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

Review of various child protection systems and organisations in Scotland.

4. Leadership, Governance and Accountability

Sharing a Vision for Protecting Children and Young People

4.1. Leadership is a critical factor in creating a system with effective processes and culture to ensure children and young people are protected from abuse and neglect. To deliver the shared aspiration for Scotland to be a safe place for children, in their families and communities, there needs to be action at a local and national level and a strong collective voice that can be heard by children, young people and adults that the abuse or neglect of a child or young person in twenty-first century Scotland is not acceptable. This responsibility is shared by the public and all authorities; so far as public bodies and relevant agencies are concerned, all have obligations under their regulatory frameworks and professional codes of practice to protect children and young people.

4.2. The Scottish Government and Scottish Ministers demonstrate their leadership role by communicating their commitment to protect children and young people and by driving forward improvements in child protection policy and practice to better meet the needs of children and young people at risk of abuse and neglect. Scottish Ministers should continue to strongly support the GIRFEC approach in ensuring children, young people and families are provided with the right help, at the right time from the right people. The importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of the risks of harm and social disadvantage is reflected through national social policy agendas (for example, Equally Safe, Equally Well, Scottish Attainment Challenge, Early Years Collaborative). In a critical leadership role, the Scottish Government and Scottish Ministers are required to ensure that policy agendas are connected across Government to deliver synergy of vision for children and young people across the policy landscape.

4.3. Scottish Ministers and public bodies have a duty to report every three years to Parliament on the steps taken to support the UNCRC under Part One: Rights of Children in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and will need to include information on the steps they have taken to protect children and young people from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and mistreatment (Article 19) and protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation (Article 34).

4.4. There is always a balance to be struck between delivery of services to meet local needs and achieving desired national outcomes. This aspiration requires a strong national voice of those professionals involved to promote better understanding of common issues and pursue solutions collaboratively. From the inception of the Scottish Parliament there have been a number of reviews and consultations which have involved representatives from the organisations involved in child protection. As noted in the introduction, if it is to be successful, child protection work necessarily requires input and collaborative working from thousands of staff across multiple organisations at strategic and several managerial levels in order to properly support those involved in front line casework. Although referred to as 'a system' it consists of a number of organisations with distinct core functions and with very different boundaries, resources, governance and accountability routes. For example, Police Scotland and the NHS are key contributors to the system. Both are national bodies but deliver locally through 13 Police Divisions and 14 Health Boards which are not coterminous. There are 32 Local Authorities and 30 Child Protection Committees. Third sector services, which provide support for many Child Plans, vary considerably across Scotland. The complexity of this delivery and resourcing landscape adds further dimensions of challenge to front line professionals already dealing with some of the most sensitive issues while striving to achieve the best outcomes for each individual child and young person in need of protection.

4.5. Child Protection Committees at a local level are often required to address issues which are common to their counterparts in other locations. The Review Group has observed this can cause significant duplication of effort, as well as a lack of consistency, both of which, in some instances, can affect the quality of work delivered. Greater coordination to strengthen and support practice across the country, such as provision of nationally developed training materials, access to expert reviewers who have the competencies required to deliver high quality Significant Case Reviews, common data and management information sets could better support Child Protection Committees to facilitate improved effectiveness. Agreement around common styles of reporting on the adequacy and effectiveness of arrangements to protect children and young people locally; sharing of learning and good practice across all relevant organisations and locations; providing materials to all CPCs so that they are at the forefront of understanding current and new risks to children and young people in Scotland; and coordination of national campaigns aimed at raising public awareness around how to keep children and young people safe and what to do if there is a concern are further examples of work which could benefit from a sector-led collaborative approach. In addition to achieving greater consistency this should also free up resources currently engaged in actions which are duplicated across local authorities and the other organisations to increase the resources available to them for other areas of child protection work.

4.6. The introduction of a body, such as a National Child Protection Leadership Group with senior leadership representation from the organisations which have responsibilities for scrutiny and delivery of child protection, could assist the whole sector by providing national strategic oversight and mechanisms for improvement across Scotland. It could own a programme of continuous improvement while at the same time ensure that the impact of any proposed policy changes was properly understood and taken into account before changes were pursued. It would provide a united and visible point of contact for policy makers and public sector organisations with other responsibilities to make sure any changes in legislation or service provision take into account the needs of, and impact on, child protection matters. For example, the Leadership Group could work with the Care Inspectorate, Child Protection Committees Scotland and the Child Death Review National Resource Centres which are currently being developed, to identify themes and develop national public awareness campaigns to prevent deaths and significant harm in the future. Scottish Ministers should define the membership and chairing arrangements of the Leadership Group and attend an annual meeting to receive progress reports. Secretariat support from the Scottish Government could assist in the administration of the meetings. This would demonstrate a commitment to ensuring consistency, where that was appropriate, and promote a learning culture across all organisations involved in child protection, at all levels.

4.7. A strong and coherent vision at a local level is essential to ensure that children are protected now and in the future. Clear leadership from Chief Officers' Groups, comprising of Local Police Commanders and Chief Executives of Health Boards and Local Authorities, play a vital role in ensuring high standards of child protection and support in their area. Chief Operating Officers for the Integration Joint Boards (where in existence) also have a key role. In the light of the changing structures and environment in which CPCs and Chief Officers are operating, CPC Chairpersons and Chief Officers need effective governance and scrutiny mechanisms. Defined roles and relationships are critical in proactively promoting the importance of child protection in the crowded landscape. Child Protection Committees need to be supported and also held to account by Chief Officers' Groups and elected members.

4.8. The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014) describes the core role and functions of Child Protection Committees. There needs to be an environment to enable these functions to be fulfilled by all partners and clear articulation of how Child Protection Committees and Chief Officers' Groups interact with other strategic bodies to meet their core functions in relation to Child Protection.

4.9. Strong leadership and vision requires the Chairperson and all members of Child Protection Committees to have a clear role and remit. To be effective, the CPC must have committed membership from the local representatives at a strategic level and sufficiently senior to commit the organisation to action from across health, education, social care, police, relevant service providers and the third sector. It is critical that every member understands their role on the CPC. This is particularly important due to the level of structural changes within health and social care (Audit Scotland, 2016). The CPC should be open to learning and development opportunities. This should involve a regular review of membership and a sign up to a collectively agreed direction of travel.

4.10. The Chairperson of a Child Protection Committee has a critical role and clear responsibility for the vision and aspirations around protecting children and young people in their local area. The Review Group recognised that a crucial skill is the ability to challenge and influence partners, Chief Officers and elected members. While CPC chairs may have different backgrounds (some are recruited externally, whilst others are professional officers of the Local Authority or professional officers of another Community Planning Partner e.g. Police), the Review Group considers that the focus should be on the qualities of each individual Chairperson and CPC member, relative to a clear job description and person specification. To improve quality and consistency of these two documents, national standards could be developed. Furthermore, supporting national standards could include a requirement to participate in national meetings and learning events provided by Child Protection Committees Scotland and others.

4.11. The Chief Social Work Officer ( CSWO) has a key professional leadership role in local authorities and beyond. The overall objective of the CSWO is to ensure the provision of effective, professional advice to local authorities, including elected members and officers, regarding the authorities' provision of social work services. The post should assist the authority in understanding the complexities of social work service delivery - including in relation to particular issues such as corporate parenting, child protection, adult protection and the management of high risk offenders - and also the key role social work plays in contributing to the achievement of national and local outcomes. The Audit Scotland (2016) Social Work in Scotland report highlights the CSWO role requires attention and protection at a time of significant structural change.

Legislative Framework

4.12. There is no legislative expression of the role and function of Child Protection Committees in Scotland. CPCs duties include planning services to safeguard, support and promote the wellbeing of children and young people. For example, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (section 19) is revised by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 which outlines the duties and planning arrangements that should be in place for children's services and partners (from 1 st April 2017). Under the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 (section 42), Adult Protection Committees have been placed on a statutory footing. In a minority of areas, there has been integration of Adult Protection Committees and Child Protection Committees or appointment of a joint chair.

4.13. In England and Wales, Local Safeguarding Children's Boards were placed on a statutory footing in response to the previous non-statutory Area Child Protection Committees being deemed to have performed poorly in some areas and research suggesting their lack of statutory power had limited their effectiveness. However, the Wood Review found that 'the duty to cooperate is not a sufficient vehicle to bring about effective collaboration between the key agencies of health, the police and local government' (Wood, 2016:7). The Review Group noted that while legislation can be used to reinforce the structures, and in some instances the processes, to be used nationwide, legislation alone does not provide solutions to the issues caused by cultural and organisational barriers and that such solutions are needed to deliver improved effectiveness and consistency.

4.14. A number of recent reports have considered the strengths of and potential challenges to the child protection system in Scotland, given overall governance takes place in such a complex landscape (Brock 2014; Care Inspectorate 2014a, 2014b, 2015a). Child Protection Committees should have strong connections to other public protection fora; for example, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA), Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, Violence against women forums. Brock highlighted issues caused by the 'current sprawling landscape of policies, guidance, funding streams and initiatives' for planning children's services and 'how the replication 32 times at Community Planning Partnership ( CPP) level will present inevitable challenges, particularly with overlay of local policy and operational and protocols' (Brock 2014:13). Brock's recommendations specific to Child Protection Committees include the need for the Scottish Government, Chief Officers and Child Protection Committees to review the impact of Health and Social Care Integration and for Child Protection Committees to set out proposals in their annual reports to raise community awareness of their work. There is recognition that legislation, policy and planning processes can be confusing, especially with health and social care integration leading to different structural and governance arrangements (Audit Scotland, 2016).

4.15. The Review Group identified the need to strengthen alignment in the child protection processes interacting with the Children's Hearings System. Some variations in when children and young people were referred to the Reporter were apparent, particularly given that the placing on the Register indicates significant concern in terms which could lead to compulsory measures being required. There were examples of children and young people having been placed on the Register more than once before being referred to the Children's Reporter. The group considered that a discussion with the Reporter about a potential referral should form part of the action prior to a decision at a Case Conference and the reasoning behind any decision not to refer the child or young person to the Reporter should be clearly recorded if that was the outcome of the Case Conference.

4.16. Children and young people placed on the Child Protection Register are considered to be at risk of significant harm and require a Child Protection Plan. Each of the 13 Divisions in Police Scotland has a 'Concern Hub' where officers report information about concerns they have identified suggesting a child, young person or adult is vulnerable and at risk of harm. The Hub places this information onto the national Vulnerable Persons Database ( VPD). This is then used to ensure that officers attending incidents or receiving reports from members of the public are aware of the previous history involving the vulnerable individual which may have been dealt with by other officers and can alert officers to relationships which may give rise to concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable individual which require further investigation or a referral to the Children's Reporter. The majority of referrals to the Reporter originate from situations where police officers come across circumstances where they consider a child or young person is at risk.

4.17. The Review Group noted that there is no single collation point regarding details of children and young people who have been or are currently on a Child Protection Register. Each Local Authority has a 'Keeper of the Register' and makes arrangements for an 'out of hours' service to respond to enquiries from relevant professionals in other organisations as to whether or not a child or young person is on that Register. 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. Therefore, there is an opportunity to explore the viability of a National Child Protection Register that can be securely accessed by all appropriate professionals. In the short term, it should be ascertained whether it is possible for Police Scotland to use a flagging system on the National Vulnerable Persons Database to identify all children placed on local Child Protection Registers.

4.18. Children can be placed on a Child Protection Register pre-birth up to the age of eighteen. However, many contributors to the Review felt that there was a lack of clarity regarding whether 16 and 17 year olds could be placed on a Child Protection Register. The Care Inspectorate (2016) triennial review of Significant Case Reviews included six fatalities of young people aged between 15 and 17 years old. The Review Group considered it particularly concerning that there appeared to be some legal ambiguities. There were different regional practices in whether 16 and 17 year olds could be provided with adult protection plans; in addition the adult processes available were described as having higher thresholds of risk.

4.19. A young person aged between 16 and 18 years old cannot be subject to compulsory supervision measures (unless they are a looked after child and have previously been subject to Compulsory Supervision Order prior to their 16 th birthday). The Review Group considered that the Scottish Government should review and address the legal inconsistencies in current systems when protecting 16 and 17 year olds.

4.20. The Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016 [2] makes provision for the holding of public inquiries in Scotland with respect to fatal accidents; deaths of persons in legal custody; sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths; and deaths occurring in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Fatal Accident Inquiries ( FAIs) are inquiries conducted in public before a Sheriff when children die in custody or where the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service decide an Inquiry is in the public interest. In some instances full information regarding the whole circumstances may have been examined at a criminal trial or any relevant recommendations for consideration of professionals issued as a result of other official proceedings, such as a Critical Incident Review commissioned by the NHS. If Crown Counsel considers that there is nothing further which needs to be explored in the public interest, or require a specific determination to be sought by the Crown from a Sheriff, then they will not instruct a FAI.

4.21. The Review Group identified a lack of clarity about whether SCRs could be conducted when fatalities investigations, Fatal Accident Inquiries or criminal proceedings were ongoing. A Crown Office, Police Scotland and Child Protection Committees protocol had been developed in 2014 to avoid any unnecessary delays to SCRs where potential court proceedings were being considered. The protocol between the Crown Office, Police Scotland and Child Protection Committees on SCRs and criminal proceedings is being reviewed and will be further publicised in order to reduce delays in SCRs being concluded.

Raising the Quality Bar

4.22. The Care Inspectorate (2014a) described a ' mixed picture' in relation to the arrangements for leading and delivering effective services to protect children and young people. The report considered key themes including leadership and direction through Child Protection Committees, child sexual exploitation and initiatives in the sector. Chief Officers' Groups and Child Protection Committees were described as ' continuing to make significant strides in improving the quality of services' and themes relevant to the most effective Committees were highlighted, including:

  • Effective leadership, solid partnership working and active, energetic working groups progressing key priority areas.
  • Independent chairs and new structures have the potential to bring new perspectives and opportunities.
  • Sound quality assurance systems adopted, with performance jointly monitored across relevant services and systematic approaches to joint self-evaluation.
  • Results from quality improvement used to inform priorities and reinforce a collective commitment to meeting them.
  • Good quality quantitative and qualitative data used for measuring and reporting on progress against agreed priorities.
  • Strong links between the work of Child Protection Committees and integrated children's services planning.

4.23. The Care Inspectorate (2014a) report outlined their role in future work with Child Protection Committees, this included:

  • Help develop a set of proxy indicators of improved outcomes for children in need of protection across the wellbeing indicators.
  • Support the development of sound performance management information about the quality and effectiveness of key processes.
  • Promote joint reporting about public protection by Child and Adult Protection Committees and encourage committees to consider how best to report on their business plans, standards and the quality of their performance.
  • Support and challenge Child Protection Committees to consider why there are very low numbers of children and young people being placed on the Child Protection Register because they are at risk of sexual abuse.
  • Monitor the impact of changing structures and re-organisation on strategic partnerships for public protection.

4.24. The work of the Care Inspectorate has provided valuable national and local learning opportunities to strengthen frontline practice, alongside strategic developments. There is a strong commitment to self-improvement approaches and appreciative inquiry to support professional practice at all levels. There is a growing body of evidence from inspection reports and reviews to build on and support improvements to child protection practices and policy across Scotland (Care Inspectorate, 2014a; 2014b; 2015a; 2015b; 2016).

Recommendations on Leadership, Governance and Accountability

Recommendation 1

A National Child Protection Leadership Group should be established in order to further support, strengthen and improve, from a national perspective, activity on child protection across Scotland. This group should report and account to Scottish Ministers.

Key tasks of the Leadership Group in Year 1 should be:

  • Oversight of implementation of the recommendations of this report
  • Review of the arrangements for child protection across current planning and service delivery processes, including Integration Joint Boards ( IJB) and in relation to the duties set out in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Recommendation 2

Chief Officers should be supported by the National Child Protection Leadership Group and Child Protection Committees Scotland to strengthen delivery of their responsibilities, as set out in the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014), and to identify areas where further work may be required, such as:

  • Clarity of reporting mechanisms between Child Protection Committees and Chief Officers' Groups
  • Descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of Child Protection Committees (including that of Chairs of CPC's) and Chief Officers' Groups
  • Supporting Child Protection Committees to carry out their roles and functions in line with the requirements set out in National Guidance.

Chief Officers should pro-actively engage with and report to elected members and other local scrutiny bodies as the local representatives of their communities and provide opportunities to listen to community concerns and hold learning events at a local level.

The Scottish Government should resource a number of regional leadership events via the Leadership Group for all Chief Officers' Groups and Chairpersons of Child Protection Committees to network, share good practice and collectively horizon scan for new risks facing children and young people.

Recommendation 3

It is critical that the Chief Executive of each local authority, working with the Chief Officers' Group, ensures that Chief Social Work Officers have sufficient support to provide professional leadership, advice and scrutiny across all public protection matters (including child protection) given their key statutory responsibilities within the local authority.

Recommendation 4

The Scottish Government should review both the measures available to protect 16 and 17 year olds and whether the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 should be amended to allow any young person aged 16 and 17 years old to be referred to the Principal Reporter where there is a need for compulsory measures.

Recommendation 5

When a Child Protection Case Conference is held, whether or not a child is placed on the Child Protection Register and at any subsequent points when the child protection plan is reviewed, a referral to the Reporter should be considered and the decision on referral should be clearly recorded.

Recommendation 6

The development of a National Child Protection Register that can be securely accessed by all appropriate professionals should be explored. In the short term, it should be ascertained whether it is possible for Police Scotland to use a flagging system on the National Police Vulnerable Persons Database to identify all children placed on a local Child Protection Register.


Email: Judith Ainsley

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