Scotland's Children - The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 Regulations and Guidance: Volume 1 Support and Protection for Children and Their Families

Guidance and regulations on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995

Scotland's Children:The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 Regulations and Guidance:Volume 1 Support and Protection for Children and Their Families

Chapter 1 Promoting the Welfare of Children and Families

1. Local authorities have a general duty to promote social welfare by making available advice, guidance and assistance on such a scale as may be appropriate for their area. The Act also introduces a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area and, so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of children in need by their families by providing a range and level of services appropriate to the children's needs. A child is in need if he or she is in need of care and attention because:

Section 12 Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968
Section 22(1)

(a) he or she is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development unless the local authority provides services for him under Part II of the Act; (b) his or her health or development is likely significantly to be impaired, unless such services are so provided;

(c) he or she is disabled; or

(d) he or she is affected adversely by the disability of any other person in his or her family.

Section 93(4)

2. The Act also states that services may be provided:

(a) for a particular child;

(b) if provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting his or her welfare, for his or her family; or

(c) if provided with such a view, for any other member of his or her family.

Section 22(3)

3. For purposes of support for children and families "child" means a person under the age of eighteen years. "Family", in relation to a child, includes any person who has parental responsibility for a child and any other person with whom the child has been living.

Section 93(2)
Section 93(1)

4. A service may comprise or include giving assistance in kind, or in exceptional circumstances, cash. The local authority should normally explore all sources of actual or potential income before offering a cash payment. Assistance in cash or in kind may be given unconditionally or local authorities may request repayment of some or all of the value of assistance given. Before doing so, they should have regard to the means of the child concerned and his parents. They cannot require a person to make repayment if that person is in receipt of income support, family credit or a jobseeker's allowance.

Section 22(3)(b)

Section 22(4)

5. The duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need falls upon the local authority as a whole, and embraces social work services, education, housing and any other relevant services required to safeguard and promote the welfare of such children. In discharging their duty to prepare and review children's services plans, local authorities should identify the overall needs of children in their area in order to decide what range and level of services they should provide.

Section 19

6. A wide range of children come within the Act's definition of a child in need. Some will require a great deal of help from social work and other departments, and from health and psychological services. Some children require services because their parents need help in caring for them to ensure that they achieve a reasonable standard of health or development, or to prevent impairment of their health or development. Most of the work to help children in need whose health or development may be impaired is carried out with children living at home and being cared for by their parents with support from social workers and services such as day care, family centres and primary care services. Some of these children may also be the subject of supervision requirements or court orders for their protection or assessment. In some cases a child's welfare will be safeguarded or promoted by their living away from home and therefore some children in need will be provided with accommodation by local authorities in foster families or residential care under other provisions of the Act.

Section 25

7. Families approach local authorities, or are referred by other agencies, for assistance with a wide range of needs and problems. Many will seek only information or advice about the care and upbringing of their children, or the availability of local services. Some referrals will be simple requests for the local authority to arrange or provide a specific service or resource related to a clearly identifiable need; others will be more complex. Some children will be referred because someone is worried about their welfare or safety. Sometimes families will be unaware of a referral or may not welcome local authority involvement.

Framework for Social Work Services

8. Making decisions about the right action to take to safeguard and promote a child's welfare requires the skilful exercise of professional judgement, backed by management supervision and support, within the context of the legislation and the local authority's policies, procedures and standards.

9. Social workers carry out their professional tasks on behalf of the local authority which is responsible for the conduct and management of individual cases. They require knowledge of child care and child development, relevant legislation and local authorities' statutory responsibilities, local policies and procedures and the roles and functions of other relevant agencies. They require skills and experience in listening to, observing and communicating effectively with children and adults, evaluating different points of view and managing conflict in a variety of situations. Gathering information, observation and discussion with a family is the basis of the assessment of need. Social workers should tap the expertise within families and held by carers and others who know the child and make use of information and advice from other professionals and agencies, to assist decision-making.

10. Social workers are accountable to their agency for their decisions and practice. The social work manager's role is to supervise and support individual staff and to help them reach decisions about individual families. Social workers need speedy access to managerial advice and consultation when necessary. Formal sessions of professional supervision provide a means of reviewing action taken on all cases and discussion of complex or difficult decisions. Cases requiring high levels of resources and those likely to have far-reaching implications for the local authority may call for the involvement of more senior staff. Some cases, of children who are looked after by the local authority, will be subject to formal reviews. Where a referral may involve child protection, the social worker should discuss this with a senior colleague at an early stage. Social work staff must receive appropriate professional supervision and agency support. This is particularly necessary when assessing risks to children and making decisions about how best to help a child and family. All key decisions about cases should be recorded so that progress can be monitored.

Section 31

11. Assessment, decision-making and direct work with families should be underpinned by Council policies and procedures which describe how local authorities expect their staff to undertake their tasks. These help local authorities to

  • provide families with a consistent service that takes account of local circumstances
  • manage and allocate resources appropriately according to Councils' priorities
  • make sure that staff are accountable to Council members and to the public for their actions
  • fulfil their statutory obligations.

12. Many local authorities have defined standards describing the level of service which they will provide and how they will deliver their services. Standards inform the public of what they can expect of local services and provide benchmarks for staff and managers, against which service performance can be measured. Local authorities should set standards covering the services they arrange and deliver, including standards for screening and assessment.

13. Although social workers operate within a framework of Council policies this is not inconsistent with the exercise of professional judgement by individual social workers. In any single case there may be an area within which professional judgement has to operate and where the best course of action may not be found solely by reference to policies or procedures.

Screening Referrals

14. When the local authority receive a referral they may need to make preliminary inquiries for further information in order to decide the most appropriate response. There is a range of options in response to a referral

  • provide advice or information and take no further action when the task is completed
  • refer the family to another agency or service
  • seek further information from the family or others
  • offer a service, for example allocation of a social worker to visit the family or provide a place in day care service
  • undertake an assessment of the child and family's needs in order to inform future decisions
  • make enquiries under local child protection procedures, or
  • undertake a joint investigation into concerns about a child's safety or welfare with the police.

15. When referrals are received local authorities will need to reach a view on the nature of a child's needs and what services, if any, should be provided in order to promote or safeguard the child's welfare. Systems for receiving and processing referrals should be simple and accessible, so that families can obtain help promptly. All referrals, including those which are not urgent, should be acknowledged quickly with an indication of when a response will be made.

Assessing Individual Needs

16. When a family has asked for their child's needs to be assessed or a problem has been identified that requires assessment, the local authority should gather sufficient information to enable a judgement to be made about those aspects of the child's health, welfare or development that require some help, and what services, if any, they should offer. An assessment involves gathering information purposefully, to enable the social worker to identify a child's needs within his or her family and community, and help the family find ways of addressing difficulties so that a child's needs can be properly met. Assessments will vary in the degree of complexity and information required, and in the time they will take to complete. An assessment should focus on a family's strengths and skills as well as difficulties. Some assessments will take relatively little time and can be carried out by a social worker collecting and evaluating information from a small number of sources; others may be more complex and may take considerable time, involving meetings with family members and consultation and meetings with other professionals. Between these extremes can come a range of different levels of involvement. The results and outcomes of assessments should be written down and a record made available to families.

17. In order to minimise the number of assessments of individual children the local authority should consider assessing a child's needs for the purposes of this Act at the same time as any assessment under other legislation

  • the Education (Scotland) Act 1980
  • the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970
  • the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986
  • any other relevant enactment.

18. There is a range of assessment frameworks for practitioners, which are useful in different circumstances. 1 Some authorities have developed their own local frameworks and guidelines for assessment. No one framework covers all situations and practitioners should adapt frameworks to meet the circumstances of individual families. The application of any framework should draw upon knowledge of the research and professional literature of social work and other disciplines and the worker's own practice experience. The practitioner should critically evaluate any model framework for its appropriateness to the needs of the case.

19. Some families will include children who are at risk of significant harm. When a local authority suspects that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm they should make inquiries under local child protection procedures. If inquiries indicate reasonable grounds to believe or suspect that a child is at risk of significant harm the local authority may apply for a court order authorising action to protect or assess the child. Guidance on measures for the protection of children in emergencies, where the local authority is not able to apply immediately for a court order, is set out separately. Alternatively, the local authority shall refer the case to the Principal Reporter where compulsory measures of supervision may be required.

Sections 55, 57 & 76

Section 53

20. In all cases, including emergencies, where a child is referred to the social work department because of concern about his or her safety or welfare, the social worker receiving the referral should explore the information carefully. The referrer may be worried about the consequences of talking to the social work department about his or her concerns and may require explanation of the social work department's duties and responsibilities towards children and families. In all but emergency situations, where the child is believed to be in immediate danger, the social worker should gather and clarify information before acting. Even in emergencies the initial assessment of information should be discussed and endorsed by a social work manager. The social worker and relevant senior colleagues must decide which agencies to consult and whether to make inquiries under local child protection procedures. They should consider whether to discuss the referral with the police and what form further inquiries or investigation should take. The police may have information which leads them to discuss with the social work department whether there needs to be a joint investigation. These decisions are complex and child protection procedures should support a measured response to the range of referrals of children who may be at risk, keeping the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration in decision-making.

21. Local procedures should be flexible so that, as additional information becomes available, families can be diverted away from the child protection system as soon as this is no longer appropriate to the needs of the child or, on the other hand, brought into the child protection system if that is necessary. Child protection inquiries may indicate that the child does not need protection but the child or family still has a need for other services. A child or family's eligibility for help or services should not depend solely on whether or not the child is perceived at that time to be at risk of harm.

Delivering Services

22. In arranging services to meet the assessed needs of individual children and their families local authorities may use an existing resource or commission services from other local authorities or statutory agencies, the voluntary sector or other agencies. In providing services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children local authorities should

  • work in partnership with families and promote the upbringing of children within their families so far as this is consistent with safeguarding and promoting their welfare
  • listen to children and take into account their views
  • have regard to issues of race, language, religion and culture
  • promote links between children and their families, including extended family, where children are looked after by the local authority away from home.

23. Achieving partnerships with parents and children in the planning and delivery of services to children requires that

  • they have sufficient information, both orally and in writing, to make informed choices
  • they should be aware of the consequences of decisions they may take
  • they should be actively involved where appropriate in assessments, decision-making meetings, care reviews and conferences
  • they should be given help to express their views and wishes and to prepare written reports and statements for meetings where necessary
  • professionals and other workers should listen to and take account of parents and carers' views
  • families have access to a complaints procedure
  • families have access to independent advocacy when appropriate.

24. When assessing children's needs and providing services to the child or his or her family, the local authority should have regard to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background, as far as this is practicable. This requires that

  • social workers should identify these aspects of a child's experience and identity
  • assess their significance for the way in which the child's needs can be best met.

If workers are unfamiliar with a child's language or racial and cultural background, the local authority should

  • consider the need to use an interpreter, and
  • identify sources of information and advice which will inform social work and other assessments and decisions about the help they may offer.

Local and national interest groups, local cultural and community organisations and other local authorities will have expertise which workers might use.

25. Family support services for children living at home should embrace day care and home care services. These may include home helps or family aides, family centres offering child care, support to parents and education to increase parenting skills. In addition access to suitable housing, occupational therapy, special equipment and adaptations to help children with special needs and respite services may be appropriate.

26. Social workers play a major part in providing support services to children and young people in need and their families, working in a variety of settings, including local social work department offices, GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals, or specialist projects and services. They offer advice, guidance and counselling, geared towards helping parents develop their skills and strengths and promoting good relationships between family members where these are in difficulty. Social workers are skilled in talking with children and their families, assessing areas of need, identifying ways in which families can improve their situation and circumstances and negotiating plans and agreements with families. Children and families experiencing serious difficulties can be helped by regular and reliable contact with an allocated social worker, who can get to know children and their parents well, who will be able to use a range of social work skills and methods to help children and families tackle their problems and respond helpfully to crises if they occur. They can also mobilise other resources on a family's behalf, for example, by arranging the provision of other services, such as day care, practical assistance such as a family aide or home help, adaptations, equipment and, in exceptional circumstances, financial help either directly or by liaising with other organisations such as the Benefits Agency. Social workers can also link families with other services such as housing, specialist health and education services.

27. Social work involvement and support should be directed towards helping children and their families to achieve specific goals or outcomes. Social workers will have a role in co-ordinating services provided by other departments and agencies, and will be responsible for ensuring that progress is regularly reviewed and goals are adjusted according to the family's needs and wishes, and changes in their circumstances.

28. Authorities may provide accommodation for the child if asked to do so and if this would safeguard or promote a young person's welfare. They may provide accommodation for a young person aged sixteen or over if he or she requests it, even if his or her parents do not agree. Chapter 4 provides guidance on the role which provision of accommodation (under section 25) can play in promoting or safeguarding the welfare of children. Local authorities have a duty to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who were looked after by a local authority when they reached school leaving age, at least up to the age of nineteen and they have the power to provide this, if necessary, up to the age of twenty-one years. Services to meet the needs of older children might include groups for young people, counselling and befriending services, and practical help through independence training schemes and community projects for young people at risk or in trouble.

Section 25(2)

Section 25(7)

Section 29

29. Once a need has been identified, the local authority should consider whether assistance is appropriate, and if so should plan with the family how best to meet this need within the resources and services available. Where the local authority allocates resources to arrange a service, the plan should identify what the service will do, what others are expected to do to make the plan work and arrangements and timescales for reviewing how well the plan is working. This plan should form the basis of an agreement with the parent or carer of the child and should be confirmed in writing by the local authority.

30. If the local authority is significantly involved with a child in need and providing substantial services, the local authority should regularly review its plan with the child and family, in order to make sure that the service continues to meet the child's needs and remains the most appropriate use of the local authority's resources. Some children in need who are receiving services will be looked after by the local authority and therefore subject to statutory requirements for planning and review, which are are addressed in other chapters of the guidance.

1 For example see Protecting Children - a guide for social workers undertaking a comprehensive assessment HMSO 1988

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