Planned child protection laws under fire

New child protection legislation puts “lawyers’ interests ahead of children’s needs” and should be amended by the Scottish Parliament before it becomes law, according to campaigners.

The Scottish Government's new Children's Bill should be amended, campaigners say.
The Scottish Government's new Children's Bill should be amended, campaigners say.

The Children (Scotland) Bill, being piloted through Holyrood by the Scottish Government’s community safety minister, Ash Denham, is expected to strengthen the family law system and ensure that the rights and views of children are at the heart of any case,

The legislation, which is due to reach its final stage of debate by MSPs tomorrow, will also see the regulation of child welfare reporters, who can be appointed when a court has been asked to resolve a dispute between parents, with the government stating this will “ensure reporters are trained to recognise and respond to issues such as domestic abuse and coercive control”.

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New Bill will 'strengthen children's rights' in family law court cases

However, according to Freedom of Information disclosures obtained by campaign group Section 8, the government failed to consult experts on child welfare during the drafting of the bill, including its own chief social work adviser, Iona Colvin.

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The group also claims that 90 per cent of assessments in Scotland are currently undertaken by lawyers while in the rest of the UK they’re carried out by regulated social workers. As a result, the group is calling on MSPs to back an amendment by Scottish Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur to Section 8 of the bill to require all child welfare reports to be carried out by registered, qualified social workers.

“Child welfare reporters are often required to make complex assessments and informed judgment. It makes sense, therefore, to ensure they have the necessary training and expertise,” he said.

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Chair of the Scottish Association of Social Workers Jude Currie added: “We are concerned that the Scottish Government has not clearly considered or defined the role of child welfare reporter, which would have led to clear specification, characteristics, experience, skills and training required of candidates.”

Sukhchandan Kaur, chair of Nagalro, the association for independent social workers, also backed the amendment and the director of the Wales arm of the British Association of Social Workers, Allison Hulmes, has written to Ms Denham urging her to think again. “It feels irrational that solicitors are undertaking a role which is clearly within the professional knowledge and skill set of social workers,” she said. “It is Scotland’s vulnerable children who ultimately pay the heavy price for a system built on custom and practice and not on the best interests of the child.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The very essence of this bill is about putting children’s interests first – we want to ensure all children are given the opportunity to express their views in a way that is best for them. The bill ensures that a court may only appoint an individual who is included on the register. Individuals would be eligible to apply to be on the register if they meet specified requirements and we encourage social workers to apply."

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Joy Yates

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