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Registers of child welfare reporters, curators ad litem and solicitors appointed when an individual is prohibited from conducting their own case: consultation analysis

This report provides an analysis of the consultation responses to the consultation on the registers of child welfare reporters, curators ad litem and solicitors appointed when an individual is prohibited from conducting their own case. This relates to the Children (Scotland) Act 2020.


Register of Child Welfare Reporters

21. This section of the consultation focused on child welfare reporters and sought views on:

  • Who should operate and manage the register of child welfare reporters.
  • The process for including someone on the register of child welfare reporters.
  • The reappointment process for child welfare reporters to the register.
  • Who would not be eligible to be included on the register of child welfare reporters.
  • How a child welfare reporter could be removed from the register.
  • The remuneration (fee rates) and expenses to be paid to child welfare reporters.
  • The requirements that a person must satisfy in order to be included on the register.
  • What ongoing training requirements there should be for child welfare reporters.
  • How a child welfare reporter would be selected from the register.
  • What a child friendly complaints mechanism should look like.

Operation and management of the register

22. The consultation paper explained that currently, child welfare reporters are appointed from lists held by each Sheriff Principal for cases heard in the sheriff court and by the Lord President for child welfare reporters appointed in cases in the Court of Session. The 2020 Act gives the Scottish Ministers the power to make provision in regulations for, or in connection with, the operation and management of the register.

23. The Scottish Government considers that a centralised (i.e. national) register of child welfare reporters is the best way to ensure that there is consistency across Scotland in terms of the appointment process, complaints procedure and training requirements. Question 1 of the consultation asked:

Q1: ‘Who should provide the operation and management of the register of child welfare reporters?

(a) The Scottish Government

(b) The Scottish Government should contract this out to a third party

(c) This should be run by the SCTS on a national level

(d) Another option

(e) Don’t know

24. As illustrated in table 3, there was no consensus as to which approach to adopt in terms of the operation and management of the register of child welfare reporters. The option with the highest level of support was to contract out (23 respondents across all sub-groups); followed by SCTS (19 respondents, mostly those in the legal sector and individuals); the Scottish Government (14 respondents, almost all individuals); finally, another option (15 respondents, mostly those in the legal and third sectors, and individuals).

Table 3: Q1: Who should provide the operation and management of the register of child welfare reporters?
Number
SG Contract out SCTS Another Don’t know
Legal (11) - 1 6 4 -
Local authority (3) - 2 1 - -
NHS (2) - 2 - - -
Public body (4) - 1 - 1 2
Representative body (5) - 4 - 1 -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 1 5 - 3 5
Other (1) - - - - 1
Total organisations (40) 1 (3%) 15 (38%) 7 (18%) 9 (23%) 8 (20%)
Individuals (44) 13 (30%) 8 (18%) 12 (27%) 6 (14%) 5 (11%)
Total respondents (84) 14 (17%) 23 (27%) 19 (23%) 15 (18%) 13 (15%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

25. Respondents were then asked to explain why they selected their answer; the following paragraphs outline reasons given for each of the options.

The Scottish Government

26. A total of nine respondents provided reasons as to why they would like the Scottish Government to operate and manage the register of child welfare reporters; these were mostly individuals. The only reason given by more than one respondent focused on a need for an organisation that is independent of the legal sector and can offer impartiality and consistency.

27. Other reasons, cited by only single respondents, included that the Scottish Government would be bound by strict rules and governance, that it is the most appropriate body to carry out these duties, that it should be directly accountable and that responsibility for monitoring would be with the Scottish Government, so it would simplify the process if they also managed the register. Finally, that this should be kept in-house to ensure the register is effective and aligns with the intentions and purpose of the “Children’s Act”.

The Scottish Government should contract this out to a third party

28. A total of 23 respondents opted to provide additional commentary providing reasons on their support for this option. The key theme, albeit only from a minority of respondents, was that this approach has worked well with the safeguarders register. Utilising the same approach for a child welfare reporters’ register would offer consistency in standards, access to training and help keep the costs of administration and management of the register at a reduced level.

29. A significant minority of respondents made suggestions as to which organisation(s) should manage this contract; suggestions were varied and included:

  • Children 1st (who currently manage the safeguarders register).
  • SSSC.
  • SLAB.
  • Care Inspectorate.
  • Law Society of Scotland.
  • The Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration.
  • One of the larger voluntary agencies operating in the children and families area or an organisation that has expertise in children’s rights, children’s participation and family conflict or organisations that are child friendly and have experience of child trauma.

30. A small number of respondents noted that contracting this out to a third party would ensure consistency across Scotland in terms of the appointment process, training requirements and a complaints procedure.

31. A small number of individuals felt this should be contracted out so that it is totally independent of government.

32. A small number of respondents noted further advantages to contracting this out; these included:

  • Bringing specialist expertise and independence to the management and oversight of the register.
  • Delivering best value for money.

33. A few respondents raised issues or concerns about this approach, including:

  • Any organisation appointed would have to demonstrate knowledge and expertise of child welfare, social work and the law; and would need to be transparent and accountable.
  • It would be essential that anyone appointed would have professional qualifications, experience and the appropriate level of seniority in child welfare.
  • The proposed timescale of 2022 is too optimistic.
  • The organisation appointed might lack understanding of the workings of Scottish courts.
  • The current localised approach avoids delays to reports.
  • There could be considerable costs in setting up a new body; or that there would be a need to ensure that contracting out to the third party is not too costly or bureaucratic.
  • Concerns over how effective Children 1st has been in operating and managing the safeguarders’ register.

The SCTS on a national level

34. A total of 20 respondents provided commentary as to their preference for SCTS to manage and operate the register of child welfare reporters. The key reason was that they have experience of doing this, already carry this out on a satisfactory basis, and already have working knowledge of what is required and of the framework within which reporters act. Conversely, a small number of respondents commented that they did not support this option as it would place to much additional pressure on SCTS.

35. A small number of respondents also commented that local sheriff clerks have an in-depth knowledge of suitable appointees and could report to the SCTS and that sheriffs appointing child welfare reporters have knowledge of the individuals on their register and this approach would offer them the discretion to identify and appoint the reporter best suited to a specific case.

Another option

36. To an extent, other options suggested by respondents tended to be a hybrid of the previous three options. For example, to be managed by SCTS but with input from local sheriffdoms; or SCTS managing the register and providing oversight and assurances with local lists to ensure flexibility and access to the most appropriate court welfare reporter; or central management of the register by the court service but with each sheriffdom having its own lists of approved child welfare reporters.

37. Again, there were some comments on the need for the register to be managed by an independent body at arms-length from the government, and offering consistency of service and accountability with robust reporting mechanisms.

38. A very small number of respondents supported a continuation of the current situation with the Sheriff Principal discharging this function.

Process for including an individual on the register

39. The consultation paper explained that the Scottish Government would anticipate that advertisement for the role of child welfare reporter would take place in 2022 and would be subject to any regulations setting out eligibility requirements being made and coming into force. Individuals would complete an application form which would be sifted on an anonymous basis and those who pass may then be interviewed to assess their suitability for inclusion on the register.

40. The length of appointment varies in other areas. Safeguarders are appointed for three years and the Scottish Government considers a three year appointment period to be appropriate for child welfare reporters. Child welfare reporters would have to demonstrate that they continue to have the relevant skills and experience and reappointment would not be automatic; the expectation is that they would be subject to an annual appraisal which would be taken into account when considering whether an individual should be reappointed.

41. Question 2 of the consultation asked:

Q2: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for including an individual on the register of child welfare reporters?’

42. As table 4 shows, a majority of respondents, across all sub-groups, agreed with the proposed process for including an individual on the register of child welfare reporters. The only disagreement from organisations came from third sector / advocacy organisations.

Table 4: Q2: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for including an individual on the register of child welfare reporters?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 8 - 3
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 2 - -
Public body (4) - - 4
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 7 4 3
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 26 (65%) 4 (10%) 10 (25%)
Individuals (44) 35 (80%) 5 (11%) 4 (9%)
Total respondents (84) 61 (73%) 9 (11%) 14 (17%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

43. Respondents were then asked to give reasons for this answer, and 62 did so, a few of whom simply noted that this seems reasonable and proportionate.

44. Of those who agreed with this proposal, the two key reasons given were that there is a need for annual performance appraisal as these can help to support practice development and consistent high standards and shows evidence of a commitment to CPD; and that ongoing training is imperative.

45. A few respondents also noted a need for consistency and transparency to ensure the process is open and that criteria for appointment are clearly set out.

46. A small number of respondents felt that the appointment of child welfare reporters should be by Scottish Ministers to ensure independence of operation. A similar number also commented that child welfare reporters should be allowed to report outwith their own area, with an NHS organisation giving the example of care experienced children and young people for whom specialist expertise and experience will be required.

47. A few respondents felt that current safeguarders should be given opportunities for appointment to the child welfare reporters list, with one suggestion that these individuals could be fast tracked, and another that they are already subject to monitoring and review and could be considered for automatic inclusion on the register.

48. The proposed three year appointment system was supported by a small number of respondents.

49. A few respondents commented on the criteria and / or required experience to be appointed as a child welfare reporter, with comment of a need for agreed criteria for all appointments. There were a few suggestions for specific qualifications and / or experience that would be needed, including family work experience, to have been qualified for a minimum of 10 years, or to have training in trauma informed practice as well as experience of working with children. There were a very small number of suggestions that there may need to be training provided on abuse and trauma.

50. There were also a very small number of suggestions that regulation of the register provides a good opportunity to diversify the skillset and professional background of those applying to the role.

51. A minority of respondents noted concerns. These included queries as to how the transition between the current system and the new register will be set up and managed; and who would be responsible for undertaking appraisals. There was disagreement over whether existing child welfare reporters should be automatically included in the register, and a local authority noted that a lot of solicitors currently practising as child welfare reporters will no longer meet required standards.

52. Only seven respondents who disagreed with this proposed process for including an individual on the register of child welfare reporters commented; and most comments were only made by one respondent.

53. The next question asked:

Q3: ‘Do you agree / disagree that child welfare reporters should be included on the register for a three year period?’

54. As table 5 demonstrates, of those answering this question, a majority of respondents agreed that child welfare reporters should be included on the register for a three year period. Disagreement from organisations came primarily from those in the legal and third sector / advocacy organisations.

Table 5: Q3: Do you agree / disagree that child welfare reporters should be included on the register for a three year period?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 6 4 1
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 2 - -
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 5 5 4
Other (1) - 1 -
Total organisations (40) 22 (55%) 10 (25%) 8 (20%)
Individuals (44) 30 (68%) 8 (18%) 6 (14%)
Total respondents (84) 52 (62%) 18 (21%) 14 (17%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

55. A total of 59 respondents opted to provide additional commentary in support of their initial response. A key theme from those who agreed with this was that a three year period seems reasonable, appropriate and suitable; that it allows for consistency, knowledge and competence to be maintained and supports transparency and scrutiny. Some respondents also commented that this works for safeguarders and / or that the register for child welfare reporters should be in line with that for safeguarders. A small number of respondents also noted this is in line with reaccreditation in other professions.

56. Some of those who agreed with this proposal raised issues such as how annual training would be monitored, whether there would be a capacity to remove an individual from the register if their performance is not to an acceptable level, and that the quality of their outputs and outcomes of cases also needs to be monitored. There were a small number of comments relating to the need for ongoing training and CPD and the importance of having annual appraisals.

57. Of the respondents who disagreed with this proposal, the key theme (primarily from legal organisations) was that three years is too short a time period, with a suggestion that five years is more appropriate and in line with the Law Society of Scotland’s accredited specialist review period.

58. The other two key themes, albeit only mentioned by a few respondents, was that reviews should be annual (mostly cited by individuals), and that a child welfare reporter should be removed from the register if they are not maintaining high professional standards (again, mostly from individuals).

59. Other comments, each made by two or less respondents included the need for a commitment to a minimum number of CPD hours each year, to be in line with other registered professions, as well as continuous support and monitoring on a regular basis. There was also a suggestion that employment contracts for child welfare reporters should be considered and that this approach does not offer the consistency and clarity that would be offered by a longer term employment contract.

60. Question 4 then went onto ask:

Q4: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed reappointment process for child welfare reporters?’

61. As shown in table 6, a majority of respondents were supportive of the proposed reappointment process.

Table 6: Q4: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed reappointment process for child welfare reporters?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 5 3 3
Local authority (3) 2 - 1
NHS (2) 2 - -
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 6 4 4
Other (1) - - 1
Total organisations (40) 21 (53%) 7 (18%) 12 (30%)
Individuals (44) 31 (70%) 6 (14%) 7 (16%)
Total respondents (84) 52 (62%) 13 (15%) 19 (23%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

62. A total of 53 respondents made additional comments in support of their initial response to this question.

63. Of those who agreed with the proposed reappointment process for child welfare reporters, the key themes were that there should be no automatic reappointment and that child welfare reporters need to demonstrate they are eligible for inclusion in the register; or that this allows for security and governance in relation to the appointment process. Once again, there were references by a few respondents that this should use the same approach as the safeguarding register.

64. A small number of respondents noted that this proposed approach is suitable provided the requirements of annual CPD are robust and outcomes are monitored, and that annual appraisals count towards reappointment, although there were a couple of suggestions for a mechanism to assess ongoing suitability rather than annual appraisals.

65. Of those who disagreed with the proposed reappointment process, the key theme was of a need for more detail and clarity on various elements of the process, including the complaints procedure, the proposed reappointment process, the production of reports and what else, other than the annual appraisal, should be considered during the reappointment process.

66. A few respondents noted provisos to this approach. Comments included the need to ensure the process is rigorous and robust, that there is a need for ongoing training, and any complaints that have been made against a child welfare reporter should be considered as part of the process.

67. References were also made to annual appraisals, with comments that these are too burdensome and that a detailed appraisal every five years would be more appropriate. One organisation in the legal sector suggested there should not be a full reappointment process every three years; rather there should be a three yearly scheme of revalidation, based on annual appraisals.

68. A small number of individuals commented that those involved in reappointing child welfare reporters should not be solicitors but others who have more child-related experience, expertise and qualifications.

Individuals not eligible to be included on the register

69. The consultation paper noted that certain individuals should not be eligible to be included on the register of child welfare reporters, to help ensure the safety of a child and to ensure all child welfare reporters are impartial and have no conflict of interest. Suggested exclusions included anyone who has been barred from regulated work with children by virtue of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 and anyone with a conflict of interest, for example, an individual employed by the SCTS or a member of the judiciary.

70. Question 5 then went onto ask:

Q5: ‘For each of the following categories of people, should they be ineligible for inclusion on the register of child welfare reporters?

  • An individual directly involved in the establishment, maintenance, operation or management of the register of child welfare reporters
  • An individual employed by the SCTS
  • A member of the judiciary
  • A member of the Scottish Government or a junior Scottish Minister
  • An individual barred from regulated work with children by virtue of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007

71. As shown in table 7, for each category they were asked to consider, a large number of respondents agreed rather than disagreed that those listed should be ineligible for inclusion on the register of child welfare reporters. Across each of these categories, it was mostly individuals who disagreed.

Table 7: Q5: For each of the following categories of people, should they be ineligible for inclusion on the register of child welfare reporters?
Yes No Don’t know
An individual directly involved in the establishment, maintenance, operation or management of the register of child welfare reporters 64 (76%) 11 (13%) 9 (11%)
An individual employed by the SCTS 58 (69%) 15 (18%) 11 (13%)
A member of the judiciary 60 (71%) 16 (19%) 8 (10%)
A member of the Scottish Government or junior Scottish Minister 61 (73%) 13 (15%) 10 (12%)
An individual barred from regulated work with children by virtue of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 65 (77%) 12 (14%) 7 (8%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

72. A total of 52 respondents provided commentary in support of their initial answer, many of which echoed points made in the consultation paper. A few of these respondents simply noted that the suggested exclusion categories are self-evident.

73. Three key themes emerged in responses. A significant minority noted the need to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. A similar number pointed out the need to consider the best interests of the child, the safety of the child and to consider protection issues and any risk or potential risk to children and young people. Linked to these two themes, the third key point related to the importance of independence, impartiality and objectiveness so that there can be trust in the process.

74. However, there were a few comments that individuals in some categories – primarily the judiciary – might be eligible depending on their role and responsibilities and that, providing all relevant criteria are met, their other work may be irrelevant to the role of a child welfare reporter. One public body respondent gave the example of an individual who is employed by SCTS,

“… there are a number of solicitors who at various times in their career may also act as Temporary or Summary Sheriffs. Whilst this work could represent a conflict of interest for them it should be possible for them to distinguish when a conflict of interest exists and still be able to work as a child welfare reporter when it does not. It may be that an additional risk assessment of potential conflict of interest would need to be completed but we are not convinced that this group of people should be ineligible.”

75. No respondents felt that anyone barred under the PVG scheme should be allowed to work with children.

76. Comments echoing those made at previous questions were made by a few respondents. These included the need to ensure all child welfare reporters are legally qualified, that they should be practitioners in family law work, that they need to be educated and trained in all relevant areas and that there should be a national body for oversight.

77. Question 6 then asked:

Q6: ‘Is there anyone else who should be ineligible for inclusion on the register of child welfare reporters?

78. A total of 44 respondents made additional comments and a wide range of suggestions emerged for additional individuals who should be ineligible for inclusion on the register of child welfare reporters. These included:

  • A social worker living in the area where the child lives; or who is employed by the local authority in which the child resides.
  • Any social worker or individual who is a serving social worker.
  • Any solicitor who practices family law and represents pursuers or defendants, as they will be used to viewing the process as confrontational.
  • Those who are not legally qualified or without a legal background.
  • Reporters to Children’s Hearings or Children’s Panel members, where there is a conflict of interest.
  • Serving police officers, where there is a conflict of interest.
  • Anyone subjected to a claim with their regulatory body, who has been sanctioned for misconduct or who has been removed from the register of their professional regulator.
  • Anyone barred from working with protected adults under PVG legislation.
  • Anyone without formally recognised qualifications, without relevant experience or without an understanding of domestic abuse.
  • Anyone within a political party or who has campaigned on family law related matters.
  • Anyone employed in the civil service or local government.
  • Anyone known to the family.

Removal of individuals from the register

79. The consultation paper noted that the 2020 Act gives the Scottish Ministers the power to lay down in regulations the process for removing someone from the register of child welfare reporters. The body appointed to operate and manage the register would have the power to remove someone from the register or suspend them while investigations are pending. If there were serious concerns about the conduct of a child welfare reporter, the Scottish Ministers may need to refer the matter to the reporter’s professional regulatory body and this may result in removal from the register, with an immediate end to their position as a child welfare reporter. A new reporter would be appointed to take over any cases and any of their reports being undertaken.

80. Question 7 asked:

Q7: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the approach proposed when an individual is removed from the register of child welfare reporters?

81. As shown in table 8, a large majority of respondents, across all sub-groups, agreed with the proposed approach when an individual is removed from the register of child welfare reporters.

Table 8: Q7: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed reappointment process for child welfare reporters?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 9 1 1
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 2 - -
Public body (4) - - 4
Representative body (5) 3 1 1
Third sector / advocacy (14) 7 3 4
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 25 (63%) 5 (13%) 10 (25%)
Individuals (44) 33 (75%) 5 (11%) 6 (14%)
Total respondents (84) 58 (69%) 10 (12%) 16 (19%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

82. A total of 52 respondents, across all sub-groups, provided additional commentary in support of their initial response. A number of these noted their agreement with some or all aspects of the approach proposed when an individual is removed from the register of child welfare reporters.

83. A key theme emerging from a significant minority of respondents was of the need for an approach that offers accountability, scrutiny and transparency; with a complaints process that is fair and transparent, an independent review and appeal process and a careful and robust process that has the appropriate procedural safeguards.

84. The issue of whether removal from this register should trigger removal from other registers was also noted by a number of respondents. Some commented that this should lead to automatic removal from other registers, while other respondents supported alerting other registers to the failings of a specific child welfare reporter to then take any action they deem important. Only one respondent (a representative body) felt that misconduct of a child welfare reporter should not lead to automatic removal from other registers. As noted by a respondent in the legal sector:

“The lack of cross-over between the three registers is of concern. It seems a curious position that a CWR could be removed from the register of CWR for “incompetence”, but that person may remain on the list of curators ad litem and / or solicitors available for appointment. It is unclear what the situation would be if a CWR was removed for conduct reasons.”

85. A few respondents noted concerns over the potential for vexatious complaints to be made, for example, that this could offer a route to aggrieved parties who do not like the report that has been produced. One of these respondents within the legal sector pointed to the need for checks and balances within the process to ascertain the basis of complaints. Allied to this point, a very small number of respondents within the legal sector noted that a child welfare reporter needs to have a right of reply.

86. There were a few calls for speedy investigations, with some concerns over the potential for delays in the light of removing a child welfare reporter from the register. There were comments that reports should be quickly reallocated to minimise the impact on children and their families. As noted by a respondent within the third sector / advocacy sub-group:

“[We] agree that it is important there are robust and swift methods in place to suspend or remove individuals from the CWR register where they do not meet the required standards. The proposed approach appears appropriate. We note the point that where a CWR is removed from the register while in the middle of a case this could cause disruption to a child’s timescales. While we understand that this is an unfortunate consequence of a necessary step to safeguard the best interests of the child involved, we would urge consideration of processes to expedite cases where this happens as much as possible to minimise delay and disruption for children and their families.”

87. Other issues raised by small numbers of respondents included a comment that if a new child welfare reporter needs to be appointed, the decision should be made by the judiciary who will know all local child welfare reporters in their area. A respondent noted that the register should be operated by the SCTS rather than the Scottish Government as they are better placed to determine if an individual should be removed from the register. There was comment on a lack of clarity over what is meant by a ‘reporter’s professional body’, particularly as not all appointees will be members of a professional body. There was also a query on information sharing between the body appointed to operate and manage the register, the SLCC and relevant professional bodies; and how the register would link into registers held by other professional bodies.

88. Finally, at this question, there were a very small number of comments as to when a child welfare reporter decides to be removed from the register, with suggestions that they should be able to rejoin at a later date or that they should not be removed immediately but have a period of notice where they can see out their cases.

Requirements an individual must satisfy to be included on the register

89. The consultation paper noted that one of the key aims of establishing a register of child welfare reporters is to ensure that all individuals on the register meet minimum standards; and that all those working as child welfare reporters have the specific skills needed to carry out the role. During the passage of the Bill, a number of suggestions for eligibility requirements were put forward, in terms of training, qualifications and experience across a number of different areas. These included:

  • Communicating with children including obtaining the views of children
  • Understanding domestic abuse, particularly the dynamic of coercive control
  • Report writing
  • Understanding the ways adults can influence a child
  • Understanding family conflict
  • Child development including learning disabilities
  • Understanding of child protection issues and the child protection system.

90. Question 8 asked:

Q8: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed requirements that a person must satisfy in order to be included on the register of child welfare reporters?

91. As shown in table 9, a large majority of respondents agreed with the proposed requirements that a person must satisfy in order to be included on the register of child welfare reporters.

Table 9: Q8: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed requirements that a person must satisfy in order to be included on the register of child welfare reporters?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 8 1 2
Local authority (3) 2 - 1
NHS (2) 1 - 1
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 4 1 -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 10 2 2
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 27 (68%) 4 (10%) 9 (23%)
Individuals (44) 31 (70%) 7 (16%) 6 (14%)
Total respondents (84) 58 (69%) 11 (13%) 15 (18%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

92. A total of 58 respondents, across all sub-groups, provided commentary in support of their initial answer; a significant number of whom noted that these are essential skills and experience to ensure the highest standards of reporting. That said, a few respondents qualified their response with some suggesting more information is needed on what is required by ‘relevant skills and experience’, and some suggesting that skills and expertise cannot be assumed or querying how levels of skills, experience and understanding will be assessed. One respondent from the third sector / advocacy sub-group commented that there will be a need to demonstrate skills through professional qualifications and courses attended, rather than via anecdotal evidence.

93. Another respondent in this sector noted that there is a need to seek more than just minimum standards, and to ensure that child welfare reporters have a high level of understanding, particularly in relation to the dynamics, causes and specific impact of domestic abuse on women, children and young people.

94. Some respondents made suggestions for the types of individual or profession that could be child welfare reporters, although there was little consistency on this issue. Small numbers of respondents suggested that child psychologists would be suitable and possess the necessary skills, although a respondent in the legal sector noted there are too few child psychologists available and that it would be useful to have a separate register for these when needed. There were a small number of references to the benefits of having a wide range of professions represented among child welfare reporters.

95. There was a single suggestion for a competently trained medical professional who understands about coercive control. A respondent in the legal sector noted that all child welfare reporters should be solicitors or advocates who have the requisite skills and that social workers should not be child welfare reporters.

96. To a large extent, a significant number of respondents pre-empted the subsequent question and identified a range of other skills that child welfare reporters should exhibit. These included:

  • An understanding of the court system and knowledge of court processes and the procedural aspects of child welfare court proceedings.
  • An understanding of parental alienation and to ensure the voice of the child is heard.
  • Ensure a lack of bias and a commitment to non-discriminatory practices and the promotion of equality of process.
  • An understanding of children’s rights, with a number of references to the UNCRC, GIRFEC, the guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice and the Common Core launched by the Scottish Government in 2021. As noted by a third sector / advocacy organisation:

“ …. it is not so much a matter of simply obtaining the views of children but ensuring children and young people are able to meaningfully exercise their right to participate and share their views (UNCRC Article 12).”

  • An understanding of childhood trauma and its presentations; and links to domestic abuse and coercive control and related attachment issues.
  • An understanding of intersectionality relating to gender, disability, sexuality, race / ethnicity and so on.
  • A capacity to write clear reports with recommendations supported by factual findings and demonstrating an understanding of the legal framework, although there were a couple of comments that the ability to write reports could be covered in training.

97. The next question asked:

Q9: ‘Are there any other requirements that a person must satisfy in order to be included on the register of child welfare reporters?

98. 52 respondents provided comments in response to this question, many of which echoed points made at the previous question.

99. Knowledge and experience of the court procedure was outlined by a number of respondents, across all sub-groups, along with an understanding of family law.

100. A number of respondents – primarily individuals – made reference to training and qualifications they felt should be required. These included degree level qualifications and / or unspecified but ongoing annual training, or a minimum of five years PQE (Post Qualified Experience) before a solicitor can be appointed to a register, or a minimum of three to five years PQE for anyone from another profession. There were also a small number of specific references to qualifications in social work, psychology and child development.

101. A number of respondents – all organisations – referred to an understanding of the rights of the child in the context of UNCRC and GIRFEC. There were also some references to the need to demonstrate a good understanding on the ways in which a child can be influenced or coerced, and to have an understanding of the ways in which children can express their views as well as good communication skills with children and adults.

102. Other references were made to intersectionality and the need for knowledge on different cultural systems, diversity, faith, gender, sexuality and so on; an understanding of risk issues such as mental health, substance misuse, addictions and emotional wellbeing; and of parental alienation. There was also reference to trauma informed practice, as distinct from domestic abuse. There was also reference to the need for an ability to analyse information, form conclusions and make evidence-based recommendations, as well as a capacity to produce well written and informed reports and being able to offer empathy, impartiality, integrity and sound judgement. A small number of respondents also referred to a variety of other skills including record keeping, IT skills and a knowledge of data protection.

Existing child welfare reporters

103. There are understood to be approximately 400 child welfare reporters in Scotland appointed across the six sheriffdoms and the Court of Session. Currently, existing child welfare reporters are on lists held by each Sheriff Principal and the Court of Session; each using different criteria. The Scottish Government considers that existing child welfare reporters would have to apply to be on the new register so that everyone meets the same minimum standards. Question 10 asked:

Q10: ‘Do you agree / disagree that existing child welfare reporters have to apply to be on the new register?

104. As shown in table 10, a large majority of those answering this question agreed that existing child welfare reporters have to apply to be on the new register. Most of those who disagreed were individuals.

Table 10: Q10: Do you agree / disagree that existing child welfare reporters have to apply to be on the new register?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 8 1 2
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 1 - 1
Public body (4) - - 4
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 13 - 1
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 31 (78%) 1 (3%) 8 (20%)
Individuals (44) 32 (73%) 9 (20%) 3 (7%)
Total respondents (84) 63 (75%) 10 (12%) 11 (13%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

105. A total of 62 respondents then provided commentary in support of their initial response.

106. A key theme to emerge, cited by a significant minority of respondents across all sub-groups, was of a need for all child welfare reporters to be subject to the same criteria, regardless of previous appointments or experience. As noted by a representative body:

“In principle it would be better if all members of an organisation were subject to the same appointment requirements and had an understanding of and an agreement to the same obligations and responsibilities. This would provide a common platform of appointment and expectation.”

107. The need for all child welfare reporters to be of the same high standard and working to the same principles and requirements was another common theme across respondents. Allied to this, there were a few comments of the need for consistency in child welfare reporters across Scotland.

108. There were a few comments that the calibre of existing child welfare reporters varies considerably across Scotland and having to apply for re-appointment would ensure all work to the same minimum standards. As commented on by a respondent in the other sub-group:

“… whilst many reporters work well, there are those who are either unwilling or indeed hostile to making any statements in their reports to the court of domestic abuse. This undermines confidence in the civil process and has longer term implications for the child(ren) who are required to attend contact with an abusive parent. To simply roll forward current reporters would be to undermine credibility of the proposed reform and changes set out.”

109. A few respondents outlined advantages that the proposed application scheme would introduce. These included:

  • Will mean transparency and accountability.
  • This will ensure a more diverse range of individuals can be included on the register.
  • This offers a rights-based approach.

110. Suggestions for an alternative application process were made by a few respondents, with comments that existing child welfare reporters should be ‘fast-tracked’ or prioritised and / or exempted from pre-appointment training where they can demonstrate they meet the required standards; for example, by looking at a sample of recent reports. This approach was also felt to enable any additional training needs to be identified.

111. Given similarities between child welfare reporters and safeguarders, there were also a small number of suggestions that existing safeguarders applying to be child welfare reporters should also be fast-tracked and prioritised.

112. There were also small number of comments that existing child welfare reporters should undergo some minimum training requirements prior to being included on the register, or that there might be a need for a CPD programme to bring them up to standard within the necessary timeframe.

113. Of those respondents who disagreed with the proposed approach, the key reasons, albeit each was cited by a small number of respondents, were that this process could alienate some existing child welfare reporters and this could lose relevant experience; that all existing child welfare reporters are highly experienced and have already demonstrated they have the required skills and experience; or simply that previous experience should be sufficient.

114. Furthermore, a small number of respondents noted that current child welfare reporters are appointed by sheriffs who would not appoint these individuals if they did not exhibit the necessary skills and experience.

115. Other comments, each made by only one or two respondents, included that child welfare reporters and safeguarders should come under the same administration. It was also felt there may need to be a focused recruitment drive to recruit new child welfare reporters if many existing child welfare reporters do not reapply to be appointed to the register. One respondent noted that:

“Consideration should be given to transitional / savings provisions as appointments under the existing system will be in place when the 2020 Act provisions are commenced.”

Ongoing training requirements for child welfare reporters

116. The consultation paper noted that the Scottish Government would expect anyone who is included on the register of child welfare reporters to undergo regular training to ensure they are aware of the latest understanding in key areas. Training would be commissioned by the body appointed to operate and manage the register. A number of specific training areas were outlined. These were:

  • The role of the child welfare reporter
  • Communicating with children, including obtaining the views of the child and providing explanations of decisions to a child
  • Understanding domestic abuse, particularly the dynamic of coercive control
  • Report writing
  • Understanding the ways adults can influence a child
  • Child development including learning disabilities
  • Child protection issues

117. Attending a certain number of training days would be mandatory and this has been estimated at four days paid training a year. If a child welfare reporter does not attend the required number of training days, they could be in breach of their terms and conditions and could be recommended for removal from the register.

118. Question 11 asked:

Q11: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed training requirements for child welfare reporters?

119. As shown in table 11, a large number of those responding, across all sub-groups, agreed with the proposed training requirements for child welfare reporters.

Table 11: Q11: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed training requirements for child welfare reporters?
Number
Agree Disagree Don’t know
Legal (11) 9 1 1
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 1 - 1
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 9 3 2
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 29 (73%) 4 (10%) 7 (18%)
Individuals (44) 31 (70%) 9 (20%) 4 (9%)
Total respondents (84) 60 (71%) 13 (15%) 11 (13%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

120. A total of 63 respondents provided commentary supporting their initial response, a number of whom noted the importance of training for consistency of approach across Scotland and to ensure standards are met by all child welfare reporters. A few of these respondents referred specifically to the importance of ongoing training so as to ensure skills, expertise and knowledge can be kept up-to-date and ensure that all child welfare reporters have the required skillset. There were also a small number of references to the need for training to be of high quality.

121. A few respondents pre-empted the following question by commenting on the proposed number of training days per year, with most commenting that 4 days per annum is excessive. There were a small number of suggestions that where individuals currently have to undertake a specified number of CPD hours per year, that these should contribute to the required annual training for child welfare reporters.

122. There were a small number of comments that more detail and clarity is required, in terms of content and format.

123. Many of the respondents answering this question focused on areas of training they felt were necessary for child welfare reporters, often echoing points made in earlier questions. These areas included:

  • Communication, not just with children and young people, but also adults, including those who may be vulnerable, disabled, dysfunctional and so on.
  • An understanding of court procedures and basic law governing the types of work undertaken by child welfare reporters; and an understanding of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
  • An understanding of the importance of relationships with other family members such as siblings or grandparents, and friends.
  • Data protection / data security.
  • Addictions / substance use and recovery.
  • Mental health training and emotional wellbeing.
  • Children’s rights, again with reference to UNCRC.
  • Understanding conflict.
  • Child psychology and development; and attachment theory.
  • Interviewing skills; ensuring that child welfare reporters know how to encourage children to express their views in a variety of different ways.
  • Trauma and its impact.
  • Domestic abuse and coercive control.
  • Parental alienation.

124. Some respondents – all organisations across different sub-groups – made suggestions for the delivery and structure of training, with suggestions that training and support needs to be flexible and tailored to meet the range of skills and expertise already held by a child welfare reporter. There were some comments of the need to adopt a modular approach and to use a range of different delivery channels including online sessions and interactive sessions. That said, a small number of respondents noted that there should be exemptions to avoid duplication of delivery; the example given was for a child welfare reporter who is also a safeguarder or curator ad litem.

125. The phrase ‘understanding the ways adults can influence a child’ was commented on by a few respondents, with a request for clarity on what this means and one respondent asked for this to be removed.

126. Question 12 then asked:

Q12: ‘Is four days of paid training per year for child welfare reporters appropriate?

127. As shown in table 12, a significant minority of respondents (25) felt that four days of paid training per year is appropriate. However, slightly more (29) wanted to see more days of training per year, compared to 13 who felt fewer days would suffice.

Table 12: Q12: Is four days of paid training per year for child welfare reporters appropriate?
Number
Yes No, few days No, more days Don’t know
Legal (11) 4 4 1 2
Local authority (3) 3 - - -
NHS (2) 1 - 1 -
Public body (4) - - - 4
Representative body (5) - 2 2 1
Third sector / advocacy (14) 3 - 8 3
Other (1) 1 - - -
Total organisations (40) 12 (30%) 6 (15%) 12 (30%) 10 (25%)
Individuals (44) 13 (30%) 7 (16%) 17 (39%) 7 (16%)
Total respondents (84) 25 (30%) 13 (15%) 29 (35%) 17 (20%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

128. Of those respondents who felt that four days of paid training per year for child welfare reporters was appropriate, the key themes – although each was only mentioned by a small number of respondents – were that four days is reasonable or sufficient, although two respondents in the legal sector noted the proviso that CPD from other recognised organisations should be accepted within the requirements of training for child welfare reporters. Another proviso noted was that the training needs to be of high quality and effective and cover all requirements.

129. Of the respondents who felt that more days of paid training per year would be needed, the key theme – and mentioned by a significant number of these respondents – was simply that four days will not be enough to cover the required levels and amounts of training. There were also a small number of references to the need for ongoing training; and some references to different formats the training could take such as online and face-to-face.

130. Of the respondents who felt that four days is too long a period of time, comments tended to focus on the existing experience and expertise of child welfare reporters and that while four days of training may be needed for new child welfare reporters, that it would be excessive for those who are already child welfare reporters. There were a few suggestions for how much training would be required, although there was no agreement as to what this should be; it ranged from one day to three days.

131. Of those who answered ‘don’t know’ to this question, the key comments were of a need for more detail or that it would depend on what training a child welfare reporter already has.

132. Across all respondents there were a few suggestions that relevant professional CPD should count towards the training for child welfare reporters. There were also a couple of references to safeguarding and that it is relatively common for safeguarders not to turn up to training sessions.

Fee rates for child welfare reporters

133. The consultation paper noted that currently child welfare reporter fees are paid by either the parties in a case themselves or by SLAB if the parties are eligible for legal aid. Once the register of child welfare reporters is operational, this cost would be met through the body appointed to operate and manage the register. Table 6 of the Financial Memorandum which was published when the Children (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament provided some estimated costs, and the Scottish Government would expect to set fee rates to ensure consistency of remuneration. The consultation paper set out a range of options for consideration, namely either an hourly rate, a per page rate for the report, or another way.

134. Question 13 asked:

Q13: ‘How should fee rates for child welfare reporters be applied?

135. As shown in table 13, a majority of respondents who answered this question supported an hourly rate, although a significant minority felt that another option would be preferable.

Table 13: Q13: How should fee rates for child welfare reporters be applied?
Number
Hourly Rate Per page Rate Another Way Don’t know
Legal (11) 5 1 3 2
Local authority (3) 3 - - -
NHS (2) 1 - 1 -
Public body (4) - - - 4
Representative body (5) 1 - 3 1
Third sector / advocacy (14) 8 - 2 4
Other (1) 1 - - -
Total organisations (40) 19 (48%) 1 (3%) 9 (23%) 11 (28%)
Individuals (44) 22 (50%) 1 (2%) 13 (30%) 8 (18%)
Total respondents (84) 41 (49%) 2 (2%) 22 (26%) 19 (23%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

Preferences for an hourly rate

136. The key comment made by a significant number of respondents was that the work involved can vary from case to case and can be of varying complexity, with different inputs in terms of time and resources, so an hourly rate best reflects the work that has to be undertaken. As an organisation in the third sector / advocacy sub-group noted:

“[We] believes strongly that listening to children properly is a process not an event. Child Welfare Reporters should be prepared to take time to get to know children when listening to their views; and to see children in environments they feel comfortable and confident in. This takes time. Staff in organisations who do see children over a period of time in the specific context of family life and parent conflict (such as contact centre staff) are important facilitators of this process. To achieve all of this takes time (input) and the output (number of pages) is a poor measure.”

137. Other comments relating to the payment of an hourly rate, each made by a small number of respondents, included:

  • This the most appropriate / viable option.
  • It will ensure there is no incentive to write excessively long reports.
  • Applying a flat rate would encourage a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
  • The current rate paid by SLAB of £130 per hour is acceptable and works well.
  • Provides a clear fee mechanism which is flexible.
  • The total amount paid should be capped or graded, with a minimum and maximum fee which can be negotiated in particularly complex cases.

138. A few respondents made comments not directly related to the payment of an hourly rate. There were a small number of suggestions for internal reviewing of the quality of reports and oversight of reports to ensure consistency in quality and to ensure that claims made are not excessive. A small number of respondents also referred to the current disparity in pay between child welfare reporters and safeguarders, and noted both should be paid at the same rate.

Preferences for a per page rate

139. Only a very small number of respondents supported this approach. A respondent in the legal sector felt that what is useful to the court is the report, although there could be an increase in the rate in complex cases; an individual suggested that a reporting template should be used which would ensure reports contain only relevant and required information.

Suggestions for another approach

140. The key suggestion, albeit only made by a minority of respondents, was for a combination of an hourly rate and page rates for reports, which would be similar to the current system operated by SLAB, where there is the potential to apply for further sanction from SLAB to exceed the £3,000 fee limit in complex cases. A small number of respondents also noted that the current SLAB fee of £3,000 is reasonable and appropriate and easy to understand. A few individuals commented that payment on a per case basis would be preferred, although it was felt there could be exceptions depending on the complexity of a specific case. There were a small number of suggestions for child welfare reporters to be salaried staff, which would negate the need to have any form of rate. Once again, there were also a small number of comments that the pay of safeguarders should be in line with that of child welfare reporters. Other options outlined included:

  • A basic cost ceiling.
  • A day rate, based on an eight hour day.
  • A stepped payment scale to reflect the complexity of needs.
  • An agreement on hours at the outset, based on an estimation, and then reviewed on completion of the report.

Expenses for child welfare reporters

141. The Scottish Government expects that child welfare reporters would only be able to claim actual expenses and allowances incurred while carrying out child welfare reporter work. There is an expectation that child welfare reporters will seek value for money in terms of travel expenses. Question 14 asked:

Q14: ‘Do you have any comments on the proposed policy in relation to expenses for child welfare reporters?

142. 37 respondents opted to answer this question and the key theme was agreement with the proposed policy. This approach was described in various ways including being reasonable, acceptable, appropriate for this role and in line with other working practices. There were also a few comments on the need for oversight so as to ensure transparency and accountability, that all claims should be checked and that child welfare reporters should provide receipts or evidence for all expenses claimed.

143. A small number of respondents noted a preference for the current approach and wanted to see a continuation of this approach.

144. Other points raised by respondents included that some allowances outlined in the consultation paper are not enough – for example, hotel overnight rates - and there should be provision for exceptional expenses to be paid. There was also comment that the approach should follow HMRC rules on claiming expenses or expenses should be offered at the same rate as the Scottish Government or the civil service. There was reference to child welfare reporters being expected to use public transport for travel where possible.

How a court would appoint a child welfare reporter

145. The Scottish Government’s preferred approach is that when a court orders a child welfare reporter to be appointed, the clerk of the court will contact the body appointed to operate and manage the register. The body would then select the next child welfare reporter from the register who is willing to work in the specific geographic location. Child welfare reporters should have enough training in all relevant areas to not require a specialist in a particular area to be appointed. This may be a more transparent approach.

146. An alternative could be that the court could also, if it wished, specify areas it would expect the child welfare reporter to have expertise in.

147. Question 15 asked:

Q15: ‘When a child welfare reporter is selected, should this be:

  • The next person on the register
  • A person with specific areas of expertise requested by the court
  • Through another system

148. As shown in table 14, more respondents (38) supported the selection of a child welfare reporter based on specific expertise than supported the child welfare reporter next on the register (16). That said, a significant minority suggested another system should be adopted.

Table 14: Q15: How should a child welfare reporter be selected?
Number
Next on register Person with specific expertise Another system Don’t know
Legal (11) 2 4 5 -
Local authority (3) 1 1 1 -
NHS (2) 1 - 1 -
Public body (4) 1 - 1 2
Representative body (5) 2 1 1 1
Third sector / advocacy (14) - 6 6 2
Other (1) - 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 7 (18%) 13 (33%) 15 (38%) 5 (13%)
Individuals (44) 9 (20%) 25 (57%) 9 (20%) 1 (2%)
Total respondents (84) 16 (19%) 38 (45%) 24 (29%) 6 (7%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

149. While most respondents noted a preference for a specific approach to be adopted, many referred to the need for any system to focus on the needs of children and young people, as well as offering a degree of flexibility. Furthermore, there were also comments that it is not realistic to expect or assume that all child welfare reporters will have uniform knowledge and expertise.

Preferences for the next person on the register

150. Of the respondents citing this option as their preference, a key reason was that this would be equitable and fair and that all child welfare reporters should have a minimum level of competence and be guided by approved procedures. Another key reason was that the current system is unfair and well-known reporters are more likely to be appointed as they are known by other solicitors or sheriffs. That said, there were a small number of comments that this approach still needs to offer a degree of flexibility, for example, when a child welfare reporter needs to be of a specific gender. A very small number of respondents also felt this approach would make the selection process more transparent.

151. However, some provisos were outlined by respondents, with some suggestions that there may be cases where it will be necessary for sheriffs to request a specific individual because of their specific expertise or that there will be some cases where the local knowledge of a sheriff means that they are best placed to appoint an alternative child welfare reporter, rather than the next person on the register.

152. Very small numbers of respondents also commented that child welfare reporters should be able to specify geographic areas where they are prepared to work and that there is a need to consider location and likely travel time and that non-productive travel time should be restricted. Finally, very small numbers of respondents also noted that all child welfare reporters will have the same training and all should be able to carry out the necessary work on any specific case.

Preferences for a person with specific expertise requested by the court

153. The key reason – and cited by a majority of those with a preference for this option – was that choice of child welfare reporter needs to be matched with knowledge and expertise. Linked to this, a few respondents noted that courts should have absolute discretion to choose a reporter, as they know the reporters in their area.

154. Although a few respondents – mostly third sector / advocacy organisations – noted that all child welfare reporters should have the same knowledge, they still noted that there will be some cases where there will be a need for specialist expertise or that a court may need to call upon a child psychologist, for example.

Preferences for through another system

155. The highest number of respondents noting a preference for this approach commented that a combination of the next on the register (referred to as the traffic light system by some) and a person with specific expertise requested by the court would be most appropriate. Again, there were some comments that sheriffs are best placed to decide who to appoint to a specific case; or that there will be occasions when matching the most appropriate expertise to a specific case will be the most important factor in the decision-making process. As noted by an organisation in the legal sector:

“It is the obligation of the judiciary to act in the best interests of a child in every case and to that end, they must retain discretion to appoint the CWR who is most appropriate for the case.”

Child welfare reporter providing recommendations in reports

156. The instructions to child welfare reporters which were published as a result of the working group on child welfare reporters suggested that the report should include recommendations. One option is for the court to ask the child welfare reporter to provide recommendations on what is in the best interests of the child, although this could be seen as influencing the court when the child welfare reporter might not have access to all the information held by the court. Question 16 asked:

Q16: ‘Should a child welfare reporter provide recommendations on what is in the best interests of the child in their report?

157. As shown in table 16, a majority of respondents answering this question felt a child welfare reporter should provide recommendations on what is in the best interests of the child in their report.

Table 15: Q16: Should a child welfare reporter provide recommendations on what is in the best interests of the child in their report?
Number
Yes No Don’t know
Legal (11) 6 3 2
Local authority (3) 1 2 -
NHS (2) 1 1 -
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 5 - -
Third sector / advocacy (14) 6 6 2
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (40) 21 (53%) 12 (30%) 7 (18%)
Individuals (44) 31 (70%) 6 (14%) 7 (16%)
Total respondents (84) 52 (62%) 18 (21%) 14 (17%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

158. A total of 67 respondents answered this question. Many of those who agreed that a child welfare reporter should provide recommendations on what is in the best interests of the child in their report, felt that recommendations are an important part of the report and that child welfare reporters should be providing them, albeit that a sheriff can disregard these if they so choose. Allied to this, a small number of respondents felt that the limitations of the reporter’s remit should be made clear in the report.

159. There were also a few comments that the whole system needs to operate in the best interests of the child and that this fits with the UNCRC Article 3 – the best interest principle.

160. However, while there was a degree of support for recommendations to be provided, a number of respondents noted that there will be times where a child welfare reporter has a restricted remit in which recommendations are not required. As noted by a respondent in the legal sector:

“The function of a child welfare reporter is to assist the decision maker. The decision maker sets out in the form what the child welfare reporter is asked to do to assist the court and that should be complied with. Sometimes recommendations will be called for by the decision maker, sometimes they will not be. Where recommendations are called for, these are not determinative but to assist the court. We suggest that where recommendations are asked for, it should be made clear that these are not decisions but recommendations to assist the court.”

161. A few of those in support of the provision of recommendations commented that these need to be robust and evidence-based.

162. Of the respondents who disagreed that a child welfare reporter should provide recommendations, the key reason was that this is the role of the sheriff with the child welfare reporter playing a complementary role in providing the information upon which the sheriff can make their recommendations, and that child welfare reporters should simply collect and report their evidence. A few respondents also commented that it is not possible for a child welfare reporter to provide recommendations as they do not have access to all the information held by the court. As noted by a respondent in the third sector / advocacy sub-group:

“The purpose of the appointment of the reporter should be to assist the Court and ensure that sufficient evidence of the child’s views and individual circumstances, including their living conditions, relationships, health, wellbeing and needs is available for the Court to take into account in the judicial decision-making. It is the role of the Court to assess the evidence, including any recommendations, and make a determination on best interests.”

Complaints procedure

Complaints by a person about not being included on the register of child welfare reporters and about being removed from the register

163. An individual may wish to complain about being unsuccessful in their application to be on the register of child welfare reporters or about being removed from the register. The Scottish Government envisages that any such complaint would initially be handled by the team which led on the appointments. If the individual remains dissatisfied, then the complaint would be dealt with by another team who had no role in the original decision-making process. Question 17 asked:

Q17: ‘Do you have any comments on the proposed procedure for complaints from individuals who are unsuccessful when applying to be on the register of child welfare reporters or are removed from the register?

164. A total of 31 responded to this question. The key theme which emerged was that the proposed procedure for complaints was reasonable, fair, proportionate or appropriate. There were a few comments that there should always be a right of appeal to a team that is independent of the initial selection panel. However, a small number of respondents felt that complaints about unsuccessful applications should be made to the body which made the original decision not to appoint a child welfare reporter or to remove them from the register, with subsequent right of appeal to the Scottish Government.

165. A small number of respondents wanted more information or clarity on how a second team would be identified and selected.

166. There were also a few comments on the need to ensure that the process is transparent and accountable, with clearly set out timescales.

Grievance procedure

167. The consultation paper noted that a person on the child welfare reporter register may have a grievance about fees or expenses; or comments on their appraisal; or on the quality of the training provided and the subjects covered; or on other points about the way in which the register is run. Any such grievances would be handled by the body appointed to operate and manage the register. Question 18 asked:

Q18: ‘Where a child welfare reporter has a grievance about fees or expenses or comments on their appraisal, should this be dealt with by the body appointed to operate and manage the register?

168. As shown in table 16, a large majority of respondents agreed that a grievance about fees or expenses or comments on their appraisal should be dealt with by the body appointed to operate and manage the register. Most opposition came from individuals.

Table 16: Q18: Where a child welfare reporter has a grievance about fees or expenses or comments on their appraisal, should this be dealt with by the body appointed to operate and manage the register?
Number
Yes No Don’t know
Legal (11) 4 - 7
Local authority (3) 3 - -
NHS (2) 2 - -
Public body (4) 1 - 3
Representative body (5) 4 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (14) 8 1 5
Other (1) - - 1
Total organisations (40) 22 (55%) 1 (3%) 17 (43%)
Individuals (44) 28 (64%) 6 (14%) 10 (23%)
Total respondents (84) 50 (60%) 7 (8%) 27 (32%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% due to rounding)

169. 37 respondents opted to provide further commentary in support of their initial response to this question. Two key themes emerged from those respondents who felt a grievance should be dealt with by the body appointed to operate and manage the register. First, and noted by respondents across all sub-groups, was that this body is best placed to deal with any grievances. The second key theme was that in the first instance, a grievance should be dealt with by this body but that thereafter there is a need for access to an alternative and independent organisation for any appeal to be made. A small number of respondents noted this is an issue with safeguarders, who do not currently have a right to appeal.

170. A small number of third sector / advocacy organisations, who supported child welfare reporters being employees, felt that this status would mean that any grievance would be dealt with under their conditions of employment.

171. The small number of respondents – mostly individuals – who disagreed with a grievance being dealt with by the body appointed to operate and manage the register, felt this should be dealt with by a body independent of the register.

Complaints about a child welfare reporter

172. The consultation paper noted that one of the key aims of establishing the register of child welfare reporters is to ensure there is a child-friendly complaints process available. If a child or adult wishes to complain about the conduct of a child welfare reporter, they should contact the body appointed to operate and manage the register. If there is evidence of failings, a decision would be taken on the outcome and this could lead to suspension or removal from the register.

173. The final question in this part of the consultation asked:

Q19: ‘Do you have any comments on the proposed procedure for complaints about child welfare reporters?

174. 45 respondents provided comments on the proposed procedure for complaints about child welfare reporters. There were references to the need for the procedure to be straightforward, simple, accessible, clear, transparent, accountable and with short and speedy timescales. There were also a small number of references to the need for regular independent reviews of the complaints procedure and its effectiveness. There were a small number of calls for any party whose views are included in the report to be provided with a copy of the report, redacted where necessary.

175. In relation to children specifically, there were some calls for the procedure to be child-friendly and comply with the UNCRC, with some suggestions – mostly from third sector / advocacy organisations – that children should be involved in designing and shaping the complaints process to ensure that it meets their requirements. A small number of respondents suggested that a child-friendly version of each report should be produced alongside the standard report, particularly as the views of children will be represented in any reports produced. The need for access to a support or advocacy worker was also noted by a few respondents.

176. The need to ensure that any complaint should be limited to the conduct of the child welfare reporter or the standard of their report, rather than related to any of the outcomes arising from the report, was acknowledged by a few respondents. Linked to this, there were some concerns that the nature of the adversarial system in which these reports are presented could lead to some complaints being unmeritorious; and there were suggestions from a few respondents that there should be an initial filtering process to sift out any complaints without merit. A small number of representative bodies also suggested there should be a right of appeal from the child welfare reporter to an organisation unconnected to the enquiry.

177. A number of respondents – mostly those in the legal and public body sectors – raised the issue that there are already processes for complaints to be made and that an additional procedure could lead to duplication and confusion. One example provided was that a complaint could also be made to the SLCC about a child welfare reporter who is also a solicitor. This could lead to the same individual facing two separate complaint investigations, carried out under to different statutory schemes, with different standards of conduct and potentially with different standards of proof being applied. Each procedure could lead to different decisions, outcomes and sanctions being made. There was also a query as to which organisation would be the final arbiter in this situation. So, there were some requests for the existing regulation and complaints schemes to be taken into account when a procedure for complaints is being developed. A few organisations in the legal sector suggested that all complaints should only be made to the relevant sheriff.

178. There were a small number of comments on the need to consider how a child welfare reporter can raise concerns or make a complaint, or that there needs to be structures in place for child welfare reporters who wish to make a complaint.

Contact

Email: family.law@gov.scot

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