The UK’s four nations England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own child protection system and laws to help protect children from abuse and neglect. Each nation has a framework of legislation, guidance and practice to identify children who are at risk of harm and take action to protect those children and prevent further abuse occurring. Each UK nation is responsible for its own policies and laws around education, health and social welfare, this covers most aspects of safeguarding and child protection. Laws are passed to prevent behaviour that can harm children or require action to protect children.
Although the child protection systems are different in each nation, they are all based on similar principles. The Scottish Government is responsible for child protection in Scotland. They set out policy, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should work.
The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2014 aims to enhance the way all professionals and organisations work collectively to give children the protection they require, quickly and successfully at the earliest possible stage. Furthermore it focuses on the shared responsibility that all agencies and services have for protecting children and safeguarding their well-being.
The National Guidance for Child Protection was first published in 2010 and established a national framework to facilitate local practices and procedures. The Scottish Government made a commitment to guarantee that it is frequently refreshed to make sure it is relevant and up to date in protecting children. Improvements in services and good practice are evident although cannot become complacent. It offers a shared vision to improve outcomes for children and young people including Scotland’s most vulnerable. It provides clear step-by-step guidelines ensuring practitioners understand their part in protecting the children and young people. It clarifies roles and responsibilities, what to do in different circumstances, guidance on confidentiality, information sharing, identifying, responding to concerns about children and clearly emphasising that the protection of children is the most important consideration.
Within each national guidance each local authority has their own guidance which should be interrupted along with their own individual agencies and services. The Forth Valley Inter Agency Child Protection Guidance 2016 is based on the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2014 and aims to support organisations and practitioners in working together to give children the protection they need.
Clackmannanshire and Stirling Child Protection Committee is a multi-agency forum responsible for the development, co-ordination and review of child protection inter-agency policy and practice across Clackmannanshire and Stirling. The Child Protection Committee includes representatives from Stirling Council, Clackmannanshire Council, NHS Forth Valley, Police Scotland and Voluntary and Independent sectors. It is responsible for ensuring that child protection practice complies with National and Local standards. We have a legal duty as Practitioners to protect child from harm and therefore must follow the individual Child Protection guidelines set within our own establishments in accordance with the local and national standards. All staff refresh there knowledge and understanding annually at Child Protection Training. Within the training staff are reminded that child protection is everyone’s concern and highlights a child within Scots law is anyone under 16 however young people under 18 may still require protection, for example if they have additional support needs. Additional guidance for Practitioners is given to minimise the risk of allegations of abuse against themselves by reflecting on their own practice and by following their own establishment’s child protection and other safeguarding policies and guidance on safe working practices and codes of conduct.
Legislation places a variety of duties and responsibilities on services and organisations. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 remains one of the primary pieces of legislation and provides the legislative framework for Scotland’s child protection system. Having been amended and integrated with previous Acts now includes the law relating to child protection to ensure there are proper safeguards for children and reasonable opportunities for the parents/carers of the child to challenge any action that the courts may take. The act outlines parental responsibilities, rights and duties and the influences local authorities have to support children and intervene if there are concerns about a child. The key principles underpinning the 1995 Act are:
• Each child has a right to be treated as an individual
• Each child who can form a view on matters affecting him or her has the right to express those views if he or she so wishes
• Parents should normally be responsible for the upbringing of their children and should share that responsibility
• Each child has the right to protection from all forms of abuse, neglect or exploitation
• So far as is consistent with safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare, the public authority should promote the upbringing of children by their families
• Any intervention by a public authority in the life of a child must be properly justified and should be supported by services from all relevant agencies working in collaboration.
The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 also incorporates the three key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish Law:-
• Protection from discrimination
• Ensuring that child welfare is a primary concern
• Listening to children’s views.
In relation to children’s protection matters of confidentiality, sharing of information and disclosure of sensitive information The Data Protection Act 1998 ensures all key principles are adhered to by staff ensuring the children’s wellbeing and protection is not jeopardised.
The Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 was introduced to replace the former system of Disclosure to ensure that all those who have regular contact with vulnerable groups within the workplace do not have a history of abusive behaviour. The Act will create a fair and consistent system that is quick and easy for people to use. The scheme will stop people who are unsuitable from working with children and protected adults either paid or unpaid and detect those who become unsuitable while in the work place through its vigorous vetting and barring scheme. The Act also gives guidance to employers about their own responsibilities.
Scotland’s Children’s Hearings System was initiated by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and is now regulated by the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. One of the strengths of the Children’s Hearings System is that it has been able to adapt to changing social and political climates. The fundamental principles on which it is based have been maintained but processes have been changed in light of international conventions. These include the specific rights for children contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the general human rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. In an emergency the Police have the specific power under the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) 2011 Act to ensure the immediate protection of children believed to be suffering from or at risk of significant harm.
Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 is another significant piece of legislation about children’s rights supporting Children Protection guidelines. Building on the aims of the Early Years Framework, this act aims to put children and young people at the heart of planning and services to make sure their rights are respected across the public sector. Its focus was on the early years of a child’s life and towards early intervention whenever help was required by the child or family encouraging preventative measures rather than crises’ responses. Included in this Act is the statutory operation of the Named Person and Child’s Plan underpinned by the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) approach. The GIRFEC principles which all services and multi-agencies follow is the national holistic approach to improving the wellbeing of children to ensure they develop to their full potential. By implementing common frameworks for planning assessment and action all agencies can work together to identify needs and risks addressing them appropriately. To ensure concerns are responded to early and effectively shared practice should be consistent and of high quality.
Although some legislations have more significance within Children Protection than others there are a numerous legislations which have an equally important role in how safeguarding concerns are dealt with i.e. Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, Local Government in Scotland 2003, Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) 2004 and 2009, Human Rights Act 1998, Digital Economy Act 2017 and Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017.
DIRECT DISCLOSURES: A direct disclosures is when a child tells you directly that they are being abused or neglected.
INDIRECT DISCLOSURES: Children also disclose abuse indirectly they may communicate their experiences of abuse through behaviour, art, stories, their appearance, questions or conversations through role-play.
In relation to child abuse, poor or discriminatory practice within a school/nursery setting all staff require to share concerns in regard to any staff practices that compromise the safety of child. An incident, action or event that may give cause for concern must be reported to the Child Protection Co-ordinator. It may be that the setting is not allowing the child to reach their full learning potential because it has limited resources or inappropriately set out for the child’s individual need. You may hear another practitioner speaking to a child in a discriminatory manner. Staff have a duty of care to the children to report these concerns.
As a student within my setting I have been informed by my Mentor to report directly to the Senior within the Nursery if a child disclosed possible abuse and/or neglect. I have annual Child Protection Training and I am aware of the procedures, reporting and recording.
• remain calm
• listen carefully and sensitively
• take whatever the child discloses seriously
• reassure child that they have done the right thing
• record the information verbatim
• follow the correct procedures for child protection
I know not to:-
• ask leading questions
• appear shock or surprised
• promise to keep the information secret
• carry out my own investigation or gather photographic evidence
• speculate or form my own opinions
I am fully aware that I need to share with other professionals if it is considered necessary to protect the child or someone else from harm.
The Child Protection Coordinator within the Nursery or School may record information following a concern being raised by logging the information given on an electronic pastoral notes system. This may be an initial/low level concern but might lead to a pattern or escalated concerns. It helps the school identify cause for concern at an early stage. Often it is only when a number of seemingly minor issues are taken as a whole, that a safeguarding or child protection concern becomes clear.
Any information recorded is in chronological order in line with the local framework policies and procedures outlined within GIRFEC. Chronologies should be reviewed and monitored and cross-referenced with relevant information from other agencies.
Recording information both electronically and manually identifies a robust and effective safeguarding policy and practice in the event of any inspection. It helps the school monitor and manage its safeguarding practices. Records of disclosures made by children should be:
• Factual, using the child’s own words.
• All records should be dated, signed and filed in chronological order.
• Any handwritten notes taken during or immediately after a disclosure should not be destroyed but kept securely attached to the child protection forms. These hand written notes may be used as evidence or clarification for any future court case.
All child protection concerns should be treated as sensitive information and kept separate from general school records. Child protection records should be kept together in a secure filing cabinet accessible only to the relevant staff involved in CP issues. A child may have an open CP file if staff have already raised concerns, information may have been forwarded on by a previous school or if the school is alerted by another agency (e.g. health, social care).
The law of confidentiality, data protection and human rights principles must be adhered to when obtaining, processing or sharing personal or sensitive information or records. Current guidance from the Records Management Society is that when a pupil with a child protection record reaches statutory school leaving age, the last school attended should keep the child protection file until the child’s 26th birthday.
Any confidential information shared should be relevant, necessary and proportionate to the circumstances of the child and limited to those who need to know. Information gathered about possible risks to a child should be pursued from all related sources including services that may be involved with other family members. Significant historical information should be taken into account. When information is shared a record should be taken of when it was shared and to whom, for what reason and whether the information was shared with or without consent. If for some reason information is not shared the reason and the logic as to why must also be recorded. There is a significant difference between making the child aware that information will/may be shared and seeking their consent. Relevant information must always be shared if a child’s wellbeing is considered to be at risk.
Every child who has a child protection record has the right to access their personal record if it is appropriate to do so. If doing so affects the child’s health or well-being or that of others involved or would impede an ongoing criminal investigation it would be prohibited.
Parents are entitled to see their child’s protection file on behalf of their child unless it affected the health and well-being of child or others involved. Older children may be entitled to refuse parents access unless this was to affect the child’s health and wellbeing or that of another person. If a parent makes a request to access the records on a child’s behalf, this should be done in writing.
Once the information of a disclosure is shared with the Child Protection Coordinator they would then make a professional judgement about what action needs to be taken in accordance with their child protection procedures. If the concern is regarding child welfare then an initial phone call/meeting with parents regarding the child’s wellbeing may be arranged. It is important that the child is aware that any disclosure made will be treated sensitively but may need to be shared with other professionals if it is considered necessary to protect them or others from harm (i.e. domestic violence).
The CP Coordinator may then make a referral to the Social Work Department to discuss their concern. The Social Work Department has a duty and responsibility to act upon the information given to them. Social work may decide no further action is required on their part however may request the school/nursery to identify areas of support in which case a Children’s Plan will be actioned.
If the Social Work Department think further investigation is required an Initial Referral Discussion (IRD) is the next stage of integrated information sharing, risk assessment and decision-making about risk to the child. This IRD will include Health, Police, Social Work, Named Person and CP Coordinator. The IRD is the central method within the Child Protection process and determines whether a child protection investigated is necessary. If the child is at severe risk emergency action may be required to move the child to a place of safety.
Following an investigation it is important to remember the child/young person and ensure their needs are the centre of everyone’s focus.
The Children’s Hearing System is the care and justice system which upholds the welfare and rights of children. It ensures targeted support is provided to those in need of the necessary measures to ensure their care and protection. The Children’s Reporters are independent officials who receive referrals from a number of services such as social services, police and parents as a result of a variety of concerns. The reporter investigates each referral to decide if the child should be brought before a Children’s Hearing.
The Children’s Reporter may decide:
• that a children’s hearing is not required
• that a children’s hearing is not required but the child or young person should be referred to the local authority so that advice, guidance and assistance can be given on an informal and voluntary basis – this usually involves support from a social worker
• to arrange a children’s hearing because they consider that a compulsory supervision order is necessary for the child or young person.
The many reasons to bring a child to a hearing are set down in the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The hearing can make a number of different decisions:
• that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case
• that the panel members need more information to help them make a decision about what is best and they can defer (postpone) the hearing until a later date and in this case they can make decisions about what should happen to the child or young person in the meantime if this is necessary as a matter of urgency
• That compulsory measures of supervision are needed to help the child or young person and can make a compulsory supervision order. This will have measures attached to it which can include where the child or young person is to live, (for example with foster carers or a relative) or who the child should see and when.
If a child is deemed to be at immediate risk they may be removed from the home without notice by applying for a Child Protection Order via a Sheriff. If a Sheriff is unavailable any person may apply to a Justice of the Peace for authorisation to remove a child to a place of safety. A Police Constable can also remove a child for up to 24 hours in a place of safety if they have reasonable cause to believe that the conditions for making a Child Protection Order are satisfied.
All local authorities are responsible for maintaining a central register for all children including unborn children who are the subject of an inter-agency Child Protection Plan. This called a Children Protection register.
If a child moves from one Scottish authority to another and has a Child Protection Plan or Supervision Requirement then all records of that child should be sent with the child. If a child is on the Child Protection Register then the receiving authority should request the child’s file from the previous authority.
It is not just the responsibility of staff and services who work with children to report concerns of possible harm or abuse. It is everyone’s responsibility. Any member of the public can report a concern directly to their local social work department or any of the numerous helplines including NSPCC or Childline who would help you with the right cause of action. If a child is in immediate danger you can call the police on 999 or 101.
As a practitioner you can contact Social Work for any updates on concerns you have previously raised regarding child protection issues. However if a child protection concern has been reported and you feel it is not being handled in the appropriate way then you can follow a Whistleblowing Policy process. The relevant agencies and authorities will then take action on your behalf – you can remain anonymous.