Secure care is one of the most intensive and restrictive forms of alternative care in Scotland. Depriving a child of their liberty in secure units, even when that is essential for their safety and welfare, has a profound effect on them and such decisions should always be legally justifiable, rights proofed and transparent.
Following the examination of 119 cases of children who were placed in secure accommodation across 27 local authorities during 2018 and 2019, the commissioner’s report highlights significant procedural and notification issues for local authorities and chief social work officers.
The report also highlights good practice in some areas and points to encouraging remedial activities since the fieldwork took place. I am concerned, however, that every child’s statutory rights may not have been protected during that time, so I wrote to chief social work officers yesterday both to offer support and to seek reassurance that they have, if necessary, amended procedures to comply fully with all regulations. I am also looking to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities at the earliest opportunity to discuss the matter further.
That is simply not good enough. As the minister highlighted, the investigator examined the cases of 118 children between August 2018 and 2019 and found that a significant number had been held unlawfully for at least part of that detention. Some children had been held for 570 days. Critically, the report found that children’s human rights were breached.
A litany of failures has taken place, including a severe lack of consultation with the child after their hearing, with little communication to help them understand why they had been detained and how they could have appealed the decision that was made about them. Not only have children been let down, their rights have been infringed, which is totally unacceptable and morally wrong. Will the minister make a public apology today to those children who the Government has so badly let down?
I am sure that the member is aware that it is for local authorities to ensure that they comply with the law and that chief social work officers fulfil their duties. The commissioner’s report highlights inconsistencies in the recording of the engagement with children and young people, but I did not detect concerns from it about the necessity or appropriateness of placement decisions. However, timely notifications and record keeping are important aspects of the process.
So—no apology from the minister.
The investigation concluded that there is
“a scrutiny gap in relation to compliance with ... legal duties” and the commissioner found it
“challenging in many cases to piece together the” key
“events and decisions”.
The report points to short-term and longer-term actions that must take place to improve that situation, which cannot happen again to any child. We need to see change and the full implementation of the report’s recommendations. The Government must act quickly to resolve that situation and prevent further unlawful detentions.
We on these benches echo calls from the children’s commissioner for an urgent review of practices of local authorities. Will the minister commit to that process in earnest to ensure that both inspection and scrutiny mechanisms are fit for purpose, so that they comply fully with the relevant legal duties and human rights obligations?
The report asks that the Scottish Government work with partners to consider whether the existing law is compatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and make any necessary amendments to strengthen legal protections of children’s rights. It is important that we get it right for every child, regardless of his or her circumstances. We will work closely with COSLA and other partners to ensure that robust scrutiny and accountability mechanisms are in place through individual organisations, multiagency partnerships and national inspection arrangements.
I am pleased to hear that the minister will write to all chief social work officers across Scotland to seek assurance that they have, where necessary, amended their procedure to comply with regulations. Is the minister aware of any local authorities and chief social work officers that have already taken steps to review or amend their policies?
I understand from the report that, during the investigation, 17 local authorities had already taken steps to review their policy and practice, which is welcome. However, all local authorities must ensure that they have undertaken a similar process.