United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - concluding observations 2023: SG initial response

This report sets out the Scottish Government’s (SG) initial response to the UN Committee’s Concluding Observations. It outlines the progress made in relation to children’s rights in Scotland since the publication of the Position Statement of November 2022

5. Family Environment and Alternative Care

5.1 Early Learning and Childcare and Flexible Working

No: 36a

UN Concluding Observation

Strengthen measures to enable working parents and caregivers to balance their professional and family responsibilities, including by allocating sufficient resources for childcare services, encouraging parents to take parental leave and ensuring access to affordable childcare options for socioeconomically disadvantaged families, families in rural and remote areas and families with irregular work schedules.

No: 36b

UN Concluding Observation

Expand eligibility criteria for State-subsidised childcare, to ensure that all children in socioeconomically disadvantaged situations have access to free childcare.

No: 47c

UN Concluding Observation

Continue efforts to ensure that all children have access to adequate and affordable early childhood education.

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 6.1 – Support for Joint Parenting
  • Section 8.9 – Early Learning and Childcare

Progress since November 2022

Expansion of early learning and childcare

Scottish Government investment in high quality Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) aims to achieve three long-term benefits: children’s development improves and the poverty-related outcomes gap narrows; family wellbeing improves; and parents’ opportunities to take up or sustain work, training, or study increase.

Within the Programme for Government, published in September 2023, the Scottish Government has committed to working with local government and partners in the early learning and childcare sector to expand our childcare offers.

The draft Budget includes funding to provide local authorities with an additional £16 million in year to deliver our Programme for Government commitment to increase pay to £12 per hour for staff in the Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) sector who are delivering funded ELC from April 2024. This demonstrates our commitment to the Fair Work agenda, as we remain the only part of the UK to pay ELC staff in the PVI sector the real Living Wage. This could mean an increase of around £2,000 per year for eligible staff who are working full time.

We will also provide the funding to expand the innovative childminder recruitment pilots developed with the Scottish Childminding Association to grow this essential part of the workforce by 1,000 more by 2026-27.

We recognise how important both early learning and school age childcare are for parents, especially those experiencing poverty. That is why we are already delivering school age childcare services to around 1,000 priority families through our early adopter work in Glasgow, Dundee, Clackmannanshire, and Inverclyde - and through our Access to Childcare Fund projects. We are also supporting 2700 families to access funded breakfast, after school and holiday clubs through our partnership with the Scottish Football Association.

Over the next year, we will expand our early adopter work to include Fife and Shetland and also to broaden the work to include younger children, to co-design local systems of funded childcare for families who need it most.

In parallel, we will focus on planning for a further expansion of our national offer of ELC for eligible two year olds. We already offer 1140 hours of high quality ELC to around a quarter of families with a two year old who experience the most disadvantage. We will continue to work with local authorities and our partners in the sector to support up-take of the existing two year old offer, to ensure as many children as possible receive the benefits of high quality ELC. We will begin to design and test digital services that will give parents and carers greater scope to manage and choose their childcare.

Building on the work of our early adopter communities and the Scottish Football Association, we will continue to design and deliver holiday activity, food and childcare provision to meet the needs of low-income families. We will continue to take a place-based and people-centred approach to co-design childcare offers within the early adopter communities, targeted at families who need it most.

On 4 October 2023, we launched the Delivery Framework, which sets out our approach to delivering a system of affordable and accessible school age childcare. We have also co-designed a National Children's Charter for School Age Childcare with children from five schools across Scotland, and a young carers’ group. The Charter sets out why school age childcare is needed, how and where school age childcare services should be run, who should provide school age childcare services, and which activities should take place.

Implementation of existing 1140 offer

Since August 2021, all councils have been offering 1,140 hours of funded ELC to all eligible children, making high quality ELC available to families. All three and four year olds, as well as eligible two year olds – those we believe will benefit most – now have a statutory entitlement of up to 1,140 hours per year of funded ELC. If families paid for this offer themselves, it would cost them around £5,000 per eligible child per year.

A range of research shows that attending high quality ELC improves outcomes for all children and the children facing the most disadvantage benefit the most. That is why we target early access to funded ELC at age two to children in families facing the most disadvantage. This includes children in households that receive low or no income benefits, children with care experience, and children whose parents have care experience themselves.

Flexibility and choice

The 1,140 offer is provided through a Funding Follows the Child model, and flexibility and choice are fundamental to this offer. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 requires local authorities to consult with parents about their childcare needs to ensure that there is an element of local flexibility, reflecting local needs, in the availability of funded ELC. While this will not always result in all families receiving exactly the provision of funded ELC that they want, it should ensure there is a reasonable balance and mix of provision available locally so parents can access provision that works for their family and circumstances.

The most recent ELC Census shows that estimated up-take of the universal offer is still very high, at 97% for three and four year olds in September 2023. Independent research published in December 2022 found that 88% of families with a 3-5 year-old child in funded ELC were satisfied that they could access this in a way that meets their needs.

As of 1 August 2023, all children who defer starting primary school have been able to access an additional year of funded ELC, allowing families to make decisions for their child without the financial barrier of ELC costs. This is an important step in supporting parents to make decisions in the best interests of their child, rather than being concerned about the costs of ELC.

We recognise the specific challenges for rural and island communities and that the provision of childcare is a key factor to support more people to enter and sustain training, employment and starting a business right across Scotland. In August 2022, following extensive consultation, the Scottish Government announced that we would support a range of “Practical Policy Tests” that would help to inform the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan. We engaged with rural and island local authorities and communities on the potential for delivering projects that would look to understand the provision, demand (current and potential), challenges, and opportunities for models of delivery across the spectrum of childcare. The Scottish Government will consider the findings of these policy tests within the context of the section on childcare within the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan, which will map out what Scottish Government and delivery partners will do to support population attraction and retention within the parts of Scotland which are affected by population decline.

We are also working to increase the number of childminders operating across Scotland, particularly in rural and island communities, to ensure that more families have access to the unique, flexible, and tailored experience of childcare that childminders can offer. This work includes supporting an innovative childminder recruitment pilot being led by the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) and partners, aiming to recruit and train new professional childminders in urban, rural and island communities across Scotland. Support for this innovative work was further enhanced in the Programme for Government (2023), where a commitment was made to expand the existing recruitment and retention pilots and grow this essential part of the workforce by 1000 more.

Funding Follows the Child

To ensure that the funded ELC entitlement is delivered in high quality settings, ‘Funding Follows the Child’ has been introduced. This approach is ‘provider neutral’, with all settings wishing to deliver funded ELC having to meet the same National Standard. This will empower families to choose from a range of high-quality early learning and childcare providers in the public, private or third sector, including childminders. An updated version of the Funding Follows the Child and National Standard Operating Guidance was published in December 2023.


We want to ensure that we take a consistent approach to determining eligibility for all our childcare offers in order to maximise the opportunities to support children and families out of poverty, based on evidenced need. As we develop eligibility for the new offers set out in our Programme for Government, we will listen to families, look at the evidence and engage with local government and our partners in the sector so that we can develop eligibility criteria based around what will have greatest impact. Our Access to Childcare Fund and early adopting community projects are providing useful data and evidence to support this work.

Flexible Working for Employees

While the legal powers governing flexible working are currently reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government is committed to working with employers directly and through their representative bodies to explore ways of promoting and encouraging flexible, agile, and inclusive workplaces that benefit all employees.

In 2022-23, the Scottish Government provided £222,000 in funding to flexible working experts, Flexibility Works, to promote and support employers across Scotland to adopt flexible workplaces. A further £153,575 has been committed in 2023-24 to continue this work.

The Scottish Government has committed to ensure that families who sadly experience miscarriage or stillbirth are entitled to three days of paid leave. We will aim to implement this commitment within the public sector and are calling on the UK Government to make the necessary changes to employment law to make this available for everyone.

Next Steps

Early Learning and Childcare

  • Over the next year, we will work with local government and partners in the early learning and childcare sector to plan for expansion to our childcare offers.
  • In 2024-25, we will continue to invest £996.5 million in high quality funded ELC. This will ensure councils can continue to deliver 1,140 hours of high quality funded ELC to all eligible children, helping to give them the best start in life. Scotland is the only part of the UK to offer 1,140 hours a year of funded ELC to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds regardless of their parents’ working status - putting children first.

Flexible Working

  • We will continue to apply our Fair Work criteria to public sector grants, and other funding and contracts where it is relevant and proportionate to do so. As part of this, employers are being asked to commit to offer flexible and family friendly working to all workers from day one of employment. Fair Work First criteria have been applied to some £4 billion worth of public sector funding since 2019.

5.2 Young Carers

No: 36c

UN Concluding Observation

Train professionals working with and for children, including teachers, to identify “young carers”, and provide their families with the support necessary to relieve such children of their responsibilities.

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 6.7 – Young Carers

Progress since November 2022

A range of support is currently available for Scotland’s young carers. This includes provisions in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which provide for their right to a young carer statement, to identify each young carer’s personal outcomes so that their eligible needs are supported. Local authorities must also consider whether the support provided to a carer should take the form of or include a break from caring.

In December 2022, the Scottish Government published the National Carers Strategy which set out 89 actions, a mixture of new activity and improving current approaches, to further support Scotland’s unpaid carers. A Young Carer Working Group will focus on the implementation of the Strategy actions that directly impact young carers and feed this work into the Carers Rights and Support Steering Group.


The Scottish Government continues to fund a full time Education Officer post at Carers Trust Scotland. The Education Officer works with Education Scotland, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Scottish Qualifications Authority, and local authorities to help ensure education staff, and other relevant professionals, are aware of young carers and able to support them appropriately.

In March 2023, the Scottish Government, Carers Trust Scotland, and Education Scotland launched a new e-module to help all education staff better understand how they can identify and support young carers. The module is fully accredited by Education Scotland, allowing teachers to incorporate this into their Continuing Professional Development. This has been positively received by the education community and is set to receive additions based on feedback from teachers and young carers and should be re-launched with these new additions in spring 2024.

Also in March 2023, the definition of “young carer” in the SEEMIS (Scottish Education Information Management) system was updated in line with the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 definition. It is hoped that now this broader definition is in use, more young carers can be identified and recorded by teachers and offered support.

School Nurse, Health, and Social Care Staff

The role of a school nurse centres around 10 priority areas for intervention which can influence poor health in later life. Young carers have been identified as one of the priority areas for the school nurse role. Once a young carer is referred to a school nurse with concerns, the nurse may complete a GIRFEC wellbeing assessment, support referrals on to specialist services when needed, and support with transitions.

We are working with internal and external stakeholders, including Carers Trust Scotland, young carer services and Young Scot, to ensure that young carers are aware of the support they can receive from their school nurse, and to help build positive working relationships between school nurses and their local young carer services. This work is in its early stages but will continue in the coming months.

In addition to this, in June 2022, we launched an educational animation which aims to help all health care staff identify and support young carers. The animation was created by the Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland (NES) with significant input from young carers. We are now working with NES on how we can capitalise on this work and progress the sharing and use of this resource, as well as monitoring the impact this work is having for young carers.

Further to this, NES has refreshed their Equal Partners in Care (ePIC) learning module. This is a learning resource for health and social care staff which will help them (and the staff or students they support) to have better conversations and interactions with carers. The aim is to make a positive difference and improve outcomes for carers and the people they care for. Previously this resource only focused on adult carers but now includes information about young carers woven throughout. The resource was launched in January 2024.

Next Steps

  • We will develop a monitoring mechanism with annual reporting and review points to track progress against the 89 actions within the National Carers Strategy, with particular focus on the actions linked to supporting young carers at key transitional points in their lives.
  • We will continue to assist professionals, particularly those working in education, health, and social care, to better identify and support young carers.
  • We will continue to monitor the number of young carers registered on SEEMIS and work with the Education Officer to identify any local areas which appear to have a low registration rate.
  • We will continue to engage with young carers and those who support them through the various existing stakeholder groups.

5.3 Looked After Children – Early Intervention and Prevention

No: 38a

UN Concluding Observation

Invest in measures to prevent and reduce the number of children placed in alternative care, including by allocating sufficient resources for early intervention and preventive services, including for infants and toddlers, increasing and strengthening the number of trained social workers, and improving multiagency coordination;

No: 38f

UN Concluding Observation

Allocate sufficient funds for family- and community-based care options for children who cannot stay with their families, and facilitate the reintegration of children into their families and communities whenever possible;

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 6.2 – Early Intervention/Prevention
  • Section 6.3 – Looked After Children and Young People

Progress Since November 2022

Early Intervention and Prevention

£32 million of Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (WFWF) has been allocated to Children’s Services Planning Partnerships (CSPPs) to transform family support services. This funding is being provided on a recurring basis (for each financial year) from 2022-23 to 2025-26 and is focused on delivering the system changes required to shift investment towards early intervention and prevention activities, therefore ensuring that families can access support before they reach crisis point. This is a critical part of how the Scottish Government will #KeepthePromise by ensuring families can access the support they need, where and when they need it. The Scottish Government is supporting CSPPs in taking forward this work through a:

  • ‘Supporting Families – A National Self-Assessment Toolkit for Change’, in partnership with stakeholders, to support CSPPs in the design and delivery of holistic whole family support.
  • Learning into Action Network that enables the sharing of learning, facilitation of peer support and collaboration.
  • dedicated national support team which is working directly with three CSPP areas (East Ayrshire, East Lothian, and Glasgow City) to accelerate plans and provide local learning that can be shared nationally.

The Scottish Government has commissioned external evaluations to help ensure WFWF is making a positive impact on outcomes for children, young people, and families. A full evaluation report of Year 1 was published in January 2024. The evaluation is based on evidence from annual statutory Children’s Services Plan reports and qualitative research with frontline service staff, CSP strategic leads, and children, young people, and families.

Overall, CSPPs saw the WFWF as beneficial and expressed that the funding approach afforded the autonomy and flexibility they needed to tailor their whole family support activities to local needs and align them with their broader children’s services work. The report concludes that substantial progress has been made within and across most CSPPs, as evidenced by their reported progress across the first year, and identifies key enablers and barriers to full implementation.

A Year 2 evaluation, which will cover the period October 2023 to October 2024, has been commissioned. Results are expected to be published by early 2025.

Social Work Recruitment and Retention

Most social workers are employed by local authorities to undertake statutory duties and therefore accountability for their recruitment and retention ultimately lies with local authorities. We recognise, however, that action needs to be taken to address the current pressures in the system and are working to support and invest in the workforce. A national approach to workforce planning is supported by the sector and should help achieve the optimal future workforce capacity to respond to anticipated demand. A range of activity is underway to help address issues with the recruitment, retention, and training of social work professionals including a Joint Workforce Improvement Plan with COSLA to address immediate workforce issues. We have also formed a Joint Social Care & Social Work/Services Workforce Taskforce (JSST), which is jointly chaired by the Scottish Government and COSLA, with the aim of exploring opportunities to deliver improvements for the adult and children's social care and social work workforce.

Work is also progressing with partners to create a strategic framework for post-qualifying education for all social workers and social work employers by autumn 2024. The Advanced Practice Framework for Social Work (APF) will endorse a series of learning and developmental opportunities to support workforce development and the retention of more experienced workers, by improving opportunities for career progression.

Our proposals for the National Care Service include the establishment of a National Social Work Agency (NSWA) to support and invest in the social work profession. It will provide a single national body with oversight of social work education, training and professional development, and the improvement of social work services.

Support for Foster and Kinship Carers

The Kinship Care Collaborative was established in November 2020 to improve outcomes for children and young people in kinship care and better support their carers and the professionals who work with kinship families.

Work continues to progress national and local improvements to support children living in kinship care. This includes re-writing the existing kinship care guidance for practitioners to reflect updated legislation and growing knowledge and experience of what works in relation to kinship care. This will be published in early 2024. We are also developing a national assessment tool to complement the refreshed guidance. This will improve consistency of approach and practice, which will benefit both practitioners and kinship carers.

For 2023-24, £16 million of additional funding has been given to local authorities to introduce a new Scottish Recommended Allowance (SRA) for foster and kinship carers. This funding enables the allowance to be backdated to 1 April 2023. Benefitting more than 9,000 children, carers across Scotland will receive at least a standard national allowance no matter where they live.

In addition, we provide funding (£534,402 covering June 2023 to May 2025) so that the Kinship Care Advice Service for Scotland (KCASS) can provide information, advice, and support to kinship families across Scotland and develop networks of knowledge for professionals working with them.

We have also awarded £989,258 of Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (£436,267 in 2023-24) to Adoption UK Scotland over three years to pilot a new approach to ensure that kinship carer families get the range of holistic support they need. This has a focus on education and community support, including peer support. The pilot is being developed in North Ayrshire, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, and East Lothian and, following a recruitment drive, clinicians and peer support partners have been recruited. A consultation with kinship families was also undertaken at the end of 2023 and referrals for the service in January 2024 have started to be made.

We are making it as easy as possible for kinship carers to apply for the Scottish social security benefits for which they are eligible. Changes were made in November 2022 to the Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Grants and Best Start Foods to extend the definition of kinship care to make it more inclusive and to ensure it is the same across all of the payments. Eligibility for these payments now includes kinship carers who are not related to the child they care for but have a pre-existing relationship with the child.[9]

A programme of trauma training and resources to support alternative caregivers (kinship, foster, supported lodging carers and adoptive parents) is being considered as part of the roll-out of the National Trauma Transformation Programme in 2024-25 and next steps are being explored. This is discussed further at section 5.4.

Next Steps

Whole Family Wellbeing Funding

  • The Whole Family Wellbeing Funding (WFWF) will continue to support CSPPs to build on and scale up the transformational change work they have started in 2022‑23. In addition, the Learning into Action Network will continue to support CSPPs through its programme of events and sharing of learning. The collaborative partnerships with three CSPP areas will also continue, and activity to support improved commissioning and procurement will be explored.
  • We will publish a Whole Family Wellbeing investment strategy to support the provision of preventative, holistic family support. Our ambition is that from 2030, we will be investing at least 5% of all community-based health and social care spend in preventative whole family support measures.
  • We will continue to evaluate the programme as we move forward in future years to ensure it meets the WFWF outcomes.

Support for Foster and Kinship Carers

  • The Scottish Government is committed to maintaining the 2023-24 levels of support for the Scottish Recommended Allowance (SRA) for foster and kinship care going forward, and to reviewing the funding implications for future years from 2024-25.
  • It is our intention to review the impact of the SRA in the future (18 months) and identify any areas where improvements can be made. In the interim, we will use our existing forums, networks, and groups as a feedback mechanism to identify any obstacles to implementation and help local authorities overcome them.
  • We recognise that kinship care can be a complex area and, in line with our commitment to continuously improve how the five family payments operate, we will continue to explore this area with input from our stakeholders and those with lived experience.
  • Once the updated guidance is published for Part 13 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, it is intended that further guidance will be developed explaining and linking all relevant legislation for children in kinship care at a future point.

5.4 Keeping the Promise

No: 38b

UN Concluding Observation

Allocate sufficient resources for the implementation of the recommendations of the independent review of children’s social care, including the provision of advocacy services for all children as an “opt-out”, rather than an “opt-in”, service, with a view to ensuring that all children in alternative care: (i) have access to independent, well-resourced child-friendly advocacy services and specialised support, including mental health and therapeutic services; and (ii) are able to maintain contact with their family members and communities;

No: 38c

UN Concluding Observation

Prevent frequent or unnecessary transfers of children in alternative care settings, ensure that children are consistently supported through individualized care plans and by a social worker throughout their time in care, and conduct regular and substantive reviews of placements in care;

No: 38d

UN Concluding Observation

Develop a legislative framework for ensuring a child rights-based approach to the support of children who are placed in alternative care far from their place of residence, and ensure that such placements take place only as a measure of last resort;

No: 38e

UN Concluding Observation

Prohibit and prevent the placement of children in secure care, residential care homes without appropriate safeguards or unregulated alternative care, including hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation;

No: 38g

UN Concluding Observation

Ensure that children are heard in decisions affecting them in alternative care placement throughout their stay, and that relevant authorities and professionals have the technical capacities required to guarantee respect for children’s views in alternative care.

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 6.2 – Early Intervention/Prevention
  • Section 6.3 – Looked After Children and Young People
  • Section 6.4 – Keeping the Promise

Progress since November 2022

Right to be Heard, Advocacy & Specialised Support

The Scottish Government’s Getting it right for every child guidance on planning for the care and support of children and young people through a GIRFEC Child’s Plan states that practitioners should seek, have regard to, and act on the views of the child or young person and their family.

We are working across the Scottish Government to review existing advocacy arrangements to support children and young people in accessing their rights and to consider if and how we need to strengthen the provision of advocacy for children and young people who need it. We are also supporting the Promise Scotland’s work to scope a national lifelong advocacy service for care-experienced people, which will help them better navigate the system and ensure their voices are heard. The Promise Scotland have produced a scoping report on lifelong advocacy with recommendations. The report was presented to the Scottish Government at the end of 2023 for consideration.

Children and young people also have access to independent advocacy when attending a Children’s Hearing through the Scotland-wide Children’s Advocacy in Children’s Hearings scheme. In addition, as discussed at section 1.14 of this report, children in Scotland continue to have access to the full range of publicly funded legal assistance as provided through the Scottish Legal Aid Board. The Scottish Government also continues to provide funding to organisations who provide free legal and advocacy services for children and young people.

Contact with Family and Friends

The Scottish Government set out Scotland’s approach to care in our Promise Implementation Plan (2022), the first principle of which sets out our commitment to supporting children to develop and strengthen healthy and positive relationships that are important to them. We also took early action in recognition of the importance of sibling relationships, introducing legislation, the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Looked After Children (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, which place a duty on local authorities to keep sisters and brothers together, where appropriate.

In addition, we convened the Siblings: Staying Together and Connected National Implementation Group in late 2021, to consider the challenges and opportunities in realising the ambitions of this legislation and the practice guidance that was published alongside this to keep brothers and sisters together. The Group published their Final Report, setting out recommendations to the Scottish Government, in June 2023 and work has progressed on some key priorities.

Establishing a national picture of the extent to which siblings are placed together is critical to monitoring the implementation of the 2021 legislation. Therefore, we have introduced four new data categories related to siblings that will be collected by local authorities. This data will help us understand the extent to which children are placed together with their siblings in care.

We are continuing to work with partners to understand what work is now required to raise siblings’ awareness of their right to stay connected to their siblings. This includes considering the Government’s advocacy offer to children and young people.

The Group published a Learning, Development and Leadership Framework which aims to ensure that the siblings legislation is understood and acted upon by those coming into contact with care experienced children and young people. We will work across Government and with key partners to embed the principles and priorities into existing frameworks. This includes training delivered to corporate parents on behalf of the Government, which now includes a focus on sibling relationships.

The Scottish Government will utilise the Community of Practice for siblings that has now been established to discuss and share good practice in this area.

Trauma-informed Care

In The Promise Implementation Plan (2022), we outlined our vision for delivering A Good Childhood. This includes investing in a comprehensive, continuing programme of training and support to embed learning for Scotland’s caregivers, including foster carers. This investment will give caregivers the skills, knowledge, and confidence, including in trauma-informed practice, to nurture the children in their care and build loving, stable relationships.

Through the National Trauma Transformation Programme, the Scottish Government and partners will continue to provide training and implementation support to help embed and sustain trauma-informed workforces, services and care. We will also continue to provide our tailored, trauma-skilled level training and coaching package for priority sectors of the Children and Families workforce with a focus on care experienced children and young people. As set out in section 5.3. we are also exploring the next steps for a programme of trauma training and resources to support alternative caregivers (kinship, foster, supported lodging carers and adoptive parents). The training provided to relevant professionals on children’s rights, including the right to be heard, is discussed further at section 1.11 of this report.

Alternative Care Placements

Care placements are regularly reviewed with multi-agency professionals and the child and family are encouraged to share their views on both the plan for their care and the care environment experienced. Children and their families can make complaints about their care placements through the placing local authority and/or to the Care Inspectorate directly.

Transfers from secure care are progressed following existing care plans, for example for an end of sentence, a move to prison or a move back into the community. All transfers are undertaken with planning in place months before the move. There are occasional unexpected moves between secure centres, but this is usually for the protection of the child or other children and all supports are put in place for a smooth transition. There are no unnecessary transfers in secure care, that we are aware of.

Placements Far from Home

In relation to placing children and young people in alternative care situations when they cannot stay at home, the relevant local authority will always make all reasonable efforts to find a placement as close to the child or young person’s home area as possible. It is the case, however, that in some situations, for example if a specialist type of placement is not available in a local authority area, a child or young person will be placed outwith their local area. This may be in other localities within Scotland or, on rarer occasions, outwith Scotland. In these circumstances, a child’s plan will be prepared which will detail timescales for assessment and actioning of: if a return home is possible for that child or young person; if not, what the planning process will be for permanent substitute care; the details for contact with the young person’s birth family if appropriate; and options for possible continuing care and aftercare (if a young person is of an appropriate age), which may include the young person returning to their local area.

At all stages of this process, the child or young person’s views will be taken into account and their rights will be respected in line with the values and principles of Getting it right for every child.

Cross-border Placements

The Scottish Government considers that cross-border placements should only occur in exceptional circumstances where the placement is in the best interests of an individual child.

The Promise is clear that current commercial practices regarding cross-border placements, whereby they are purchased by a local authority in another UK jurisdiction, must end. Section 24 within the Children (Care and Justice)(Scotland) Bill (the Care and Justice Bill) will focus on this, by enabling bespoke requirements on new residential providers which plan to accommodate cross-border placements in relation to the notification of those placements ahead of registration with the Care Inspectorate, as well as enhancing the regulatory powers in relation to such providers.

Provisions within section 25 of the Care and Justice Bill provide new regulation-making powers in relation to the recognition and effect of non-Scottish court orders relating to such placements, and to enable appropriate safeguards for the children affected. This will further build on the recent Deprivation of Liberty (DOL) Order Regulations, helping to address the complex and varied circumstances that result in such placements in Scotland, enabling appropriate conditions and requirements to be made in relation to those placements in a children’s rights-centred way.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) is in place with England and Wales for placements in secure accommodation. We have also established a four nations MoU concerning DOL placements. This ensures continued focus at national levels to work to meeting the objective of exploring suitable placements in the child’s own country before a child is placed in Scotland, wherever that is in the child’s best interest. It also ensures monitoring of such placements in Scotland. We will look to extend this to all cross-border placements in residential establishments in due course.

With regard to cross-border placements in secure care, following an English High Court case ruling in 2016 and consent from the Scottish Parliament, amendments were made to the UK Children and Social Work Act 2017 to enable local authorities in England and Wales to continue to be able to place children in secure accommodation in Scotland. This amendment provided a lawful basis for longstanding practice to continue.

Future of Secure Care

The Scottish Government has commissioned the Reimagining Secure Care project to establish a comprehensive understanding of how secure accommodation needs to be reconfigured, taking into consideration the asks from The Promise and the UNCRC Act. An interim report on the Reimaging Secure Care project was published on 4 December 2023, with a final report due in late spring 2024.

From 1 January 2023 until 31 March 2023, the Scottish Government funded a three month pilot paying for one bed in each of the four secure centres. The objectives of this trial were to:

  • ensure capacity for children living in Scotland when it is needed;
  • provide financial support to the centres as we begin discussions around the future of secure care; and
  • assess the viability of expanding national funding to meet the longer-term changes required.

This trial has now been extended and expanded. From 23 June 2023 to 31 March 2024, the Scottish Government will pay for up to four beds in each centre (up to £4.6 million). It is hoped that this will provide some financial stability to allow consideration of the changes required to significantly reduce and ultimately end cross-border placements while supporting plans to remove 16 and 17 year-olds from Young Offenders Institutions as outlined in the Care and Justice Bill (see section 8.4).

Regulation of Care Placements

Alternative care placements in Scotland are regulated by the Care Inspectorate, with the exception to this being kinship care, where family or friends care for children. These care placements, including fostering, adoption, and residential and secure care, are all subject to regulation, reporting and inspection measures.

Safeguards are already in place in relation to secure care in Scotland. Any organisation wishing to operate as a secure accommodation service must seek approval from Scottish Ministers. If approved, they must also be registered with the Care Inspectorate to provide such a service. Separate registration must also be sought in respect of education services provided. Once registered, services are regularly monitored and evaluated, including through inspections, to ensure they are continuing to provide the highest standard of care and education.

Next Steps

  • We will continue to take forward our commitment to Keep the Promise.

5.5 Support for Young People Leaving Alternative Care

No: 38h

Concluding Observation

Strengthen measures, including through increased funding, aimed at providing education, skills, housing and opportunities for independent living for children leaving alternative care.

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 6.5 – Support for Young People Leaving Care

Progress since November 2022

Children's Social Work Statistics Scotland for 2021-22 show an increase in the number of young people in continuing care and the number in receipt of aftercare:

696 young people were in continuing care in July 2022, an increase of 24% from the previous year, whilst 4,108 were in receipt of aftercare, an increase of 5% from the previous year.

The Scottish Government has committed to launching a consultation in 2024 on support for care experienced young people as they reach adulthood. In addition, guidance on continuing care will be updated to improve clarity and consistency for organisations, practitioners, and young people. The refreshed guidance will take into account recommendations in Continuing Care: An Exploration of Implementation (Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection, 2022) and the Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway: Improving Care Leavers Housing Pathways (2019).

Care Leaver Payment

The Scottish Government has committed to developing a payment to provide young people leaving care with additional financial security. The proposed Care Leaver Payment, previously referred to as the Care Experience Grant, will provide a one-off payment for young people leaving care, with the intention of helping to reduce some of the financial barriers that young people face in transition to adulthood and more independent living.

A public consultation on the proposed Care Leaver Payment was published in autumn 2023. The payment will form part of a broader package of support which includes: access to continuing care and aftercare support for care leavers;

the Care Experience Bursary, which enables Care Experienced people of any age to access further and higher education; and Council Tax Exemption. Measures to support young care leavers into housing are discussed at section 7.38 of the Embedding Children’s Rights in Scotland: Position Statement (2022).

Next Steps

Guidance Refresh

  • We plan to publish refreshed guidance, informed by engagement with stakeholders, in summer 2024.

Care Leaver Payment

  • The Social Security (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is currently at Stage 1 in the parliamentary process. This Bill contains a provision which will provide Scottish Ministers with the powers to establish one or more schemes to provide care experience assistance to people with care experience. This legislation will be used to deliver the Care Leaver Payment.
  • Following the public consultation, details of the proposed Care Leaver Payment will be developed further and set out in regulations.

5.6 Children of Incarcerated Parents

No: 39a

UN Concluding Observation

Ensure that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration in all decisions taken, including when sentencing caregivers, and that alternatives to incarceration are considered.

No: 39b

UN Concluding Observation

Ensure that children of incarcerated parents can maintain personal relations with their parents and have access to adequate services, accessible information and appropriate support, including by a social worker and financial support for visits and remote contact.

Relevant section of Scottish Government’s November 2022 Position Statement

  • Section 9.12 – Shifting the Balance from Custody to Community-based Interventions
  • Section 9.13 – Prison Visitors’ Centres

Progress since November 2022

The Scottish Government extended the presumption against short sentences to 12 months or less in 2019. Whilst the decision on the most appropriate sentence in any given case is for the court with all the facts and circumstances before it, under the presumption, courts must not impose sentences of 12 months or less unless they consider that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate.

We have published a revised National Strategy for Community Justice (2022), along with a Delivery Plan (2023), to drive further improvement work and to support the Scottish Government’s longstanding ambition to encourage more widespread use of community interventions as an alternative to custody. We know that community-based interventions and sentences can be more effective in reducing reoffending and assisting with rehabilitation than short term custodial sentences, leading to fewer victims and safer communities.

Prison Visitor Centres

The importance of supporting children and families affected by imprisonment is recognised in our Vision for Justice in Scotland (2022), which highlights that one of the most important protective factors for children of prisoners is continuing relationships with a parent or carer. There is also strong recognition that parental imprisonment can exacerbate the impacts of poverty. Scottish Government actions to help tackle child poverty are discussed at section 6.13 of this report.

The Scottish Government has continued to provide funding of around £800,000 per year for prison visitor centres (PVCs), to provide a range of practical and emotional help for families affected by imprisonment, including voicing family needs to prison staff and maintaining family ties and parental bonds. We have also continued to provide core funding for Families Outside, a charity focused on delivering support to families affected by imprisonment including through an information helpline, Family Support Workers and training and awareness raising.

Two new Community Custody Units (CCUs) were introduced in Dundee and Glasgow in 2022. These provide safe and secure accommodation which is trauma-informed and gender-specific, for women and young people who require a lower level of supervision. Importantly, these new CCUs increase the number of prisons which can accommodate female prisoners and potentially lead to women being held closer to their communities. Due to the unique ethos of the CCUs, they do not require the support of a PVC. The units have extended visiting times where family members, including children, can visit in more informal and family orientated settings, with specialised staff available to facilitate the maintenance of family ties.

In addition, virtual visits continue as an additional tool which can support families to stay in touch with a family member in prison. The installation of in-cell telephony in all Scottish prisons during 2023 will also help to support and promote family contact. Children specific visits, which provide a more relaxed and informal visit for families, have also been reintroduced post pandemic. Establishments, in partnership with visitor centre providers, also host family event days.

All individuals sentenced to custody will be offered a prison induction where prison-based social work will outline their roles and responsibilities, should someone need social work support while in custody. Individuals who are subject to post-custodial statutory supervision in the community will be allocated a prison-based social worker and a community-based social worker who will ensure any concerns about the welfare of children are referred to the appropriate supports in the community. Where an individual is not subject to post-custodial statutory supervision, they can request support from prison-based social work. Anyone who works within a custodial establishment has a duty to refer concerns they become aware of in relation to the welfare of children to prison-based social work, who will make contact with relevant agencies within the communities the child comes from.

Next Steps

Prison Visitor Centres

  • The Scottish Government is committed to maintaining funding for visitor centres to ensure the range of practical and emotional help for families affected by imprisonment continues. We are also working towards ensuring that all Scottish prisons have support for children and families affected by imprisonment. This includes making funding available to provide a model of support similar to visitor centres, which are suited to local circumstances at HMP Greenock and HMP Dumfries.
  • An evaluation of the two new Community Custody Units is underway. This includes exploration of issues relating to family contact. The findings will be published in 2024.
  • We are engaging with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and Families Outside about issues raised in the Families Outside Paying the Price report (2022), which highlighted challenges families face when travelling to visit loved ones in prison. Equitable and sustainable models of support are being explored which take account of existing schemes.
  • The SPS is currently refreshing their Family Strategy. The new strategy will focus on developing and strengthening healthy family ties through the recognition of the complex and diverse nature of family relationships. SPS also plan to reintroduce Prisoner Surveys, which were paused during the Covid pandemic. The survey will include questions relating to family contact and will be launched in 2024.


Email: UNCRCIncorporation@gov.scot

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