HM Insights

What will a new Children (Scotland) Act 2020 mean for families? Part three - Child Welfare Reporters, contact centres & contact between looked after children & their siblings

In this blog, we look at proposed changes to how child welfare reporters are appointed and how child contact centres might be regulated. We also look at proposed changes to the duty upon the local authority in relation to looked after children.

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Part one of our series of blogs considered potential changes to the law relating to how the views of children might be taken in disputed proceedings. Part 2 looked at how the law in relation to domestic abuse and to taking evidence from vulnerable people in child law cases might change.

What is a child welfare report?

Previously known as a Bar Report, a Child Welfare Report is produced by an experienced solicitor following an instruction by the Sheriff in contested child proceedings. The reporter's remit can include obtaining information about the parties and taking the views of a child and reporting this back to the court in a written report. Presently, the way in which reporters are appointed varies in each court jurisdiction.

How are Child Welfare Reporters appointed?

The Bill proposes to set out regulations regarding the appointment, payment and function of Child Welfare Reporters in a consistent way.

The Bill proposes that:

  • A register of Child Welfare Reporters will be established;
  • This register will be maintained by the Scottish Ministers who are entitled to make provisions as to:
    • The qualifications needed to be appointed as a Child Welfare Reporter (including training and qualifications);
    • The process for being entered on the list – and removed from the list;
    • How a person shall be selected as a Child Welfare Reporter in a case;
    • How Child Welfare Reporters will be paid

This is an interesting provision as it would appear to suggest that, similar to the safeguarding scheme, the Scottish Ministers will take over what has for a long time been a process determined by the Sheriff Principal in each jurisdiction. The potential for payment by the Scottish Ministers may remove the child welfare reporters costs from remit of the Legal Aid Board however this may also mean that the cost of reports becomes subject to a fixed fee element. 

The ongoing use of Child Welfare Reporters and their necessity to many litigated cases means that this clarification of the standards expected and the process for recruitment offers much-needed transparency and regulation to what has in the past been seen as an opaque process.

Child Contact Centres

As with Child Welfare Reports, child contact centres are often a staple part of disputes between parents. They can be used to provide a safe and stable environment for contact to begin and to progress. The consultation paper identified that many felt that these centres required centralised regulation. The Bill proposes the following:

  • In Section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, provision shall be made that if the Court is making an order for contact to take place in a contact centre, that contact centre must be a "regulated contact centre"

What is a regulated contact centre?

The Bill proposes that:

  • Regulation of contact centres will be dealt with by the Scottish Ministers and will include the power to make rules regarding:
    • The minimum standards to be met by contact service providers, including qualifications and training of staff and minimum standards for accommodation at contact centres,
    • Registration of contact service providers that meet those minimum standards;
    • The process for refusal or revocation of registration of contact service providers that do not (including appeal rights),
    • Inspection of contact centres, regulated contact service providers and contact service providers applying for registration and issuing reports on those inspections

Child contact centres are involved in a significant number of cases and their regulation can only be a good thing, to ensure consistent standards of training and facilities.

Promotion of contact between looked after children and siblings

The Bill seeks to extend the current duty upon the local authority to children looked after by them to take steps to promote – on a regular basis – personal relations and direct contact between the child and :

  • A sibling of the child (including a sibling by virtue of adoption, marriage or civil partnership and whether of the half-blood or of the whole-blood), and
  • Any other person with whom the child has lived or is living and with whom the child has an ongoing relationship with the character of a relationship between siblings.”

This would be a welcome addition to the act as many care experienced children relate a desire to have a continuing relationship with their siblings (or those they consider to be siblings) and this provision would ensure it is a duty of the local authority to promote these relationships, which can be of huge benefit to children in understanding their heritage.

Children (Scotland) Act 2020 Blog Series

In case you missed any of the other parts of the blog you can view them using the links below. 

Children (Scotland) Act 2020 Blog Series

In case you missed any of the other parts of the blog you can view them using the links below. 

Part 1 - What will a new Children (Scotland) Act 2020 mean for families?

Part 2 - Domestic abuse and vulnerable witnesses

Part 3 - Child Welfare Reporters, contact centres & contact between looked after children & their siblings

Part 4 - Section 11 orders, Curators Ad Litem, Contempt of court, explaining decisions to children

Part 5 - What does the Bill NOT cover, and miscellaneous provisions

If you are affected by any of the issues above and would like to discuss your situation with a member of our team, please get in touch.

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