 baby boxes distributed to families across Scotland since the introduction of the scheme.
At its heart, Scotland's Baby Box strongly signals our determination that every child born and resident in Scotland, regardless of their circumstances, should get the best start in life by ensuring that every family with a newborn has access to essential items needed in the first six months of a child's life. It is a simple idea which helps to tackle deprivation, improve health and support parents during the first few months of their child's life. The Baby Box balances practical items, such as the clothing, the hooded bath towel and the changing mat, with items designed to have a positive impact on parent-child interaction through the inclusion of books, a baby wrap and a play mat to support attachment, early learning and play.
An independent evaluation of Scotland's Baby Box, published in August 2021, highlighted a positive impact of the programme on families, both financially and in terms of wider benefits, such as informing them about, or reinforcing, key child health and development messages.
Our investment in school counselling services across education in Scotland, alongside enhanced funding for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
The Scottish Government Programme for Government (PFG) 2018/19 included a commitment to invest in access to school counselling services across education in Scotland. The aims and principles set out that the counselling service should be available for children aged 10 and over, meaning that the service would also be available for primary and special schools which are linked to the secondary school. We are providing £16 million to local authorities per year to support delivery of the commitment. Local authorities have confirmed that counselling services are in place across Scotland.
In 2021-22 around £40 million has been allocated to improve the mental health care that children and young people receive through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). This will address CAMHS waiting times; support implementation of our National CAMHS Service Specification, which sets out the levels of service that children, young people and families can expect from CAMHS across Scotland and improve community CAMHS, with an expansion from age 18 years old to age 25 years old for targeted groups, and those who wish it. The funding will also provide access to out of hours assessments, intensive and specialist CAMHS services, which will benefit children and young people with complex needs, and their families, including in a home setting. This is part of a longer term commitment to ensure that by 2026, 10% of frontline NHS budget is invested in mental health, with 1% directed specifically to children and young people.
Record investment in measures to tackle child poverty, including the 'game changing' Scottish Child Payment
The Scottish Government set in statute the ambition to eradicate child poverty through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, underpinned by ambitious income-based targets to be met by 2030. Concrete action to tackle and reduce child poverty is set out within the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan: Every Child Every Chance 2018-2022.
This includes the introduction of the new Scottish Child Payment, worth £40 every four weeks, for eligible children – described by anti-poverty campaigners as a 'game-changer'. The Payment commenced in February 2021 for eligible children under the age of six, and will be delivered to all eligible children up to the age of 16 by the end of 2022 when it is estimated that up to 406,000 children will be eligible. Scottish Ministers have committed to doubling the value of the payment to £80 every four weeks as soon as is practicable, further enhancing the support available for children in poverty. In 2020-21, investment targeted at supporting children in low income households, reached almost £1 billion.
The ongoing extension of free school meals
Free school meals are a vital support to thousands of children and young people across the country – ensuring they have access to a free, healthy and nutritious meal every day they are in school and are ready to engage in learning. The Scottish Government continues to offer free school meals to all children in Primary 1 to 3. In addition to this, a new £28 million commitment is now delivering free school lunches during term time for all children in primary 4. This will be further expanded to include all children in primary 5, starting in January 2022, and all primary 6 and 7 pupils from August 2022. The policy of providing universal free school meals saves all families an average of £400 per child, per year and 220,945 children are currently benefitting from this policy.
We are also providing £21.75 million to fund targeted support during school holidays for all families who meet the eligibility criteria to receive free school meals. Free school meals continue to be provided to children and young people who meet the income based eligibility criteria set out in statute outside of those age ranges where universal provision is made.
World leading action to ensure period dignity for everyone in Scotland who menstruates.
The Scottish Government believes that being able to access period products is fundamental to equality and dignity. The Scottish Government has taken world leading and award winning action through investing over £21 million since 2017 to fund access to free period products across a range of settings including schools, colleges and universities, wider public spaces and targeted access through community groups for those on low incomes.
In October 2020, the Period Products in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force which places a duty on local authorities and grant-aided schools to provide free period products for pupils. These Regulations will be superseded by the Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Act 2021 ("the Act") when it comes into force.
The Act, which received Royal Assent in January 2021, will place duties on local authorities and education providers to make period products obtainable free of charge for anyone who needs to use them. The Act will come fully into force by January 2023 at the latest. When in force, the Act will ensure that everyone in Scotland who menstruates can have reasonably convenient access to period products, free of charge, as and when they are required. In advance of this, free products continue to be available through voluntary provision and under the Regulations above. The Scottish Government remains ambitious about Scotland continuing to lead the way internationally not just to tackle period poverty, but to also achieve wider gender equality.
Expanded funding to help close the poverty-related attainment gap and support education recovery.
We continue to focus on our firm commitment to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap. The poverty-related attainment gap 2016-2021 progress report demonstrated evidence of good progress being made to date and that the Scottish Attainment Challenge has made a positive impact.
The report highlighted that headteachers were positive about the impact of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, with nine out of ten schools reporting an improvement in closing the gap in attainment and/or health and wellbeing as a result of Attainment Scotland Fund-supported approaches. Building on existing progress, we are continuing to work in partnership with local authorities, schools and other partners to develop the Scottish Attainment Challenge programme.
We have extended our commitment to tackling the poverty related attainment gap and to supporting education recovery by committing an investment of £1 billion over the course of this parliament. As part of this, we have committed over £215 million to the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2021/22. This record funding, the largest amount awarded as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge for a single year, enables headteachers, schools, councils and other partners to provide targeted support for our most disadvantaged pupils
The expansion of the entitlement of funded early learning and childcare hours to all eligible children, up from 600 to 1140 hours per year.
The Scottish Government has made a significant investment in early learning and childcare (ELC) in order to expand the entitlement of funded hours to all 'eligible children' from up to 600 hours a year to up to 1140 hours a year from August 2021. A landmark multi-year funding agreement was reached by the Scottish Government and COSLA in April 2018 to fully fund the expansion.
Funded ELC is available to all 3 and 4 year olds, irrespective of their parents' employment status, and to around a quarter of 2 year olds - those that evidence suggests will benefit most from early access to high quality ELC. Eligibility criteria target this early offer to children with experience of care or with a parent with experience of care; and those in families in receipt of no or low income benefits. The long-term outcomes of this investment are that: children's development improves and the attainment gap narrows; family wellbeing improves through enhanced nurture and support; and parents' opportunities to take up work, training or study increase.
Publication of a new Air Quality Strategy which aims to reduce health inequalities across vulnerable groups, including children
Over the last 50 years, air quality in Scotland has seen a significant overall improvement. The choking smogs of the 1950s are a thing of the past, driven by concerted action, especially on energy use, industry and transport. Air quality in Scotland's towns and cities is improving year on year, but there are still areas across the country where air quality standards for human and environmental health are not being met. Road transport in urban areas remains the significant contributor to poor air quality. Air pollution especially impacts on the more vulnerable members of society – the very young and the elderly or those with existing health conditions such as asthma, respiratory and heart disease. This makes air quality an important health inequalities issue.
Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 – Towards a Better Place for Everyone, published in July 2021, sets out the air quality policy framework in Scotland to 2026 and contains around 70 actions which are designed to deliver further air pollution reductions and improved health outcomes for Scotland's children and wider society.
The passage of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, will increase the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from 8 to 12 years.
The increase in the age of criminal responsibility (ACR) from 8 to 12 years old by way of full implementation of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 will mean that Scotland has the highest minimum age of criminal responsibility within the four UK nations, reflecting this Government's progressive commitment to international human rights standards.
The Act requires the Scottish Ministers to carry out a review within 3 years of the commencement of section 1 of the Act (which will increase the ACR to 12 years old). The review will evaluate the operation of the Act in general as well as giving consideration to a future ACR. Evaluation of the Act will ensure that operational learning and experience about how the legislation and associated change programme operates for the under-12 age group can be taken into account as part of the overall consideration of a future higher ACR in Scotland.
The launch of a national advocacy service to reinforce the rights of children involved in the Children's Hearings System
A national advocacy service to reinforce the rights of children involved in the Children's Hearings System was launched in November 2020. The demand-led service, means children and young people will be offered support to express their needs and views on decisions that affect their lives. From July 2021, the provision was expanded to also support the right of siblings to participate in Children's Hearings, where they are invited to give their views on when or how they want to see their brothers or sisters. The national scheme was backed by an initial £1.5 million, and increased to £1.8 million in 2021-22. A Children's Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference group was set up to support the design, delivery and implementation of the service, which is offered Scotland-wide by ten third sector providers. The funding supports the training and provision of advocacy workers.
Enhanced use of pre-recorded evidence helps avoid the need for child witnesses in serious cases to face the trauma of giving evidence in court
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in May 2019. Following certain provisions in the Act coming into force in January 2020, child witnesses in some of the most serious criminal cases can have their evidence pre-recorded, avoiding the trauma of them having to give evidence in court during the trial. The exception to this is if it is shown that this would significantly prejudice the interests of justice in the individual case.
The enhanced use of pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses has been backed by Scottish Government funding, as has the establishment of a new evidence and hearings suite in Glasgow, specifically designed for the needs of children and other vulnerable witnesses, enabling evidence to be taken in a safe and secure environment. The evidence suite in Glasgow and the one planned within the Inverness Justice Centre, showcase what can be achieved for vulnerable witnesses through using high quality video recording equipment. Further work is also being undertaken in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
The work of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, and a commitment to introduce a new Human Rights Bill
In March 2021, the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership published 30 progressive, bold and ambitious recommendations for a new human rights framework for Scotland.
The Scottish Government has accepted all of these recommendations, and as part of taking these forward, a new multi-treaty Human Rights Bill will be introduced this parliamentary session. The Bill will give effect in Scots law to a wide range of internationally recognised human rights - belonging to everyone in Scotland - as far as possible within devolved competence. This builds on the ongoing work to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law, which, as part of our wider agenda of giving effect to human rights in Scotland, contributes to building momentum to see internationally recognised human rights being made directly justiciable in Scots law. The Programme for Government 2021-22 announced a commitment to consult on the Bill in the coming year. This Bill will demonstrate global human rights leadership, placing Scotland at the forefront of human rights legislation and, most importantly, practice.
Further information on other initiatives taken forward in support of children's rights within the reporting period is provided in the Annex to this Report.