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

Review of various child protection systems and organisations in Scotland.

6. Shared Values

Supporting Children and Young People

6.1. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) 1989 requires states to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and mistreatment (Article 19) and protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation (Article 34). The Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) approach is underpinned by early intervention and supporting families at times of difficulty. This applies to children from birth to eighteen years old. Children and young people can experience abuse and neglect at any stage of their childhood or find themselves in harmful situations and governments must take a preventative approach, alongside providing support for those children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

6.2. Research indicates that the majority of abuse and neglect of children occurs within families (Gilbert et al., 2009). For some children and young people, physical, sexual and emotional abuse occurs out with the family; for example, by an adult in a position of trust known to the child or young person (such as a teacher, nursery worker, youth worker, cleric, residential worker), a person within the community and, to a lesser extent, 'stranger' abuse. There is an increasing awareness about children or young people who are being sexually exploited and abused via the internet. Child protection concerns are also about those who have been abused through human trafficking. In a minority of children and young people's experiences, abuse can be inflicted by another child, rather than an adult.

6.3. International research estimates that disabled children face a three to four-fold increased risk of abuse compared to their non-disabled peers (Jones et al., 2012; Sullivan and Knutson, 2000). Yet little is known about disabled children's experiences of formal child protection processes and it is imperative to make the child protection system more accessible and sensitive to disabled children's needs (Stalker et al., 2010; Taylor et al., 2015).

6.4. There has been little attention focused on children and young people's experiences of formal child protection processes in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom (Action for Children et al., 2010; Bruce, 2014; Cossar et al., 2011; Elsley et al., 2013). As highlighted in the Munro Review of Child Protection in England,

'Children and young people are a key source of information about their lives and the impact any problems are having on them in the specific culture and values of their family. It is therefore puzzling that the evidence shows that children are not being adequately included in child protection work' (Munro, 2011:25).

6.5. In a small-scale Scottish qualitative study, eleven children and young people (six aged between twelve and fifteen years, five aged sixteen years or over) were interviewed about their experiences of the child protection system in one Scottish local authority (Woolfson et al., 2010). Their recommendations for improving the child protection system included: involving children and young people more in the decision making process; ensuring that outcomes which were initially agreed between the authorities and young people should either be carried out or explanations given as to why this will not occur; allowing young people an opportunity to attend, or to be represented, at Child Protection Case Conferences; providing full information throughout the child protection process; and encouraging families to have greater involvement in decision making.

6.6. The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland is explicit about the involvement of children in child protection processes:

'Children should be helped to understand how child protection procedures work, how they can be involved and how they can contribute to decisions about their future. This may be supported by accessing advocacy services. Taking into account the age and maturity of the child or young person, they will often have a clear perception of what needs to be done to ensure their own safety and wellbeing. Children should be listened to at every stage of the child protection process and given appropriate information about the decisions being made (Scottish Government, 2014:92).'

6.7. Children and young people should be provided with information about the child protection processes to ensure they understand the procedures and have opportunities to participate in the process. There were strong messages from some Review Group members, and organisations supporting children and young people in advocacy roles, that current practice of involving children and young people in child protection processes was not consistent or widespread and could be improved. Local examples of good practice in involving children were shared with this Review; but these varied across different areas and did not include information in a range of formats for younger children, for children and young people whose first language was not English, or those children with a range of communication needs. Development of a series of national resources could avoid repetition and duplication of effort for local areas and support the sharing of innovative practice.

6.8. There has been growing interest in the use of Family Group Conferences and the 'Signs of Safety' approach where a child has been identified as being at risk of significant harm (see Bunn, 2013; Frost et al. 2014; Salveron et al., 2015). These approaches have been explored primarily by local authorities either 'in house' or as a commissioned third sector service. A minority of local authorities have an independent advocacy service for children (aged 5 to 16 years old) involved in child protection meetings. In these examples, skilled and sensitive workers support children via careful preparation to express their views in person, at meetings via their advocate, in written form or more user-friendly technology (such as creating a short video and sometimes by the child or young person being represented by an 'avatar' character).

6.9. The role of the Chairperson at the Case Conference is critical in creating a positive and supportive environment for a child to participate. These meetings can be upsetting or distressing for a child or young person, especially if they are unprepared and unsupported. Where children did not attend in person, positive examples were given of the impact on professionals and family members of sharing a video made by the child expressing their views or the simple use of a photograph of the child being shown throughout the meeting to ensure that everybody stays focused on the needs of the child.

6.10. The provision of advocacy for children and young people involved in child protection processes is limited. There was no information seen by the Review Group suggesting consistent provision of independent advocacy for very young children or young people over the age of 16. A Strengthening Families Conference model has been piloted in England which uses a strengths based, outcome focused, approach underpinned by the child's or young person's right to participate (Aldridge, 2012). As the model evolved, a shift from 'opt in' to 'opt out' independent advocacy service for children was provided. To date, the Review Group is unaware of this complete model being used in Scotland, although there was reference to different components being implemented in some locations. Another model described is the use of a 'child buddy' system for child protection where a person who is already known and trusted by the child or young person is supported to take on an advocacy role where there are child protection meetings. One of the advantages of this approach is the on-going supportive relationship the adult has with the child or young person.

Working with Families

6.11. The Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) approach is underpinned by providing the right help, at the right time from the right people to children, young people and their families from birth to eighteen years old. Families and communities are the fundamental foundation of providing the everyday care for children. All families can face unexpected challenges and circumstances can change quickly; for example, a child may become at risk of significant harm due to the behaviour of a parent's new partner or an adolescent's risk-taking behaviour may become a serious cause for concern.

6.12. Work with parents and carers needs to be underpinned by a partnership approach using the National GIRFEC Practice Model where resilience, as well as vulnerabilities, in families is identified and supported. The participation of parents in child protection processes can be framed by a wider discourse on service user participation, alongside a recognition that 'active parental involvement in intervention is more likely to lead to better outcomes for children at risk of abuse and/or neglect' (Jackson et al., 2016:2). However, it is recognised that there is a balance in supporting the involvement of families, whilst meeting the duty of care to protect children from abuse and neglect.

6.13. A small-scale qualitative study with twelve parents subject to statutory child protection intervention measures was conducted in one Scottish local authority. Initial Child Protection Case Conferences were experienced as 'distressing, intimidating, humiliating, frightening and disempowering' for parents and expressing their views was very difficult (Jackson et al., 2016:12). However,

'Parents were generally complimentary about their social workers and other professionals they worked with on an individual basis and often made a point of highlighting it was the process of a case conference that was problematic and not the individual professionals in attendance' (Jackson et al., 2016:13).

This study concludes, 'there was consensus amongst parents that professional intervention had ultimately been a good thing that had 'made a difference' (ibid.:14).

6.14. There are a range of approaches that can be used in child protection processes to support parental and wider family participation. There is international evidence that many families can engage positively in family decision making processes where there are child welfare concerns (Frost et al., 2014). Originating in New Zealand, the Family Group Conference model ( FGC) consists of four distinct parts: preparation with the family; information giving stage at the start of the conference; private family time to develop a plan; sharing the plan with the co-ordinator and professionals for agreement. Increasingly there is recognition that a further step may be required for the family group to reconvene to discuss progress on implementing the plan at a later stage. The quality of the independent coordinator in mediating with family members is considered to be critical to the success of the FGC process. Whilst acknowledging that more research is required to demonstrate the outcomes of children involved in FGC, the authors conclude that the evidence of participation is compelling:

'Studies of the experience of children and families using the FGC model suggest that FGC is a family-centred and strengths-based approach that promotes partnership between family and State, and can consequently act as an empowering process' (Frost et al., 2014:506).

6.15. One Western Australia model 'Signs of Safety'© aims to work collaboratively and in partnership with families and children to conduct risk assessments and produce action plans for increasing safety and reducing risk and danger by focusing on strengths, resources and networks that the family have. The approach is based on the use of Strength Based interview techniques, and draws upon techniques from Solution Focused Brief therapy ( SFBT). There is no set time frame for the intervention. There is an ongoing evaluation of Signs of Safety approach in England (Bunn, 2013). A six year study on the implementation of Signs of Safety found a cultural shift in the ways in which child protection services were provided (Salveron, et al., 2015).

6.16. The views of parents and carers should always be recorded and taken into account, as stated in the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014). Provision of independent advocacy for parents with learning disabilities should always be considered (where available). Good Practice Guidelines have been developed in collaboration with parents with learning disabilities who have experienced child protection processes as additional support is required to ensure parents can fairly participate in an often complex bureaucratic process (Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability, 2015).

6.17. The involvement of families in Significant and Initial Case Reviews requires careful ethical consideration in many instances. This is a particularly difficult and distressing time for families. In cases of child fatalities, there is likely to be high levels of media interest, political scrutiny and in some instances, criminal investigation. The reviewer needs clarity of purpose and sensitivity in approach when engaging with families. There were mixed views on families' experiences of this process and no known research conducted in Scotland. The Care Inspectorate review (2016) noted an increase in families being asked to be involved in SCRs and this being recorded in over half of all cases. International models for child death reviews rarely involve families and Scotland and the rest of the UK are unique in promoting the involvement of children and families regarding individual cases (Vincent, 2013). The Review Group considered that Scotland should be critically reflective about the value for families participating in these individual processes and the wider impact on learning.

6.18.The publication of SCRs does not usually take place but publication of Executive Summaries with recommendations does take place in some cases and that can be highly distressing for families. In some circumstances, examples were given where SCRs were concluded well over a year after the event and the publication reignited media interest and intrusion into their lives. There were examples where this was particularly distressing for other children involved in the case. In many cases, families could be easily identified due to associated court proceedings or local community knowledge.

Strengthening and Valuing Front-line Professional Practice

6.19. Starting with For Scotland's Children: Better Integrated Children's services (Scottish Executive, 2001), there has been continuous striving for more effective and integrated services to improve outcomes for children. There was a significant shift in the recognition that everybody had a responsibility for protecting children after the publication of 'It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright': Report of the Child Protection Audit and Review' (Scottish Executive, 2002) and the subsequent reform programme. These steps have supported the ethos and value-base for the national approach to improving outcomes for children, Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC). There is widespread recognition that what is needed is a whole system approach and professionals cannot work in silos when they must have a shared aspiration to improve outcomes for all children and young people.

6.20. Collective decision-making is a critical factor in supporting professionals when protecting children. This is demonstrated in the value of Child Protection Case Conferences where a group of professionals decide to place a child or young person on a Child Protection Register and thus instigate a Child Protection Plan. In cases where the risk of harm is posed within families, the professional judgement in assessing parental capacity to change within a timescale that does not have a detrimental outcome of a child's development requires a highly-skilled professional workforce (Ward et al., 2014). In working together, families often recognise that many professionals (and often wider family members) had shared concerns that a child was at risk of significant harm. A child or young person and family are supported by a Core Group of those professionals who are involved in delivering the support outlined in the Child Protection Plan. However the Review Group observed that in some instances, committed participation in Case Conference Review meetings and Core Group meetings of all professionals who had been at the Initial Case Conference had not happened.

6.21.The Revisiting Child Protection in Scotland programme, led by Professor Vivien Cree and Dr Fiona Morrison at the University of Edinburgh, has developed excellent resources for social work practitioners to communicate with children in their everyday practice (see Talking and Listening to Children website for more details and access to free resources). Based on ethnographic research, the study highlighted the critical importance of the quality of the relationships children and young people have with their social workers and importance of value-based practice based on honesty, reliability and consistency (Morrison, 2016). The research also highlighted the need for social work offices to become 'child-friendly' spaces allowing for opportunities for children and social workers (and child protection professionals) to communicate in a comfortable and confidential setting.

6.22.Developing and sustaining trusting relationships with children, young people and families is critical in supporting families where change is needed to protect children and young people. The Child Protection Plan has to have clear agreed actions for a programme of work. The volume and complexity of caseloads for front-line professionals requires good management as excessive workload can impact on their ability to develop good quality relationship-based practice.

6.23.The personal and professional anxiety for staff involved in SCRs and ICRs was recognised by the Review Group. The lengthy timescales of some reviews added to uncertainty; however, much depends on how frontline staff are engaged and consulted with throughout the process. In some circumstances, frontline staff are involved in multiple concurrent processes. As highlighted in section 4.11, given the issues raised regarding local and national learning, variability and timescales the Review Group recommends the Scottish Government should explore a new three tiered approach to Initial Case Reviews and Significant Case Reviews, based on the ' Multi-Agency Child Practice Reviews' used in Wales (Welsh Government, 2012; see Appendix F for more information). This would involve establishing: multi-agency professional forums, concise reviews and extended reviews. It is anticipated that this approach would deliver a more streamlined, flexible and proportionate approach to reviewing and learning from what are inevitably complex cases.

Recommendations on Shared Values

Recommendation 11

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. This work should include the further development of accessible tools and information directly for children to support their participation in decision-making and events held to support front-line practitioners working with children. This work should include the development of a Good Practice Advocacy Guide for child protection.

Recommendation 12

Child Protection Committees should ensure children, parents and wider families are part of the decision-making processes and explore a range of strengths-based participatory approaches to Child Protection Case Conferences to achieve this.

Chief Officers, Heads of Service and senior management should support front-line professionals to participate in all stages of Case Conferences, Core Group meetings and Children's Hearings.


Email: Judith Ainsley

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