Protecting Scotland's children and young people: it is still everyone's job

Review of various child protection systems and organisations in Scotland.

Executive Summary


On 25th February 2016, the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance MSP, announced a National Child Protection Improvement Programme for Scotland ( CPIP). This programme includes existing commitments on child sexual exploitation; child trafficking; and internet safety, along with a number of new areas of work. These include: a review of practice in the Children's Hearings System; agreeing steps to promote and support leadership; refreshing the role of inspection agencies; improving data and evidence; agreeing further action to address the impact of neglect on children and young people; and a review looking at how the child protection system currently works and what could be improved across Scotland. [1]

The Review Group

A Child Protection Systems Review Group was established with representation from a wide range of professionals with child protection expertise at a national and local level, and independently chaired by Catherine Dyer (Former Crown Agent and Chief Executive of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service). The Review Group was asked by Ministers to look at the operation of the formal child protection system - including Child Protection Committees, Child Protection Registers and case conferences, and Initial and Significant Case Reviews - and to recommend what changes or improvements might be needed to these underpinning processes and structures in order to protect children and young people more effectively.

At each stage of the process, Review Group members consulted via their organisations and networks and provided written and/or oral feedback. Over forty written consultation responses were analysed as part of the review process; alongside attendance at various strategic meetings and visits to services supporting children and families.


The Review concluded that when children or young people are identified as being at risk of or subject to significant harm then the child protection system in Scotland works well and that the components that the Group were asked to review are capable of delivering the support needed for these vulnerable children and young people.

The issues the system deals with are complex and sensitive. With new risks emerging and legislation and practice changing, those working in the system are constantly assessing how risks can be mitigated and improvements delivered. The Review identified three overarching and cross-cutting themes as critical to continuing to improve processes and structures in order to protect children and young people more effectively: Leadership, Governance and Accountability; Developing a Learning Culture; and Shared Values.

Leadership, Governance and Accountability

Leadership is a critical factor in creating a system with effective processes and culture to ensure children are protected from abuse and neglect. Child protection work necessarily requires input and collaborative working from thousands of staff across multiple organisations. Although referred to as a child protection 'system' it consists of a number of organisations with distinct core functions and with very different boundaries, resources, governance and accountability routes. Child Protection Committees, the local inter-agency strategic partnership for child protection, are often required to address issues which are common to their counterparts in other parts of the country. There is a need for greater coordination to strengthen and support practice, reduce duplication of effort and deliver greater consistency across the country. The Review recommends the establishment of a National Child Protection Leadership Group to support this. The Leadership Group should identify work needed to support Chief Officers to strengthen delivery of their responsibilities and there should be regional leadership events for Chief Officers Groups and Chairs of Child Protection Committees.

There is no single national collation point regarding details of children and young people who have been or are currently on a Child Protection Register. This means that professionals can find it difficult to obtain information urgently on children and young people who have moved across local authority boundaries and may have been on a Register elsewhere. The Review recommends exploring the viability of a National Child Protection Register.

The Review considered how child protection processes are used with 16 and 17 year olds and concluded that there was a lack of consistency and some ambiguity. The very limited circumstances in which 16 and 17 year olds can be referred to the Children's Reporter for use of compulsory measures means that there are challenges in the interaction of the child protection system and the Children's Hearings System. The Review recommends that work should be done to clarify these issues and to strengthen alignment for children of all ages where child protection processes interact with the Children's Hearings System.

Developing a Learning Culture

Working with children who are at risk of significant harm and their families is complex and challenging and the Review reinforced the importance of a continuous learning approach. The Review recommends that the new Leadership Group, along with Child Protection Committees Scotland, should support a continuous improvement approach and that the Scottish Government should develop a strategic programme to develop robust data sets to support this.

The Review looked in particular at current approaches to Initial ( ICRs) and Significant Case Reviews ( SCRs), with a focus on how learning from these reviews is shared and implemented. The Care Inspectorate currently receive copies of all SCRs and the Review recommends that their role be extended to act as a central repository for all ICRs as well, and that the Care Inspectorate should explore development of a 'Community of Practice' portal to support better sharing of learning. The Review also recommends that the Scottish Government should explore a new tiered approach to, and methodology for, Initial Case Reviews and Significant Case Reviews, based on the 'Child Practice Review' three level model used in Wales, which would help get learning into the system faster. Work should also be undertaken to develop a set of national standards setting out skills and competences for those undertaking reviews.

Shared Values

The overarching theme of shared values emerged in relation to children and young people, families and the workforce. The Review identified local examples of good practice in involving children and young people in child protection processes but that this was not consistent or widespread. The Review recommends that the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland should be invited to work with partners to develop a programme of work to understand children's experiences of formal child protection systems in Scotland. The Review recognised the importance of ensuring that children, parents and wider families are part of the decision-making processes and that there are a range of approaches that can be used in child protection processes to support parental and wider family participation. It is recommended that Child Protection Committees should explore a range of approaches to Child Protection Case Conferences that are underpinned by a strengths-based ethos.


Email: Judith Ainsley

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