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Letter to Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety, Stage 3 Children (Scotland) Bill

Dear Minister Denham,

We write to you as the largest Professional Association for social workers in Scotland, encouraging you to support the following amendment at Stage 3 of the Children (Scotland) Bill:

Section 8

Liam McArthur

In section 8, page 15, line 9, at end insert –

Only a social worker registered with the Scottish Social Services Council may be appointed as a child welfare reporter

We are deeply concerned about the quality of welfare assessments in child welfare hearings and the impact of these on vulnerable children and young people. Children who are the subject of Child Welfare Reports are often the silent victims of their parents’ acrimony and inability to reach agreement about their future wellbeing, safety and security through the rest of their childhood. They will have listened to their parents argue, they will have wanted the arguing to stop, they will often have divided loyalties with both parents whom they love but may be frightened to say so, and they have often learnt that being silent is the way to cope. Some adults interpret this as resilience, some see it as children being forced to repress their feelings and emotions in isolation, not knowing who to talk to or who they can trust. The skills that are needed in helping children talk and for their views to be heard are complex and take time to develop; particularly understanding the dynamics that happen in families and between adults and children. We are concerned that children involved in this process are currently not getting the support they need to help them understand the court process and decisions, and are assessed by professionals who do not have the qualifications required to do this sensibly, whilst also being aware of complex issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, trauma, parenting capacity and parental influence.

The Scottish Government has indicated its commitment to provide the highest level of protection for children’s rights when expressing the willingness to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scottish legislation in 2019. It is unfortunate, however, that the role of Child Welfare Reporter has not been clearly considered and defined, which would have led to clear specification, characteristics, experience, skills, and training required of candidates.

There has also been a failure to gather and analyse any evidence about the efficacy of current child welfare reporters or engage with anyone from social work or other relevant professions, such as child psychology or those working in the field of mental health. This has resulted in an oversight in understanding what the Child Welfare Reporter role is about and, had this been done, we believe it would have been apparent that the skills required to carry out the work of Child Welfare Reports map perfectly onto the skills, experience, education, training and regulation of the social work profession.

We believe the process of formulating the plans in this bill, relating to Child Welfare Reporters, has resulted in the Scottish Government trying to replicate the established professional, educational and regulatory framework of social work in Scotland, and in doing so risks significantly undermining it. Social workers are highly trained and skilled, undertaking either a minimum two years master’s level degree or a four-year undergraduate degree to qualify. It is one of the main tasks for social workers to undertake robust assessments of parenting capacity and the relationship between a child. They consider strengths and weaknesses in basic care, safety, emotional warmth, guidance, boundaries and stability. In addition, they explore family history and functioning, the extending family and social and environmental factors (NSPCC, 2014, Thomas, 2011).

Social workers work within a system offering them supervision, familiarity with and ready access to statutory powers and child protection procedures, and the ability to call upon others (police, doctors and other specialists) and, like other professionals in the welfare arena, have a statutory obligation to report risk; something they are trained in and familiar with. This level of competence and skill cannot be matched by the provision of 4-days training for other professionals.

We strongly recommend that only regulated social workers experienced in working with children and families should be instructed to carry out the role of Child Welfare Reporter. This proposal recognises that social workers work in many different settings – local authorities, non-governmental organisations and an increasing number of independent social workers. If left without this important service, the impact on well-being in our community will potentially escalate into the need for more services as the children reach adulthood. It is the regulated social work profession who have the necessary knowledge and skills to appropriately assess complex family and welfare situations and consistently keep the child at the centre. Failure to support this amendment before the bill becomes law comes at the detriment of children across the country.

Yours Faithfully,

Jude Currie, Chair, National Standing Committee, Scottish Association of Social Work

Karin Heber, Professional Officer, Scottish Association of Social Work