Child Protection

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Child Protection Improvement Programme

The Scottish Government recently carried out a year-long review of the Child Protection Improvement Programme and published two reports in Spring 2017:

  • the Child Protection Improvement Programme report 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.

Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, made a ministerial statement in March 2017, confirming the Scottish Government would implement a number of the recommendations. The Programme for Government 2017-18 provided more detail on these future actions:

  • a consultation on new legislation to create a criminal offence of abuse and neglect of children;
  • publish a National Child Protection Policy by March 2018 which identifies all responsibilities and action across government to support families and protect children;
  • expand the role of the Care Inspectorate to analyse Significant Case Review findings and share learning at a national level;
  • a programme of action to tackle neglect, working with agencies in three local authority areas
  • host a short-life working group to examine joint inspections.

The National Child Protection Leadership Group has been established as part of the wider review. Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, will chair the Group whose membership also includes Chief Executive of the Care Inspectorate, Karen Reid. The Minister also announced a consultation on 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. This consultation will be opened by the end of 2017.

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland

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 and it is referenced in the Scottish Government’s Child Protection Improvement Programme report published in March 2017.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

statutory public inquiry to examine historical cases of abuse of children in care in Scotland was established on 1 October 2015. The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has the power to compel witnesses to appear and give evidence and runs in parallel and complements the hearings of the National Confidential Forum. The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) is providing ongoing logistical support, input and advice throughout the process. The full text of the Inquiry Terms of Reference is available here.

Susan O'Brien QC resigned her position as Chair of the inquiry in May 2016. The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, 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.

The Rt Hon Lady Anne Smith was appointed Chair in July 2016. The Deputy First Minister made a Ministerial Statement to the Scottish Parliament to announce 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 out with the courts.

The first day of public hearings took place on 31 May 2017. Transcripts of the hearings are available online. 

In June 2018, the Deputy First Minister announced that the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry will be given more time to complete its work and ensure survivors are heard. The Scottish Government agreed to a request from the Chair to remove the requirement from the terms of reference to report to Ministers within four years. The Inquiry will now report as soon as reasonably practicable.

Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government in November 2016. It will remove the three-year time limit on bringing civil cases to court, also known as a time-bar, and 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 amends 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.

In April 2017, the Justice Committee gave its initial support and said the current ‘limitation regime’ had created an “insurmountable barrier” to justice for survivors of childhood abuse. The Bill was amended at Stage 2 and reprinted in May. The Scottish Parliament passed the Bill at Stage 3 on 22 June 2017.

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

A Bill designed to improve the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) process was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in March 2015. The Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Bill implements 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.

The Justice Committee was allocated the Bill and published a Stage 1 report that supported the general principles but asked the Scottish Government to reflect upon evidence received on issues such as the scope for mandatory FAIs. At this stage in the legislative process, the Scottish Government confirmed that the Bill would extend the mandatory category of FAIs to deaths of children in secure accommodation, but would not extend this to all looked after children.

The Bill was passed by MSPs in December 2015 and came into force in June 2017. 

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act

The Scottish Government's Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill was passed by MSPs in October 2015. The Act received Royal Assent in November 2015 and introduced a range of provisions, 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 Act 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.

In October 2016, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on Scotland’s first Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy. The consultation set out the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle trafficking. A guide to what the Act does and a small number of case studies to illustrate some of the facets of trafficking and exploitation in Scotland were also published.

The final version of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy was published in May 2017. Three Action Areas are included:

  • Identifying victims and supporting them to safety and recovery
  • Identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity
  • Addressing the conditions, both local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation

The Scottish Government will report on the Strategy’s progress on an annual basis.

Proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill

A Member's Bill was launched by Green MSP John Finnie in May 2017 which, if enacted, would give children equal protection from assault by prohibiting the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children. A consultation took place in Summer 2017 and responses will now be analysed by the Member and the Parliament’s Non-Government Bills Unit.

The Scottish Government announced as part of its Programme for Government 2017-18 that it would also support Mr Finnie's legislative proposals along with all other parties in the Parliament. Further plans to launch a public awareness campaign when the law is changed were confirmed alongside this commitment to support the Bill. A final proposal was lodged in October 2017 and the Member secured the right to introduce a Member's Bill. 

National Action Plan on 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 publication followed an inquiry into child sexual exploitation by the Public Petitions Committee, which was established after Barnardo’s Scotland raised a petition on the issue in 2011. The inquiry examined the nature and extent of child sexual exploitation in Scotland, and the effectiveness of current measures aimed at tackling, preventing and disrupting CSE. The Committee published its report on tackling child sexual exploitation in January 2014, including the overarching recommendation that the Scottish Government should develop a national strategy for tackling CSE.

The Action Plan was 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.

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

In its 2017-18 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government confirmed that improvements to the collation of information on child sexual exploitation will be implemented under the National Action Plan by the end of 2018. 

Child Death Review System

In 2014 the Scottish Government accepted the recommendation of the Child Death Reviews Working Group that Scotland should introduce a national Child Death Review System. A Steering Group to develop the process and to identify costs was established and published its recommendations in March 2016, including:

  • Reviews should be conducted on the deaths of all live born children up to the date of their 18th birthday and for care leavers in receipt of aftercare or continuing care at the time of their death, up to the date of their 26th birthday
  • Local authorities should be commissioned to inform the NRC of all deaths of care leavers in receipt of aftercare or continuing care up to their 26th birthday at the time they notify the Care Inspectorate
  • Reviews should be conducted in a collaborative manner across all agencies and with a learning approach; other processes, e.g. criminal investigations or significant case reviews should take place prior to a child death review, with the outcomes of these processes informing the child death review process

Children’s Hearings

The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 was introduced to Parliament in February 2010 and received Royal Assent on 6 January 2011. It aims to strengthen and modernise the Children’s Hearings system while promoting children’s rights. The legislation introduced a number of new structural changes including:

  • The creation of a National Convener who acts as a figurehead for panel members and ensures they are consistently supported to a high standard
  • A dedicated national body, Children's Hearings Scotland (CHS), which supports the National Convener in the recruitment, selection, training, retention and support of panel members
  • The dissolution of local authority panels and the creation of a national children's panel with area support teams
  • The creation of a national Safeguarder panel to improve consistency and standards

The Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee undertook an inquiry in 2017 on the children’s hearings system and progress made since the 2011 Act was enacted. The Committee published a report in April 2017 on its findings, welcoming the improvements made to the system but warning there is a danger that some of the current procedures and the way that some Hearings are run in practice making it more difficult for children and young people to be heard.

The Scottish Government responded to the Committee’s report in June 2017. Plans to make more progress on the development of a national sustainable advocacy service model over the next two years were outlined. The Scottish Government may also consider making the case for legislative change on report notification and physical attendance at hearings by reviewing the existing arrangements and whether they inhibit a more child-centred approach. The letter notes that multi-agency training is currently being scoped by the Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership Learning and Development adviser. 

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