The UK’s four nations England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own child protection protocols in order to help safeguard children from abuse and neglect. Each nation has a framework of legislation, guidance and practice to detect children who are at risk of harm and take action to protect those children and avoid further abuse happening. The responsibility of policies and laws which covers most parts of safeguarding and child protection within education, social welfare and health is down to each of the UK nations. Laws are passed to avoid behaviour that can harm children or require action to protect children.
Although each nation has different child protection systems in place they all cover the same principles. The Scottish child protection policies, legislation and statutory guidance is set up and the responsibility of the Scottish Government.
The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2014 intends to improve how professionals and organisations work together to give children the protection they require. Additionally it concentrates on the collective responsibility that all agencies and services have in safeguarding children and their well-being.
The National Guidance for Child Protection was first published in 2010 and established a national framework to help local practices and procedures. The Scottish Government made a promise to guarantee that it is frequently reviewed to make sure it is pertinent and up to date in protecting children. Advances in services and good practice are apparent although cannot become complacent. It proposes a shared vision to improve outcomes for children and young people including Scotland’s most vulnerable. It offers clear step-by-step guidelines making sure practitioners understand their role in protecting the children and young people. It clarifies roles and responsibilities, what to do in different situations, guidance on confidentiality, information sharing, identifying, responding to concerns about children and clearly highlighting that the protection of children is the most important concern.
Within each national guidance each local authority has their own guidance which should be interpreted alongside 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 which intends to assist organisations and practitioners in working together to give children the protection they require.
Clackmannanshire and Stirling Child Protection Committee involves multi-agencies accountable for the development, management and review of child protection inter-agency practice throughout Clackmannanshire and Stirling. The Child Protection Committee comprises representatives from Stirling Council, Clackmannanshire Council, NHS Forth Valley, Police Scotland and Voluntary and Independent sectors. It is responsible for guaranteeing child protection practice conforms within National and Local criteria. As practitioners we have a legal obligation to protect child from harm and therefore must follow the Child Protection guidance within our individual settings according to the local and national principles. All staff require to keep up to date with the current knowledge and understanding which is given at annual Child Protection Training. During the training all staff are reminded that child protection is everyone’s concern and emphasises 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. Further guidance is given to practitioners to minimise the possibility of allegations of abuse being made against them and to reflect on their own practice. By following their own establishment’s child protection and other safeguarding policies and guidance on good working practice they should protect themselves from such allegations.
Legislation places a variety of obligations and responsibilities on services and organisations. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 remains one of the major pieces of legislation and delivers the statutory framework for Scotland’s child protection system. Having been amended and incorporated with previous Acts it now includes the law relating to child protection to ensure there are proper safeguards for children and gives parents/carers the opportunity to challenge any action that the courts may take. The act outlines parental responsibilities, rights and duties and the powers local authorities have to aid children and intervene in relation to any concerns about a child which may occur.
“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 includes the three important values of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish Law:-
• to protect from discrimination
• the welfare of children is the main interest
• children’s views are listened to
The Data Protection Act 1998 guarantees their high standards are observed by all staff in relation to child protection issues concerning confidentiality, sharing of information and disclosure of sensitive information. The child should never be exposed to risk and their protection and well-being is not compromised.
The Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 was established instead of the previous disclosure system to ensure that a person with a history of abusive behaviour was not in regular contact with vulnerable groups within a setting. The robust vetting and barring system in place will detect those deemed unsuitable for working with children and protected adults.
Scotland’s Children’s Hearings System was introduced by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and is regulated by the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The Children’s Hearing System has been able to adjust to social and political changes. The important values which were established have been upheld however developments have been altered due to international conventions.
Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 is another significant piece of legislation which made an impact by placing children and young people at the core of planning and services making sure their rights are valued. Major sections of the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) methodology has been presented into law under the Act and aims to reinforce children and young people’s rights as described within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Its priority being on the early years of a child’s life in relation to early intervention whenever help was required by the child or family encouraging preventative measures rather than emergency reactions. Included in this Act is the statutory operation of the Named Person and Child’s Plan supported by the GIRFEC method.
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. If I hear another practitioner speaking to a child in a discriminatory manner I have a duty of care to the children to report these concerns to the Child Protection Co-ordinator within my setting.
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 because of my current role therefore I am aware of the procedures, reporting and recording and discussed this knowledge with my mentor. In line with the Nursery guidelines I would:-
• 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 Seemis pastoral notes (electronic system). This may be an initial/low level concern but may detect a pattern or escalated concerns and helps the school identify any concerns at an early stage. It’s not until numerous minor issues are raised that more significant concerns become apparent.
Any information recorded is in chronological order in line with the local framework policies and procedures outlined within GIRFEC. Chronologies should be appraised and checked and cross-referenced with pertinent 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 appropriate, essential and proportionate to the situation of the child and restricted to those who need to know. Information collected about potential risks to a child should be followed up by all relevant 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, why and to which person and if consent was given for the information to be shared. 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.