Two new reports tackle the issue of child abuse in Scotland and recommend ways in which the system can be improved to ensure children are safe from harm.
The Scottish Government published their action plan to tackle child sexual exploitation, announcing a public awareness campaign to ensure that people are alert to the risks, while a report from Children in Scotland Chief Executive, Jackie Brock, commissioned by the Scottish Government, calls for improvements to the Child Protection system at every level.
Brock calls for a strengthening of child protection systems to ensure that all vulnerable children are identified and protected from harm and makes the case for a confident and competent workforce to protect children, describing current “unease” among children’s services practitioners over whether cases where children are at risk will be escalated appropriately.
She also recommends improvements to the current system that will ensure that children who are not officially ‘looked after’, but are vulnerable, are protected, pointing out that in Rotheram, where widespread child sexual exploitation took place, 1,000 of the 1,400 children identified as having been abused were living at home.
Her report calls for more consistency across the country for the remit of Child Protection Committees and for reinforcing their role as responsible for child protection in their localities. She also says that there needs to be more effective working between health and social care services, which now must be considered in light of Health and Social care Integration and the new health and social care partnerships that will be formed as a result.
The report is critical of the current complex legislative landscape, whereby practitioners are encouraged to read 43 ‘live’ policy documents related to children, as well as a number of related policies in health and education, and calls for a rationalising of current frameworks to enable practitioners to prioritise more effectively.
Brock points out that child protection needs to be recognised as the responsibility of the whole community and that communities must play their part in protecting vulnerable children, by reporting any concerns they may have about a child’s welfare to the relevant authorities.
Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan
The Scottish Government’s action plan was published in conjunction with Brock’s report and will support culture change throughout children’s services and society at large to tackle the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
Specific areas of focus for tackling CSE:
- Prevention of abuse (with specific measures for dealing with particularly vulnerable children);
- Disruption and prosecution of offenders through legislation; and
- Supporting children and young people affected by CSE.
The plan admits that the full scale of CSE in Scotland is unknown, however, a data gathering toolkit will be rolled out nationally to assist local authorities to gain a better understanding of the issues in their areas. The Action Plan states that those working with children must receive appropriate learning and development to be better able to recognise CSE and those who may be at increased risk, such as looked after or accommodated children and young people.
Local children’s Services Plans, a requirement of the Children and Young People Act, should ensure that services work better together to tackle CSE, including prevention, early intervention and support services.
The Scottish Government pledged to continue working with a range of agencies, including the third sector, academics, Health, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, in partnership, to tackle the issue.
Scottish Government CSE Action plan