Special report on Scotland’s proposals to reform children’s services

The Scottish Executive’s threat to bring social services
departments before the courts if they fail to ensure young people
get adequate care and support announced by minister Peter Peacock
this week has, unsurprisingly, fuelled strong reactions,
writes Amy Taylor.


The proposal is part of a raft of measures to improve
Scotland’s children’s services, similar to the
‘Every Child Matters’ agenda currently being
implemented in England, which has just been announced by the

End up in jail

Stephen Smellie, a member of public sector union UNISON’s
social work issues group, describes the policy as
“ridiculous” and says that the union will be raising
its concerns with the executive.

“The whole thing is inconsistent with all the work that
has been going on in the 21st Century Review [of Social Work]. The
executive has been talking about getting away from a blame
culture,” he says.

Smellie adds that such a threat will not encourage social
workers to be open about “near misses” to something
tragic occurring and therefore this won’t enable lessons to
be learnt from these situations. He concludes that the measure will
also not encourage people to come into the profession. “We
are trying to encourage people to train as social workers and we
are creating a situation where they could end up in jail,” he

Under threat

Joe Connolly, deputy director of NCH Scotland, says that the
children’s charity supports all the measures apart from this
one and points out that it is only a proposal that may not make the
final cut.

“I don’t believe you deliver efficient and effective
services under threat,” he says.

The recommendations, which have come out of phase one of a
review of the children’s hearings system, aim to cut the
number of children ending up in the hearings system by placing a
greater focus on early preventive work.

Currently, children are only meant to end up in the system if
they need compulsory measures of supervision but Bernadette
Docherty, chair of the Association of Directors of Social Work
children and family care standing committee, says that this is not
always the case with children who don’t need compulsory
services sometimes being referred in order to get help.

Limited resources

Maggie Mellon, director of children and family services at
children’s charity CHILDREN 1st agrees and says that the
situation has arisen due to limited resources. She argues that
compulsory services should only be used when all voluntary options
are exhausted.

“Referrals to the hearing system has become a way of
securing services for a child, the hearing system has become
corrupted. If you go to a hearing you can get something
done,” she says.

Mellon and Docherty welcome the proposals’ reiteration of
the way the system should be being run with the executive clearly
stating that agencies should not refer a child to another service
before taking responsibility and doing all they can, with the help
of others, to support them.

Creating a lead professional role for vulnerable children who
need help from a number of agencies is another part of the plans.
Connolly says that agencies have tended to over rely on social work
to help such children but that the professional in this role will
be able to hold each service to account to ensure they pull their
weight. “Getting health to the table sometimes has been
difficult,” he explains.

The executive also proposes introducing an action plan and one
set of paperwork for each child together with integrated
assessments to reduce bureaucracy. Docherty welcomes these
proposals as she says the slashing of admin will allow
professionals to spend more time actually working directly with
children and their families rather than processing their cases.

Money, money, money

Although there is a commitment to adequately fund the hearing
system in the document it does not state if any new money will be
available. An executive spokesperson says that this is simply due
to the process not reaching past the ideas stage rather than an
indication that no money will be provided.

Connolly argues that the proposals will require some new money
but he says that some of the current funding can be used more
effectively. Changing from providing residential care to care in
the community is one way to go about this with the latter being
more effective and less costly, he explains.

Despite the problems identified, the review campaigners
generally hold the hearings system in high esteem and point out
that it is over 30-years-old so it is no surprise that some changes
are needed. It would be hard to get such praise for youth justice
and children’s services in England suggesting that perhaps
this is a model, despite its faults, other countries can learn

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