Publication - Independent report

Child welfare reporters and child contact services consultations: Scottish Youth Parliament report

Published: 13 Sep 2021

This report by the Scottish Youth Parliament contains responses from young people in relation to the Scottish Government consultations on child welfare reporters and the regulation of child contact services. This relates to the Children (Scotland) Act 2020.

Child welfare reporters and child contact services consultations: Scottish Youth Parliament report
Part 2: Child Welfare Reporters

Part 2: Child Welfare Reporters

Section 1. Experience of child welfare reporters

How important do you think the following skills are?

  • Communicating with children including obtaining the views of children
  • Understanding domestic abuse.
  • 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

It was agreed that everything on the above list was important in a child welfare reporter. The skill that most participants highlighted as fundamental was communicating with children. Participants felt that this skill was the starting point for enabling the reporter to do their job effectively, with one participant summarising; 'you're not gonna get anywhere if you don't understand how to effectively talk to a child'. As such, it was again raised by participants that qualities are as important as skills in this role. The most important attribute for many participants was friendliness and approachability. Additionally to the above list, suggested skills included; a thorough understanding of the UNCRC and children's rights, an understanding of attachment theory, mental health first aid and good listening skills.

Below are the key themes that arose from discussions with participants.

Communicating with children

Communication was one of the most prominently discussed skills among participants. Participants felt that communication was the most important skill in the role of a welfare reporter, including communication with young people of different ages, with different support needs and from different backgrounds.

The following quotes speak to this theme:

  • "In terms of communicating with children, age-appropriate communication, e.g. don't talk to a five-year-old the same way you'd talk to a fifteen-year-old and visa versa. Child-friendly material can be over-simplified or condescending for a teenager."
  • "Communicating with children and obtaining their views is of the upmost importance, which is why I think they need a background in working with children. You're not gonna get anywhere if you don't understand how to effectively talk to a child"
  • "Communicating with children and obtaining their views is important, but also knowing a variety of ways in which to do so, linking that in with additional support needs. For some children, asking them directly can be difficult, for some children giving them options can be easier."
  • "They must have good listening and literacy skills in order to help provide the best possible care for the child."

Professional background

It was explained to participants that most welfare reporters have a background in social work, family law or another profession involving children and young people. Some participants highlighted further professional backgrounds which would give a welfare reporter the most important skills and experience for the job.

The following quotes speak to this theme:

  • "Youth workers! People who work with vulnerable groups in general like carers. They might need support learning about policy, but it is important that the person isn't just a clinical lawyer who isn't focusing on the needs of a child"
  • "What's missing is experience of working with children, teacher, youth worker."
  • "Have the best interest of the child in mind and keeping the child in the loop on decisions made about them."
  • "Previous experience with working with children such as Nursery Teacher, Teacher or teaching assistant allowing them to give a child the best possible help; these experiences could be done as work experience or a placement to ensure that the person is well equipped for the role as a child welfare reporter."

Qualities

Similarly to comments made around contact centers, many participants felt that it was qualities, rather than skills, that were the most important in a welfare reporter, making the point that it is easier to train someone up in hard skills, but more difficult to train someone in friendliness or approachability, which will be a crucial factor in a child feeling comfortable enough to give them the information they need.

The following quotes speak to this theme:

  • "I think this is something the government are quite bad at; focusing too much on skills for these roles. Like, someone might be able to write a report, but are they able to write a report in terms of legal conversation, or are they able to wright a report in terms of, if a young person was to ask for that report, would they understand it? Sometimes in these jobs and roles, children are the subject, but they aren't the main part of the job; you might be good at doing your job, but are you good at talking to young people, and specifically young people who are going through a really hard time in their life, who need to feel cared for and need to feel like someone is on their side"
  • "Being approachable and friendly – wanting to work with children! They should want to go into the job to help children rather than the policy side of things"
  • "It's really important that child welfare reporters are kind and approachable and they're not making it feel like a burden on them. Sometimes I don't think it's down to training, it's down to personalities. Making children feel comfortable, talking to you etc."
  • "Everyone who works should make sure the child is comfortable at all time." Report writing

One participant expressed that there must be a verbatim note of what a child has said to the welfare reporter, in addition to the final report which includes conclusions drawn by the reporter:

  • "Report writing... I don't want them rephrasing what they say, it needs to be verbatim and not interpret what they say. And ask them what they mean by that, and what they want. Start the conversation open ended; it's not all black and white. The child's opinion is what matters not just the professional. So explain the options clearly to them."

In addition to the listed skills, the following attributes were highlighted as important in child welfare reporters:

  • Diversity: "Diversity is really key among these people... we can't just have old white people doing this."
  • Understanding children's rights: "A deep understanding of UNCRC. Specifically; Article 19 – protection, Article 12 – listening to views, Article 3 – best interests of the child. All of the CCC and CWR link back to UNCRC."
  • Mental health and trauma informed: "Have experience of mental health and be trauma informed"; "They need to be trauma informed and to be non-bias and really careful with their words and impact on influencing on the child"; "Basic mental health first aid training would be useful".
  • Understanding experiences of care: "Understanding of the care system and stable relationships"; "They need to understand the complex needs of young people who are in care and what this means to the young person."

Section 2. Complaints

If you have a complaint about how a child welfare reporter behaves how would you want to be able to raise this?

  • By email
  • By video
  • By drawing
  • By writing
  • Another way – please say how.

How can we make any complaints procedure child friendly?

Similarly to the complaints process at child contact centres, it was felt that children must have options of different methods they can use to complain. In terms of making the process child-friendly, participants suggested that an online complaints form, with a clear break down of short, simple questions would be helpful; this may enable child to give the information that adults need in order to process their complaint, and might make the process feel less overwhelming. It was also made clear that security and confidentiality were crucial in a complaints procedure; it was raised that fear of repercussions is a significant barrier to children making a complaint, therefore reassurance that the procedure is confidential would be a big help. Another key point was that it's important to set expectations with children, helping them understand how a child welfare reporter should and shouldn't act, so that a child can identify behavior that is and is not acceptable.

Below are the key themes that arose from discussions with participants.

Confidentiality

Safety and security were the two most commonly mentioned themes among participants. Children need to feel that they can trust the system and the person whom they are complaining to, and given the assurance that they will be taken seriously if they raise a complaint:

  • "I would like the complaint to be made in a confidential manner, where the person being complained about would not be informed about who made the complaint."
  • "They should be able to complain about their CWR if they don't trust them or like them. We don't want children abusing this of course but if they really feeling uncomfortable then we have to listen."
  • "Making sure young people feel safe and secure in a system."
  • "Having to tell someone face to face is scary because there's always the fear of someone not believing or thinking you're lying. If you're talking through the phone you can't tell if their judging you so you feel less worried or anxious"

Following up

As with contact centres, following up was highlighted as the most important part of a complaints process. One participant suggested that, where a complaint is made about a welfare reporter, they should not be allowed to carry out their duties until the complaint has been effectively investigated:

  • "No matter the complaint, if a complaint is made from a child about a child welfare reporter that child welfare reporter should not be allowed to carry on their duties until an investigation into the situation has been completed and an outcome has been decided".
  • "All complaints should be investigated. None of this filing it away to die of slow death, it should be investigated by a team of people who only do complaints.

Clear questions

Participants raised that the process could be helpfully broken down if a child with a complaint is presented with a few very simple questions, to ensure that they are passing on the key information an adult needs regarding their complaint:

  • "Clear questions about what information is required, but also make it clear that it's ok if they don't have all the information, just sort of as a starting point for the child."

Setting expectations

Several participants mentioned that clear expectations should be set in advance of what a child should expect from their welfare reporter, how they should and should not behave, and questions they should or should not ask. It may otherwise be very difficult for a child to identify unacceptable behaviour:

  • "It's important to set expectation of how a welfare reporter should act, so that children know what's ok and what isn't ok, as they might not always be able to identify that, for example, if they've grown up in an abusive environment. If you don't know what they're meant to do or not meant to do, how would you know if it's wrong or not?"
  • "Make it clear that it's not a child's fault, it's the reporter's fault, if there's something that's gone wrong"

Further queries from participants:

  • Are they going to be registered with Scottish Social Services Council? We'd hope so"

Contact

Email: family.law@gov.scot