Self-directed Support: Practitioners Guidance

A practice guide on Self-directed Support for practitioners

Considerations for children and young people

‘Self–Directed Support’, as defined within the legislation, reinforces the principles and values that underpin work with children in need and their families under Sections 22 and 23 of the Children (Scotland) 1995 Act i.e.:

  • participation and dignity
  • involvement
  • informed choice
  • collaboration

The Self-Directed Support Act 2013 supports the policy values of Respect • Fairness • Independence • Freedom • Safety and therefore sits comfortably with the Wellbeing outcomes (SHANARRI – That children and young people are Safe; Healthy; Active; Nurtured; Achieving; Respected; Responsible and Included), wellbeing indicators and approach.

The development of children’s legislation has been driven by the same values:

  • Children (Scotland) Act 1995 – which incorporates the three key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – i.e. non-discrimination; a child’s welfare as a primary consideration; and listening to children’s views.
  • GIRFEC – which ensures that positive outcomes for children and young people are at the heart of decision making.
  • Curriculum for Excellence – which ensures children and young people are at the heart of learning.
  • Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 – where children and young people are provided with the necessary support to help them work towards achieving their full potential.
  • Children’s Hearings (Scotland Act) 2011 – where the voice and experience of the child or young person is at the centre of every hearing as well as highlighting their right to advocacy where appropriate.

When can a child/young person make decisions about their support?

A young person over 16 has the right to make decisions about their own support, unless questions of capacity have been identified – in which case they should be encouraged to contribute their view as much as possible.

Below the age of 16, the person with responsibility for the child (defined by the Act as the ‘appropriate person’) should normally be involved in decisions about the child’s welfare and support. A child’s age and maturity needs be taken into consideration. A child who is aged 12 or over is presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to express a view and this should be taken into account. Regardless of age, the child’s view is central to assessment, planning and decision making. Support should be provided to ensure this is possible with regard to age and stage of development.

Section 22

The duty of care remains the paramount factor in all work and it is a priority to fulfil statutory responsibilities in relation to child protection. The 2013 Act should be seen as strengthening the value based framework for engaging with children and young people and their carers, including those subject to compulsory measures of care.

Many interventions under Section 22 are time limited; the identified issues are typically addressed through the relationship between the individual, their family and the allocated worker, the intervention is part of a continuous process of social worker input to the family and there is little or no financial element to the resolution. In such circumstances, it is not the policy intention that the four options contained in the Act should be made available. What the Act does facilitate, however, is application of the options where there is professional judgement that long-term support is required, where there is a legal duty to provide that ongoing support and where this support can be converted into a service and/or financial resources that can be directed by the individual.

There is an emerging evidence base that creative use of specific funding can lead to better outcomes, such as an avoidance of residential care.

The Self-Directed Support Act 2013 can benefit practice across the services by further emphasising the importance of placing the child at the centre of decision making. Creative, individualised use of monies at an early stage to prevent a child from being accommodated, for example, may lead to better outcomes and more efficient use of resources in the longer and shorter term. It is important to note that this practice is already permitted under current legislation and does not actually require the offer of the four options which are designed more to meet longer term needs.

Plans for young people leaving care, for example, may be co-produced along self-directed support lines. The monies allocated within local authorities for supporting their transition into the community may be viewed more widely as meeting quality of life outcomes, not solely meeting practical needs.

Many such practices already exist across Scotland but are not ‘badged’ as ‘self–directed support’. They provide an opportunity for a ‘quick win’ in terms of increasing staff’s skills, improving outcomes and understanding of the application of self-directed support within a children and families setting. Embedding co–produced, preventative solutions within practice inevitably requires skilled leadership across organisations so that they become a real option for individuals and practitioners.

The Scottish Government intends to give further attention to the wider application of the four options over time and further guidance will be developed.

Sarah’s story

Sarah is a lone parent to Jamie and Fraser aged 2 and 4. There have been ongoing concerns about Sarah’s ability to ensure the children’s needs are met. Sarah has no support from family or friends and, is unable to provide any structure or routine at home, struggling to manage both boys’ behaviour. The boys don’t sleep well at night, which contributes to Sarah’s stress levels. She has limited cooking skills and relies on fast food and ready meals.

Sarah has been advised to attend a local parenting class and both boys have been offered a place at the local nursery. Sarah finds group settings difficult and unhelpful but conversations with her social worker outline what it is she would need to help get things ‘back on track’. Sarah is given a small direct payment which is managed through a payroll agency. With this, she is supported to employ Agnes, a local experienced grandmother and retired homemaker for 10 hours per week. The initial agreed outcomes are focused on getting the boys into a routine, as this will allow Sarah to feel more in control and less stressed.

Sarah would also like to spend less money on ready meals and give the boys a healthier diet. When the boys are at nursery, Agnes teaches Sarah to cook, plan weekly shopping and establish a manageable housework routine. The 1-1 relationship with Agnes who is supportive, nurturing and encouraging, builds Sarah’s confidence as a mum as well as her self-esteem.

Sarah, Agnes, the social worker and health visitor meet regularly to talk about how things are going. The nursery have noticed a positive change in the boys’ behaviour and Sarah advises they are even sleeping better, which means she is getting more rest. Despite there being childcare concerns, Sarah has been supported to stay in control and make choices that suit her and her family. The outcome is that Sarah is able to make the necessary changes and learn new skills to care for her sons effectively, thus reducing risk and further social work intervention.

Section 23

When a child or young person has longer term support needs, a balance between recognition of carer responsibility and the rights of the young person to shape their plans is essential.

Identifying best individual outcomes from identified and eligible needs can present challenges for all parties when the young person is preparing for leaving school and growing into adulthood. Being actively involved or supported to be actively involved as partners is seen as invaluable by families and young people and this is key to planning for better long term outcomes.

Local authorities must determine what needs it deems eligible to meet within available resources. In a self-directed support context, this includes determination of criteria to access an individual budget however it is enacted. In framing local systems for the allocation of resources, local authorities will require to reflect on what is age and stage appropriate for a child e.g. all young children require constant supervision but clearly consideration should be given to the requirement for support of children with additional support needs and their family carers.

For a child, young person or their parent/carer whose needs determine they are eligible for additional support, the following considerations are essential:

Information – to ensure the young person or the person making decisions on their behalf are kept informed about the process and what might be possible within the four options. The information must be explained in a manner and format that that is appropriate for the child – taking into account their age and capacity to understand. If another appropriate person is taking decision on behalf of the child, the principles still apply and attempts must be made to explain matters to the child where possible.

Collaboration – to ensure that the child or the young person is supported to design or describe what their support should look like and to have a say.

GIRFEC – named person and lead professional will need to take these duties into account when fulfilling their role.

Transition – when a child has additional support needs, (disability; learning difficulties; emotional; physical or social; is looked after and accommodated etc.) transition is commonly referred to as the time when they start to prepare for leaving school and adult life in general. It is recognised as a challenging time for children, young people, and families and indeed challenges agencies’ co-operative practices. The flexibility which self-directed support approach promotes is more likely to develop creative, collaborative plans for a young person’s independence and social inclusion.

Children and young people: considerations for


  • one child, one plan – If the child/young person has more than one agency involved it must link into the child’s plan (GIRFEC)/‘Co-ordinated Support Plan’ (Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2009. (These should already be in one plan, unless the young person, parent/guardian has made a decision to have them separated due to individual circumstances).
  • assessment and planning should follow the duties set out by the named person or lead professional (GIRFEC and the forthcoming Children’s and Young People Bill).
  • if self-directed support principles have been applied in children’s services, the move to adult services should be a lot smoother for everyone involved.
  • the principles and values which underpin the 2013 Act continue to promote the best practice that is already established within children’s legislation and policy. The importance of the role of professional skill and judgement cannot be underestimated.
  • balancing the principle of choice alongside duties to protect and compulsory measures of care is an essential requirement.
  • keep the child and young person’s needs at the centre of planning- whilst giving importance to effectively engaging with informed parents and carers.
  • ensure access to independent advocacy where appropriate, enabling individuals to have sufficient input into their own care and support and be helped with making decisions if required.
  • if the young person has a Co-ordinated Support Plan, it may be helpful to be aware of the good practice guidance concerning the Additional Support for Learning Act and transition.


  • effective self directed support implementation will require engagement of partners who have responsibility for children and their families and for them to be fully versed in the duties of the Act.
  • clear transition arrangements are important.
  • opportunities for families to pool resources to increase their capacity or to be merged with community based resources might be areas for further examination.
  • strong leadership is important to ensure organisational practices support practitioners in transforming practice so it is more creative and empowered.
  • the development of co-production alongside other organisations is required to ensure there is access to less formal services.
  • the continued development of connected services is important to ensure staff have ready access to experts on adult support and protection; mental health etc. which will support an informed, risk enabled approach.

Mary’s story

Mary is almost 15 and has been living with foster carers, Rosie and Bob, for the last three years. Mary doesn’t have a lot of contact with her family, as there are concerns about her mum’s drug misuse. Mary gets on well with her foster carers but eventually would like to move into her own accommodation in a couple of years. As part of this transition, Mary’s social worker and Rosie are supporting Mary to take more responsibility – in manageable steps – as preparation. For example, it has been agreed Mary will get weekly, then eventually monthly, money for her bus fares to college rather than daily – to see how she manages it. Her social worker was worried that Mary would be pressurised into giving her mum money when they met up, however, this was fully discussed and Mary decided the best way to prevent this was to buy a weekly ticket rather than carrying money around. Mary advised this would also prevent her from spending the money on other things like mobile top ups and clothes. At the start, Mary did find it tempting but knew that if she spent the money on other things she might risk missing college and worse still – go back to daily money. Mary likes how people trust her with the money. She also likes coming up with her own solutions and feels her ideas are getting better and better each time. Mary gets on well with her social worker – she says she is a great listener but most of all she feels she has faith in her.


Email: Heather Palmer

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