Damning report could be trigger for change for Scottish child protection

The findings of the Scottish executive’s report into child
protection make for sobering reading: half of all children in
Scotland at risk of abuse and neglect are not receiving adequate

“It’s Everyone’s Job to Make Sure I’m Alright”, published last
week, says children are still being left in situations that place
them at risk despite having a number of referrals to statutory

The report is the culmination of a year-long audit of Scotland’s
child protection system started in March 2001. The inquiry was set
up following the death of a three-year-old girl, Kennedy McFarlane,
in May 2000 and the subsequent report into her death by Helen
Hammond, Scottish representative for the Royal College of
Paediatrics and Child Health’s standing committee for child

Representatives from the children’s hearings system, education,
health, social work and police made up the review team. Their remit
was to examine current child protection systems, case files and
staff practices across Scotland.

Their report highlights a catalogue of failures in the working
practices of child protection agencies and makes 17 recommendations
on how these can be improved to help tackle abuse and

The most detailed recommendation calls for all agencies to review
their procedures and establish measures to allow practitioners easy
access to necessary information about a child. In particular,
clinicians are urged to consider what additional information is
available from their own or other agencies when a child presents
with an injury or complaint before they rule out any potential

Hammond says she is surprised how much poor practice is identified.
She says detailed information about children is not readily
available and needs to be more widely accessible.

“Not enough medical staff have immediate access to information
which would help them to recognise whether a child is at risk of
abuse and then make an appropriate referral,” she adds.

The report says that where there have been concerns about possible
abuse, police, schools, health and social care files should all
contain a “succinct chronology of events or concerns” about the

Reviewers found that medical staff did not always make the
necessary checks with medical records to establish if a child’s
injury was part of a non-accidental pattern.

Problems with agencies sharing information were also highlighted
with regards to reporters in the children’s hearings systems.

In Scotland, children’s hearings have most of the responsibility
for dealing with children and young people aged under-16 who commit
offences or are in need of care or protection. Reporters are the
officials that all referrals – predominantly by police but also by
other agencies – must be made to.

The review found that when reporters requested relevant information
from councils’ social workers, details about very young children’s
health or developmental milestones were not always provided.

Cathy Dewar, children’s and family services director at the
Children 1st charity, says although Scottish agencies have a
tradition of collaborative working, this does not always extend to
sharing information.

“Some agencies do not have access to information at the same time
as others,” she explains.

The report also calls on local authorities to ensure their plans
for integrated children’s services develop “positive childhood

This takes the form of a general, aspirational statement about
promoting “every child’s rights to life, health, decency and
development” that should be included in all plans and be the
starting point for all child protection cases, according to the
executive. The executive is to back this with a public campaign and
will also create a children’s charter setting out the support every
child has the right to expect.

Association of Directors of Social Work president Jim Dickie thinks
positive childhood initiatives are a “rather vague notion” and says
the concept sits uncomfortably in an otherwise sharp and focused

He argues that Scottish councils play an active role in trying to
enhance children’s lives and denies the report’s claims that there
is a major problem with social worker practices.

“These are precisely the kind of issues that children’s services
seek to address,” he says. However, he adds that he is pleased the
executive is “catching up” with what councils are already doing.
Hammond says some of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child
Health’s members may “take offence” at the wording of the
recommendation because it suggests paediatricians are failing to
promote children’s health. She says: “All the work we do on
children’s services plans is about positive childhood initiatives.”
She adds it would have been more appropriate to recommend that
plans focus on the rights of children.

Dewar believes the recommendation will consolidate the work being
done by professionals.

“This sets out a principle that we are aspiring to but not yet
quite delivering,” she says.

Developing linked computer-based information systems also needs
addressing. The report says in order to meet the shortcoming in
collaborative working, a single assessment, planning and review
report framework for children in need should be created.

Dickie supports such a move and says his council, North
Lanarkshire, has successfully piloted a single assessment framework
for older people’s community care services. But he warns that
creating an appropriate framework is not straightforward.

Alan Miller, principal children’s reporter for Scotland, says a
single integrated assessment that brings together child protection
and youth justice would be beneficial and used widely.

“What a fantastic opportunity for Scotland to pull this off,” he

To help agencies address the challenges identified by the report,
the executive recommends establishing a national implementation
team. No decision has been made about when the team will start or
what its first task is, an executive spokesperson says, but it is
hoped it will include representatives from all sectors.

“We want to get other agencies, who in the past may have thought it
was not their responsibility, to work closer together and make
improvements,” Miller adds.

Hammond says it is essential senior practitioners and service
commissioners from all fields are on the national team to help
implement the executive’s recommendations.

Dewar says the team needs to be up and running as soon as possible
so none of the momentum started by the report is lost.

In addition, the executive intends to implement a further review of
child protection in three years’ time.

Miller says it is a realistic deadline for agencies to work
towards. “Not everything is going to have happened by then but a
lot of progress can be made,” he adds.

A spokesperson for the executive admits three years is a
“challenging” target for agencies but says child protection has to
be improved as a matter of urgency. 

It’s Everyone’s Job to Make Sure I’m Alright from www.scotland.gov.uk

Key Findings:

Social workers are reluctant to apply for child protection
orders unless they can demonstrate an immediate risk.

Most cases of child abuse are referred to agencies by third

Inquiries and investigations are not always sufficiently extensive
and are often poorly recorded.

Assessment of what immediate action is required is generally sound
but longer-term risk assessment is poor.

There are many delays in the children’s hearings system.

Key proposals:

The Scottish executive should draw up standards of practice for
child protection.

All local authorities, health boards, police services and the
Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration should regularly audit
against these standards.

The Scottish executive should commission research into the costs
and benefits of the current child protection system.

The Scottish executive should strengthen staff training across all

The Scottish executive is to advise agencies on how to pool
resources and create effective joint commissioning.

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