The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 (the 2020 Act) received Royal Assent on 1 October 2020. This builds upon the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and gives Scottish Ministers the power to make provision about regulation of a contact service provided in relation to the requirements of a contact order. The 2020 Act also gives the Scottish Ministers the power to appoint a body for the purposes of administering the registration of contact service providers and contact centres.
The 2020 Act provides for child contact centres across Scotland to be regulated to ensure they meet minimum standards. The 2020 Act will take time to implement but it is expected that the regulation of child contact services will be fully operational in 2023.
The Scottish Government launched a consultation to seek views on what should be covered in the minimum standards for child contact services, how the standards should be monitored and what the complaints procedures should be. The findings of this will be used to inform the Scottish Government in decisions relating to the regulation of child contact centres.
The consultation closed on 12 July 2021 and received a total of 59 responses.
|Child contact service (5)||5||8|
|Local authority (4)||4||7|
|Public body (1)||1||2|
|Representative body (2)||2||3|
|Third sector / advocacy (11)||11||19|
|Total organisations (28)||28||47|
|Total respondents (59)||59||100|
A number of key themes were evident across questions as well as across respondent groups, although these tended to be mentioned by a minority of respondents. These are summarised below.
- Overall, there was majority support for the proposals outlined in this consultation paper.
- There were references to a need for regulations and minimum standards to be child-friendly and be in line with the UNCRC.
- In general, respondents wanted to see minimum standards laid down in regulations for accommodation, and training for all staff.
- The inspection process was perceived to be important, as were sanctions for non-compliance. Likewise, there was perceived to be a need to monitor training requirements.
- While it might not be seen to be necessary to provide all staff and volunteers with the same training across a wide range of areas, it was seen to be important to have training which is appropriate to roles and responsibilities, and for all to be aware and understand other areas of training which might not be directly relevant.
- The issue of funding was clearly important, with references to the need for additional funding for necessary changes to physical spaces and the training of staff and volunteers. Disabled access in particular was seen as important.
Summary of main findings: Accommodation Standards
Minimum standards for child contact centre accommodation (Q1)
Almost all respondents answering this question felt that the elements of the proposed accommodation standards outlined in the consultation paper were very important. A small number of respondents felt it would not be possible to achieve all of these elements as some child contact centres share premises or do not have access to outdoor space. A key comment regarded a need for space to manage people arriving, leaving or waiting, particularly as some parents attending will be the victims of domestic abuse and will not want to come face-to-face with the perpetrator of this abuse. Allied to this, there were some comments on the importance of having two separate entrances and exits. A few respondents commented on the importance of having access to age-appropriate and good quality play equipment for children and young people that can reflect different interests and abilities.
Other areas that should be considered for the minimum standards for accommodation (Q2)
A key theme was of a need for accessibility to, and within buildings, with particular reference to people with disabilities, both physical and cognitive. A few respondents also referred to accessibility in terms of transport options to get to a centre. Small numbers of respondents noted the need to allow for different users and to be sensitive to their needs, for example, those from different ethnic backgrounds or those with communication / language barriers. There were also a few references to the importance of staff training.
Monitoring Accommodation Standards (Q3)
A majority of respondents agreed with the proposed process for, and frequency of, inspections for a provider’s registered premises, although a few felt inspections should be more frequent than the suggested three years. There were a few references to the need for the inspection process to be positive and provide support and guidance to child contact centre providers where necessary.
The proposed sanctions for non-compliance with accommodation standards (Q4)
A large majority of respondents agreed with these proposed sanctions, which were seen by some to be on a par with other regulated care services. There were a few suggestions for alternatives to be offered; and a similar number of respondents noted concerns with this approach, primarily that changes to premises may be required. There were also some requests for further clarity, for example, what is meant by ‘an appropriate timeframe’.
The minimum standards that should be set down in regulations for premises used on an ad hoc basis (Q5)
A large majority of respondents agreed that the same standards should apply to alternative premises as also apply to registered premises. Of those who disagreed with this approach, the key concern was that alternative premises may be essential to ensure that contact can happen, with suggestions for risk assessments to take place to enable use of ad hoc premises.
Other areas that should be included in the minimum standards for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis (Q6)
The key comment was that the minimum standards should be the same across all premises.
Agreement with the proposed process for inspections for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis (Q7)
A large majority of respondents agreed with the proposed process.
Whether a contact centre should be able to self-certify premises as appropriate in situations where alternative premises are required unexpectedly or in an emergency (Q8)
There was support for this proposal from a large majority of respondents, with the only opposition being from individuals. A key theme was that child contact services should be trusted to ensure all premises are safe and secure to use. For a few respondents, there was a focus on the importance of continued contact between a child and a parent, and that delays to contact can be damaging. A small number of respondents noted concerns around self-certification or cited that the use of emergency accommodation should not be needed as there should already be contingency planning in place.
Adjustments for disabled people at child contact centres (Q9)
There was majority support for the proposed arrangements to help ensure compliance with existing duties under the Equality Act 2010 (the Equality Act) in relation to making reasonable adjustments for disabled people at child contact centres, although there were a few comments that most centres rent their premises and can only make adjustments with a landlord’s consent. Of those who disagreed with this, the key comment was that making reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled access is essential and that disabled people should not be excluded from services to which they are entitled.
Summary of main findings: Staff and Volunteer Training Standards
What minimum standards should be laid down in regulations for training of child contact centre staff and volunteers (Q10)
When asked to say which areas should be required for all staff, desirable for some staff or not required for any staff, a large majority of respondents felt that all areas should be either required or desirable. A key theme emerging from a few organisations was that all staff, including administrative and volunteers, should be well trained across all areas. A minimum standard of training was considered important by a few respondents; and a few respondents also felt there should be a distinction between staff and volunteers.
Areas that may be desirable for certain staff but would not be required as minimum standards under the regulations (Q11)
Almost all respondents felt each of the outlined areas were either required or desirable, the key theme being that staff should be provided with the appropriate training to be able to undertake their role.
Areas not laid down as minimum standards under the regulations but which providers would be expected to ensure staff have an awareness and understanding of (Q12)
A majority of respondents agreed that staff should have an awareness and understanding of each area outlined in the consultation paper.
Other areas that should be considered for child contract centre staff training standards (Q13)
A number of suggestions were made, each by small numbers of respondents, as to additional areas of training. A few respondents noted that training needs should be kept under review so they are in line with any legislative or policy changes.
Monitoring Staff Training Standards(Q14)
Almost all respondents agreed with the proposed process for the monitoring of training requirements. There were a few comments on the importance of suitable training and the need for staff to have a full understanding of their roles and responsibilities and to keep up-to-date with training requirements.
Summary of main findings: Complaints Procedures
Complaints about a child contact centre service (Q15)
A very large majority of respondents agreed with the proposed process for raising complaints against a child contact service. There were comments that the complaints system must be clear, simple, accessible to all and transparent, with fast investigation and resolution. Some respondents noted the system must be child-friendly. There were a few comments relating to poor experiences with the complaints process to date, with some comments that the current system is cumbersome; or that a system involving advocacy or third party involvement may help remedy any issues prior to a formal stage of complaint.
Agreement with the proposed process for raising complaints against individual members of staff and volunteers (Q16)
A large minority of respondents agreed with this proposal, although a significant minority noted concerns in instances where it did not prove possible to resolve a complaint through the child contact service provider. A few respondents, while supporting this proposal, also noted caveats.
Suggestions on how guidance on complaints procedures should be made accessible to children using child contact centre services (Q17)
There were some general comments supportive of guidance being accessible to children, with some suggestions that children need to be an integral part of the contact service complaints process so that feedback is continual and listened to. Child-friendly guidance was perceived to be important, with some comments that this needs to be age-appropriate and offered in a variety of formats, using a range of different tools.
Complaints by a child contact centre provider (Q18)
There was overwhelming support for the proposed process for a child contact centre raising complaints against the regulatory body. Among those who did not support the outlined approach, there was a desire to see more remedies and solution-finding prior to resorting to formal complaint routes.
Whether the right to appeal by a child contact centre of a decision made by the regulatory body should be to the sheriff court (Q19)
A large majority of respondents were in favour of the right of appeal by a child contact centre being to the sheriff court.
Summary of main findings: Draft Impact Assessments (Q20)
A relatively small number of respondents commented on the draft impact assessments, with a few making positive comments in that they are seen to be comprehensive, support the way forward and help to provide a baseline for positive standards of service. The draft Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment generated the most comments, with agreement that children’s rights should be the foremost concern. In relation to the draft Island Communities Impact Assessment, there were some concerns about a lack of services disadvantaging children.
Summary of main findings: Any other comments (Q21)
Most comments made in relation to this question reiterated points already stated at earlier questions, with some comments of the need to ensure that regulation is founded on a child’s rights-based framework. There was some reference to a need for significant investment to raise standards in terms of facilities and training, and suggestions for an increased number of centres as well as increased access levels.
A small number of respondents noted their support for the Care Inspectorate to be appointed as the body to oversee the new regulatory system for child contact centres. This was primarily on the basis that they have the necessary expertise to carry out this role, although one respondent noted that Care Inspectorate staff will need to be appropriately trained. Conversely, one third sector / advocacy organisation felt there is a need to consider other bodies that could be appointed to oversee the new regulatory system for child contact centres.
A small number of respondents also referred to the Care Inspectorate’s inspection role in other settings, with general comments that their inspection service is effective, but did not comment as to whether they supported the organisation being appointed as the body to oversee the new regulatory system for child contact centres.