Authorities failing young to be 'named and shamed'

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Draft child protection guidance covers new areas, and puts onus not just on social services

Child-trafficking, online safety, bullying, mental health, under-age sex and forced marriage are among several issues being flagged up in national child protection guidance for the first time.

With an increased onus on all who work with young people to take responsibility for their safety - not just those with a specific remit, such as social workers - it will require teachers to be aware of warning signs in a far broader range of situations.

The draft guidance is not statutory, and child protection policies will still be drawn up locally. But Government officials say the new guidance should lead to more consistent approaches across Scotland and warn that any authority failing to make the necessary changes will be "named and shamed" following HMIE inspections.

The 154-page document replaces "outdated" guidance from 1998. In that time, for example, freedom of movement internationally and changes in how drug gangs operate have made child-trafficking an issue, particularly in the west of Scotland.

Officials cited Vietnamese drug gangs who had cannabis farms in Glasgow tenements, tended by children aged 12 to 15. The number of child- trafficking cases known to authorities in Scotland was in two figures, but the Government believes many more may be going undetected. The last 12 years have also seen substance misuse become more prominent.

The increased range of warning signs to look out for should not lead to a dramatic rise in child protection cases, officials said. Instances of children who would otherwise have been unidentified should be offset by nipping other problems in the bud.

Neither should the financial burden increase for cash-strapped local authorities, as it is hoped procedures will become more efficient; a Highland trial project reduced the time all professionals spent on child protection meetings by 75 per cent.

The guidance expands the range of organisations responsible for child protection. Teachers may be the first to spot physical and psychological signs of abuse, it stresses, since they are likely to have more contact with children than anyone else.

The requirement for each case on the child protection register to be pigeon-holed into one of five specific categories, such as "physical neglect" or "sexual abuse", is to end. Instead, all services would have to work together on a plan addressing each child's specific needs.

Children's Minister Adam Ingram said a common understanding of protection issues across all organisations was crucial to children's safety.

The guidance introduces the first national timescales for holding and following up child protection case conferences: initial conferences should take place no more than 21 days from notification of a concern; those involved should receive the child-protection plan within five days of that conference.

Unborn babies given a child protection plan are to be placed on the child protection register in all parts of Scotland. Currently, local authorities' differing approaches mean a mother could move from an authority where her unborn baby would be registered, to another where it would not.

Officials said adoption of the new guidelines should be a smooth process, as they tied in with the ongoing Getting It Right For Every Child programme, which promotes shared approaches to working with young people, across services and local authority boundaries.

Consultation on the draft guidance ends on September 17.


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