Child Protection

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Child Protection Improvement Programme

The Scottish Government has published two reports following a review of the child protection system in Scotland, accepting all the recommendations within. These are:

  • the Child Protection Improvement Programme – the report of the Child Protection Improvement Programme setting out 35 Actions covering children’s hearings; leadership and workforce development; inspections of children’s services; neglect; data and evidence; child sexual exploitation; child internet safety; and trafficking
  • Protecting Scotland’s Children and Young People: It is Still Everyone’s Job – the Child Protection Systems Review, which makes 12 recommendations covering Initial/Significant Case Reviews, Child Protection Committees, the Child Protection Register, and matters of leadership, governance and accountability.

The Childcare and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald made a ministerial statement on the back of the reports, announcing plans to: introduce new legislation to create a criminal offence of abuse and neglect of children; publish a National Child Protection Policy which identifies all responsibilities and action across government to support families and protect children; and expand the role of the Care Inspectorate to analyse Significant Case Review findings and share learning at a national level, and to host a short-life working group to examine joint inspections.

The Scottish Government has confirmed the membership and remit of the National Child Protection Leadership Group. Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, will chair the Group whose membership includes Chief Executive of the Care Inspectorate, Karen Reid. The Minister also announced plans to reform the child cruelty provision in the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, by updating the current provision to recognise emotional and psychological neglect. A consultation on the new legislation will be opened by the end of 2017.


Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Act

A Bill designed to improve the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) process has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government’s proposed Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Bill aims to implement the remaining recommendations of Lord Cullen in the 2009 Review of FAI Legislation. Provisions in the Bill include providing flexibility on the location and accommodation for FAIs; permitting FAIs to be re-opened if new evidence arises or if the evidence is so substantial to permit a completely new inquiry; and placing a requirement on those who receive recommendations from the Sheriff to report back on steps taken.

Key documents:

The Justice Committee was allocated the Bill and published a Stage 1 report that supported the general principles of the Bill but asked the Scottish Government to reflect upon evidence received on issues such as the scope for mandatory FAIs. As MSPs agreed to the general principles of the Bill at Stage 1, the Scottish Government confirmed that the Bill will extend the mandatory category of FAIs to deaths of children in secure accommodation, but it will not extend this to all looked after children. The Scottish Government says it will establish a working group to consider the position of looked after children. A steering group set up to develop a Child Death Review System reported in March 2016. The steering group makes 21 recommendations, including the establishment of an independent Scottish national child death reviews system, comprising one National Resource Centre (NRC), along with three Regional Offices, based in the North, West and East areas of the country.

The Bill was passed by MSPs in December 2015. 


Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

A statutory public inquiry to examine historical cases of abuse of children in care in Scotland is now officially underway. The inquiry will have the power to compel witnesses to appear and give evidence and it will run in parallel and complement the hearings of the National Confidential Forum. The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) is to provide ongoing logistical support, input and advice throughout the process. The full text of the Inquiry Terms of Reference is available here.

Two panel members have been appointed to the Inquiry: Glenn Houston, Chief Executive of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority of Northern Ireland, and Professor Michael Lamb, Professor of Psychology and Fellow at Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge. Professor Lamb has subsequently resigned from the Inquiry. 

The Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry Susan O'Brien QC has resigned her position. The Deputy First Minister has issued a statement  and letter to Convener of the Education and Skills Committee at the Scottish Parliament on Ms O’Brien’s resignation and copies of correspondence to which that statement refers can be found here.

Evidence from older people and those who are seriously ill will be heard "as a matter of urgency", whilst a wider call for evidence will be made in due course. 

Draft legislation,the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, to remove the three-year time limit on bringing civil cases to court, also known as a time-bar, has been published. The Bill would remove the limitation period for actions of damages in respect of personal injuries resulting from childhood abuse.

Current law requires anyone who wishes to raise a personal injury action for damages to do so generally within three years of the date on which the injuries were sustained. In practice, this means a survivor of child abuse is usually required to raise civil action by the date of their 19th birthday (three years after they reach the age of 16).

The new Bill, which would amend the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973, applies to abuse against any child regardless of the setting where that took place. It goes further than other jurisdictions by including sexual, physical and emotional abuse where other similar legislation has been limited to only sexual abuse or has only included emotional abuse which is connected to other forms of abuse.  It also enables cases previously raised but unsuccessful due to ‘time-bar’ to be re-litigated whether they were determined by the court or settled by both parties without damages paid.

The Justice Committee has given its initial support and said the current ‘limitation regime’ had created an “insurmountable barrier” to justice for survivors of childhood abuse and on that basis gave its support to the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1 of the parliamentary process.

The Inquiry has changed its name from the National Inquiry into historical abuse of children in care and will now be known as the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.  

Deputy First Minister John Swinney made a Ministerial Statement to the Scottish Parliament in November 2016, announcing that the Inquiry terms of reference would be amended to make clear its scope includes the abuse of children in care wherever that occurred, though it will not be extended further to include all allegations of abuse in non-residential settings.

The Deputy First Minister also pledged a formal consultation with survivors and other relevant organisations focused specifically on the issue of redress outwith the courts.

The Inquiry's terms of reference have been updated. 


Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act

The Scottish Government's Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill has been passed by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. The Bill will introduce a range of proposals, including a new single offence of trafficking for all forms of exploitation for both adults and children and those who seek to exploit others.

The Bill also increases the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment, commits ministers to publishing and updating a human trafficking strategy, and places a duty on ministers to ensure there is a guardian service available for both child victims and children who are at risk of and vulnerable to becoming victims.

Key documents:

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on Scotland’s first Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy. The consultation sets out the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle trafficking. A guide which sets out what the act does and a small number of case studies to illustrate some of the facets of trafficking and exploitation in Scotland have also been published. The consultation closes on 7 December 2016.


National Guidance for Child Protection

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland is the Scottish Government's national framework for agencies and practitioners at local level to understand and agree processes for working together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It sets out expectations for strategic planning of services to protect children and young people and highlights key responsibilities for services and organisations, both individual and shared. It also includes guidance for practitioners on specific areas of practice and key issues in child protection.

In early 2013 a steering group, chaired by the Director of child protection body WithScotland Beth Smith, ran a consultation on a 'refresh' of the guidance, which was originally published in 2010. The updated guidance was published in May 2014.  


Getting Our Priorities Right 

Updated good practice guidance for all agencies and practitioners working with children, young people and families affected by problematic alcohol and/or drug use provides a refreshed framework for all child and adult service practitioners working with vulnerable children and families affected by problematic parental alcohol and/or drug use, updated to reflect the particular context of the national GIRFEC and 'whole family' recovery approaches. 


National Framework for Learning and Development 

The National Framework for Child Protection learning and development in Scotland sets out a common set of skills and standards for workers to ensure the delivery of a "consistently high standard" of support to children and young people across the country. The framework is designed to strengthen the skills and training of professionals and improve the advice and tools available to them in assessing, managing and minimising risks faced by vulnerable children and young people.


National Risk Framework

The National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People is a national risk assessment 'toolkit' to support practitioners in identifying and acting on child protection risks in children and young people. Based on the GIRFEC approach and using the National Practice Model as its basis, the framework sets out a process for assessing risk and a set of practical tools to enable practitioners to consider key factors in a child or young person's life. The tools are also designed to support greater understanding of the child's family relations and support the development of "robust, effective chronologies".


Public Petitions Committee - Inquiry into tackling child sexual exploitation in Scotland

In 2013, following consideration of a public petition lodged by Barnardo's Scotland, the Public Petitions Committee launched an inquiry with the following remit: "To examine the nature and extent of child sexual exploitation in Scotland; in conjunction with relevant agencies and stakeholders to determine the most pertinent issues which need to be addressed; to examine the effectiveness of current measures aimed at tackling, preventing and disrupting child sexual exploitation; and to make recommendations on what needs to be done to improve the effectiveness of those measures.

The Committee published its report on tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) in January 2014, including the overarching recommendation that the Scottish Government should develop a national strategy for tackling CSE. The Committee suggested that the ministerial short-life working group on CSE, which reported in December 2013, could be tasked with the initial planning of this as part of its continuing work in 2014.

The Scottish Government published its response to the inquiry in May 2014, addressing each of the Committee's recommendations in turn. The response confirms plans for the preparation of a National Action Plan by the ministerial working group and the intention for this to be published at the end of summer 2014.

The Committee has closed the petition following the Scottish Government’s publication of a National Action Plan.


National Action Plan to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation

In November 2014 the Scottish Government published a National Action Plan to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). The Action Plan was co-produced by the Scottish Government and a national Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on CSE made up of a range of experts, including Police Scotland, Children in Scotland, the Care Inspectorate, Aberlour, Barnardos and the Crown Office.

The Action Plan has been developed with specific areas of focus for tackling CSE: prevention of abuse (with specific measures for dealing with particularly vulnerable children); disruption and prosecution of offenders through legislation; and supporting children and young people affected by CSE. 

A progress update on implementation of the National Action Plan has been published by the Scottish Government in October 2015. A further update was published in March 2016. A progress report on the National Action Plan has been published in March 2017 outlining progress over the past year in meeting the actions outlined in the Plan. 

A programme of work has been announced by the Scottish Government in relation to child protection, including a review of the underlying system. The review will make recommendations by the end of 2016 and focus on Child Protection Committees, Initial Case Reviews, Significant Case Reviews, and the child protection register. This will be backed by increased scrutiny through a revised inspection programme, a review of child protection legislation, steps to promote and support leadership and action to address the impact of neglect on children. 



Child Death Review System

A multi-agency review to examine the circumstances of every child’s death is to be introduced on a national basis, the Scottish Government has confirmed. The move comes after the Scottish Government published the findings of a short-life working group set up to explore current practice around child deaths in Scotland and to consider whether a national collaborative system should be introduced. The group recommends that a 'Child Death Review System' should be introduced which would:

  • Systematically review each death in a multi-agency forum. Any local learning would be implemented amongst relevant professionals and services.
  • Collate a uniform data-set relevant to each child death for national analysis to inform national multi-agency learning and aid the development of national policy.
  • Identify factors which may reduce preventable childhood deaths.

A multi-agency steering group is to be established to make recommendations to the Scottish Government on implementation. A child fatality review model recently piloted in Tayside will inform this work. 


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