About Investigations

The Commissioner has the legal power to investigate certain issues that affect the human rights of children or young people in Scotland.


If you are concerned that a child may be at immediate risk of harm, please contact your local Social Work Department or Police Scotland (dialling 999 in an emergency) as a matter of urgency.

Our office is not able to investigate child protection concerns.


The Commissioner has the legal power to investigate in some cases where they think rights promises to children and young people aren’t being kept in Scotland. It’s a way that our office can hold people in power to account and demand they make changes when they’re failing to follow the law around children’s human rights.


The law that lays out the Commissioner’s powers says they can investigate enquiries around if service providers have failed to:

  • uphold the rights, interests and views of individual children and young people when taking actions or making decisions that affect them, or
  • uphold the rights, interests and views of a group of children and young people when taking actions or making decisions that affect them.

There are limits to this power of investigation.


The law says that the Commissioner can’t investigate a case if:

  • it relates to matters reserved to the UK Government,
  • it concerns the decision-making of a court or tribunal in a particular case, or
  • it concerns a case currently before a court or tribunal.

The Commissioner also can’t investigate an issue if another body in Scotland is able to investigate it. Some other organisations who can investigate issues are:


The Commissioner will only investigate if they think they have the power to do so, based on a clear set of criteria to make sure they are using their powers effectively.

Our office may also be able to address issues in other ways including:

• carrying out work at policy level,
• undertaking research, or
• through strategic litigation.

Current Investigations

Children and Young People’s Mental Health

What does this investigation focus on?

We want to know whether the Scottish Government’s policies, healthcare services and other professional practices are meeting the mental health needs of children and young people in Scotland. The crisis affecting children’s mental health has worsened, deepened by the aftermath of a global pandemic. We believe it is vital to identify the issues that prevent and stunt the provision of adequate mental health services and support for children and young people. To do this, we believe it is essential that we base our solutions to this crisis on the views and experiences of children and young people.

Reasons for investigation?

Children’s mental health services were in crisis before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Our office received frequent enquiries from young people, parents/carers and professionals about difficulties in accessing diagnoses and support. A 2018 report from the Auditor General for Scotland found that, while children’s mental health was a priority for the Scottish Government, mental health services were under significant pressure; data and evidence, particularly on outcomes, were inadequate; and that a step-change in Scotland’s response to children’s mental health was required.

Getting young people involved!

The Commissioner’s office has assembled a team of Young Investigators to inform and lead the investigation process. They will work together to explore and talk about the issue of mental health, the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people’s mental health and how this impacts their rights.

They are working with the Commissioner’s Advice & Investigations and Strategy teams to explore issues around children and young people’s mental health and the services that are provided.

They will exercise the Commissioner’s legal investigation powers to ensure they can access the evidence they need to make recommendations on what needs to change.  

They expressed the view that they wanted to focus on school counselling. Specifically, to consider whether and to what extent the current model is sufficient to deliver a rights-based approach to mental health provision given the increased need post-pandemic.

Completed Investigations

Local authority duties around secure accommodation

When local authorities place children in secure accommodation, some children may be deprived of their liberty without due process of law. That needs to change as a matter of urgency.


Secure accommodation is a place where children can go to get help if it isn’t safe to live at home because they might hurt themselves or someone else.

To make sure that they get the help they need and to keep them safe, they are locked in and can’t leave. It is a place that children should only go if there is no other place where they can get help.

It is important that children are involved in the decision to send them to secure accommodation. They should understand why it is in their best interest to be there.


Someone is deprived of their liberty when they are kept somewhere and not allowed to leave, under constant supervision and control.


Due process means that a country has to respect all the legal rights it owes to a person.

For example, if a person is to lose their liberty, that should only happen after a process where standard laws and procedures are followed.

Restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools


Restraint means holding a child or young person to stop them from moving.

Seclusion means shutting a child somewhere alone and not allowing them to leave.

Restraint and seclusion take place in Scotland’s schools, but we discovered through our investigation that there were no consistent policies or procedures to make sure that they happen safely and lawfully.

Those policies that did exist often weren’t grounded in human rights principles. Our investigation made the Scottish Government take action to change this.

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