Children’s minister refuses to apologise over secure accommodation failures

Scotland’s children’s minister has refused to apologise for failings in the secure accommodation system which may have led to scores of vulnerable children being unlawfully detained.

It comes after The Scotsman’s sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, revealed at the weekend how Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner (CYPC) highlighted “serious concerns” with the secure accommodation system.

Its report found little evidence of children being consulted within a “critical” 72 hour period following the outcome of children’s hearings, with fewer than one in seven formally notified of their right to appeal.

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It said decisions with "severe consequences" were being made without due process of law, which constituted a breach of children's human rights.

Addressing topical questions at Holyrood, Rachael Hamilton from the Scottish Conservatives said it was “simply not good enough,” describing it as a “litany of failures.”

The MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire said there was a severe lack of consultation with some children, and “little communication” to explain the reasons for their detention.

"Children have not only been let down, their rights have been infringed,” she said. “This is totally unacceptable and morally wrong.”

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Vulnerable children may have been detained unlawfully across Scotland
Children's minister Clare Haughey said it was for local authorities to ensure compliance with the law.

Ms Hamilton asked children’s minister Clare Haughey if she would issue a public apology to those children who had been “badly let down” by the Scottish Government, but she declined to do so, insisting that it was for local authorities to ensure they were complying with the law.

Ms Haughey she was “very concerned that every child’s statutory rights may not have been protected” during the 12 month period identified in the CYPC report, and said she had written to CSWOs to seek reassurance that they had amended their procedures.

The CYPC report identified an "inconsistency of approaches" by local authority chief social work officers (CSWOs), and said a "significant number" of the 118 children whose detentions it scrutinised may have been held unlawfully for at least part of their time in secure accommodation.

Under the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Implementation of Secure Accommodation Authorisation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013, CSWOs are required to consult children within 72 hours of a hearing decision, and explain how they can appeal it. But the commissioner's office found only 18 instances where consultation had taken place.

There were just 19 evidenced instances where children were notified about appeals, affecting their ability to challenge decisions in court.

Significantly, the CYPC said there was a "scrutiny gap" in relation to compliance with local authorities' legal duties. It pointed out that no functional mechanism exists at a local, national, or multi-agency level to ensure the law was being met.

It said the Scottish Government should re-examine the effectiveness of existing procedural safeguards, as well as the need for different or additional statutory measures and inspection mechanisms.

Ms Hamilton pressed Ms Haughey to ensure the government implemented the report’s recommendations in full.

"This cannot happen again to any child,” she insisted. “The government must act quickly to resolve this and prevent further unlawful detentions, and we echo calls for an urgent review.

Ms Haughey responded: “It is important that we get it right for every child, regardless of their circumstances, and we will work closely with COSLA and other partners to ensure there is robust scrutiny and accountability mechanisms in place through individual organisations, multi-agency partnerships, and national inspection arrangements.”

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