The Children & Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 became law on the 27th of March, 2014 and contains several changes to how children and young people in Scotland are cared for.
In creating the Children & Young People (Scotland) Act, the Scottish Government has tried to strengthen the rights of children and young people in Scotland by encouraging Scottish Ministers and Public Bodies to think about these rights and how they relate to their work.
It has also created new systems to support children and young people and to help identify any problems at an early stage, rather than waiting until a child or young person reaches crisis point.
The Act is very wide-ranging. It also:
- increases the powers of Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People
- makes changes to early learning and childcare
- provides extra help for looked after children and young people in care
- provides free school dinners for children in Primary 1-3.
The key changes introduced by the Act are outlined in more detail below.
What the Act says
A new duty on Scottish Government Ministers
The Act introduces a duty on Scottish Government Ministers to “keep under consideration whether there are any steps which they could take which would or might secure better or further effect in Scotland of the UNCRC requirements”.
This means that the Scottish Government should always consider whether what they’re doing will help promote the rights of children and young people in Scotland. However, even if Ministers recognise a policy could be changed to better support these rights, they don't have to make any changes to it unless they think it's appropriate to do so.
To make sure Ministers follow the new duty, they must now submit a report to the Scottish Parliament every three years. This report should talk about what changes and improvements they've made to realising the rights of children and young people over that period, while also setting out what the Ministers plan to do in the next three years.
New duties on public bodies
Public bodies such as Local Authorities and Health Boards/Police Scotland must now report every three years on what they have done to improve the rights of children and young people. There is a list of which bodies have to do this in the Act.
Changes to the role of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People
The Commissioner can currently carry out an investigation where a particular group of children and young people – such as those attending the same school – or a broader group of children and young people – such as all of those with disabilities – tell him they believe their rights aren't being respected.
The Act allows the Commissioner to investigate cases affecting individual children and young people for the first time. This will mean that children and young people, their parents and other adults who support them will be able to ask the Commissioner to decide whether an individual's rights have not been respected. He will then be able to make recommendations about what should be done to make things better.
A new service
The Commissioner already has an Enquiries Service that provides detailed signposting and advice to children and young people, parents and professionals. When the Commissioner’s powers are extended, this will be expanded to create a new Advice & Investigations service at the Commissioner’s office.
Two team members will help the Commissioner deliver this part of his job. Not all cases brought to the Commissioner will require a full-scale investigation: only the most serious of cases are likely to require this. The Commissioner is currently working to develop systems to help him decide which cases should be investigated.
The Commissioner will gain new powers on August 7 2017, when this part of the Act comes into force.
The role of Named Person
One of the Scottish Government’s key policies over the last few years has been GIRFEC – or Getting It Right for Every Child.
The idea behind GIRFEC is that everyone should work together to ensure that each child has the best start in life. One way the Scottish Government has decided this should be taken forward is to create the role of Named Person. The Named Person will be the person anyone can approach if they have concerns about a child or young person’s well-being or if they think they require some help or support.
Every child and young person in Scotland up to the age of 18 should have a Named Person. The role is designed to help with all types of problems, not just for times where a child or young person is at risk. This might include where a child or young person needs more short-term support, such as when they are ill or have had a bereavement.
The Named Person will decide – hopefully alongside the person they support and their parents – what kind of support might help a child or young person. They may then may help them access a service. Where there are serious concerns about the child or young person, the Named Person might also have to share this information with other professionals – such as social workers –so the child or young person can be kept safe.
A child or young person’s Named Person will change as they get older. Up until a child is 10 days old, the Named Person will be the mother’s midwife, then the child’s Health Visitor will take over until the child starts school. At school, the Named Person will usually be the child or young person’s Headteacher. The Scottish Government is currently considering how best to support young people under the age of 18 who have left school.
While every child and young person will have a Named Person, this doesn’t mean they will be a Named Person actively involved in the child or young person’s life. Some children may never need the support of their Named Person, while others will require lots of support.
Agencies working together to create a Child’s Plan
The Act outlines how agencies should work together to create something called a Child’s Plan.
Just as not everyone will need the help of their Named Person, not all children will have a Child’s Plan. It is something that is most likely to be used for children and young people who need a lot of help, or who require help from a range of different agencies.
The Child’s Plan will contain information about:
- why a child or young person needs support
- the type of support a child or young person needs
how long support will be required for and who should provide it.
The idea is that rather than different agencies creating lots of separate plans, people involved in supporting a child or young person can store the information in one place.
Support for looked after children and care leavers
The Act provides extra support for looked after young people in care to try and make sure they have the same opportunities as other children and young people. It gives looked after young people the right to stay in the same placement up to 21 where possible, when they feel it's in their best interests to do so. This will be known as continuing care. Local Authorities supporting looked after young people will also have to provide “advice, guidance and assistance” to care leavers up to the age of 26 where this is something that would be helpful to them.
Other changes introduced by the Act
Other changes introduced by the Act include:
- Increasing the amount of free childcare offered to 3 year olds and some 2 year olds
- Providing free school meals to all children in P1-3.
Other areas covered by the Act include the Adoption Register, School Closure Proposals, Children’s Hearings and Kinship Care.