Scotland’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill Unanimously Passes in Parliament – Victim Support Scotland reacts

Today (10 May 2019) legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of a jury trial, preventing the traumatic experience of presenting in court.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve the quality of evidence given for the most serious offences.

In response, Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:

“We welcome the passing of this Bill, which we believe is a crucial step forward in protecting and supporting children and families who have been involved in serious crime. It is well known – as we have seen through our own Witness Services from throughout Scotland – that the process of giving evidence in criminal trials can have adverse mental, physical and psychological effects on child witnesses.

“Victim Support Scotland agrees moving to pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses is one way of avoiding such trauma. Further to this, we believe that this should elicit better evidence from victims and witnesses of crime and outcomes for everyone involved in the justice sector.

“We are also heartened by the £2 million funding which the Scottish Government has committed to enabling the creation of a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow, as well as upgrades to support facilities in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Victim Support Scotland is looking forward to supporting this initiative on the ground as part of putting victims and witnesses first in Scotland’s criminal justice system.”

About Victim Support Scotland

Victim Support Scotland is an independent charity providing support and information services to around 200,000 victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland each year.

We manage a national helpline and community-based services in courts and every local authority area in Scotland. We also provide specialised training programmes and work to raise awareness of the impact of crime on individuals, communities and society.

We have around 130 paid staff and around 500 active volunteers, working from our 30 offices as well as 40 courts across the country. Our expenditure in 2017/18 was £4.5m with the majority of our funding coming from the Scottish Government and local authorities.

Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies – Alan Sinclair

It is widely accepted the earliest months and years of a child’s existence have the most profound impact on the rest of the lives. Attachment theorists believe the early bonds and relationships a child forms with his/her carer(s) or parent(s), informs that child’s ability or inability to form successful and healthy relationships in the future.

Alan Sinclair’s ‘Right from the Start’ is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series of short books, which aim to stimulate new and fresh thinking about why us Scots are the way we are.

In my previous book review in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, I commended the author of ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ (another book in the same series) Carol Craig for her ability to write succinctly and accessibly about a complex subject matter. I feel the same way about Alan Sinclair’s writing in this book.

The premise of this book, put simply, is laying out the bare truths of how good and bad us Scots are at parenting as well as having the appropriate supporting systems in place for parents and carers of our most vulnerable children.

A consistent thread throughout the book is the author arguing that by investing in parents and babies ‘from the start’, governments and the surrounding systems who support children and families can relieve the heartache of tomorrow in the form of poorer outcomes in education, employment and in health.
The book begins by acknowledging the UK’s position on the UNICEF global league table of child well-being, ranking 29 of the world’s richest countries against each other. The UK is placed 16th, our particular challenge being a high proportion of young people not in work, training or education. Although the league table did not single out the devolved nation of Scotland, the author describes the UK as a ‘decent proxy for Scotland’.

The first 1,000 days

The author goes on to explore the theory of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This theory suggests this is the most significant indicator of what the future holds for them. He touches on child poverty, which we know from well-cited research can lead to adversities in life, but he also mentions too much money can be an issue as well.

This point is explored more deeply later in the book’s in a chapter titled: ‘Is social class a factor?’. The author is effective at challenging the popular rhetoric that it’s the least educated and most poverty-stricken parents in society who are most likely to neglect their children. He talks about the longitudinal study, Growing Up in Scotland, which tracks the lives of thousands of children and families from birth to teens. Amongst many other findings, the survey shows 20% of children from the top income bracket have below average vocabulary; it also finds problem-solving capabilities are below average for 29% of this group. This proposes child poverty is only a small indicator of the child’s developmental prospects.

Where the Dutch Get it Right

The most intriguing part of the book from my point of view is the comparison the author makes between raising a child in Scotland versus the Netherlands (which ranked first in the UNICEF league table). In Holland, pregnant women have visits from a Kraamzorg, an omnipresent healthcare professional who identifies the type of support required. Post-birth the Kraamzorg plays a very active role and can typically spend up to eight hours a day supporting the new mother in her first week of childcare. The Kraamzorg also becomes involved in household chores including shopping and cooking. And it doesn’t stop there. The Dutch system includes Mother and Baby Wellbeing Clinics, which support families from birth to school age and have been doing so effectively for the last century.

On reading how the Dutch system operates, it’s hard to not make comparisons to the system here in Scotland (and the wider UK) within our NHS where mothers are wheeled in to give birth and very quickly wheeled out again to free up bed space. I exaggerate slightly here and I do not want to discredit the incredible job hard-working NHS staff do, but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling envious of the Dutch system and thinking they’ve got something right, in comparison with Scotland. This was neatly summarised at the start of the book in a quote from a Dutch woman who had spent time living in both Holland and Scotland when she said: ‘In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.’

But it’s not all bad. As the author remarks himself: ‘Scottish parenting is not universally awful: if we were we would not be almost halfway up the global table of child well-being’ (p. 12).

The penultimate chapter explores some real-life examples of parents who are struggling and striving to succeed in bringing up children with some success despite the odds stacked against them. I found the author’s injection of such human stories among the explanation of evidence useful as it allowed a chance for the reader to reflect on how all this is applicable in everyday life in Scotland.

To me, there was, however, a glaring omission in these stories: a voice from the LGBT community. Gay adoption in Scotland was legalised almost 10 years ago in 2009, and at the same time the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulation 2009 came into force allowing same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents. It would have been interesting to hear from this historically marginalised part of our society what the experience has been like and how different, or similar, this was from the other stories included in this chapter. Are they arguably better equipped as carers of Scotland’s most vulnerable children given their own life experiences of being marginalised?

The book ends with the author setting out his vision for a better future for Scotland’s children where they have better life chances and are fully nurtured. It’s clear we have some way to go but reading this book makes you feel a glimmer of hope that could, one day, become a reality.

No Mean City: Glasgow City Health Partners with Social Care in North East Glasgow

On World Social Work Day, alongside social workers across the world, we are celebrating our professional identity and ‘socialworkness’ while pausing to reflect on what we stand for on this day of unity.

I am privileged to serve as team leader in a large children and family’s team in Glasgow’s East End where I have worked for 15 years and lived for many more. The Glasgow Public Health and Social Care Partnership was designed to innovate and integrate community services in an effort to increase outcomes and efficiency in delivering services.

Sadly, the East End is often conveyed by negative media portrayals and by the grim reality of the outcome data for this community which includes high levels of child poverty, low levels of adult life expectancy, homelessness, addiction, criminality and many other social ills. However, this is not who we are…. by a long shot! There are real issues facing our communities presenting huge challenges which cannot be tackled in isolation from each other, but they do not define us.

The East End is a crazy, colourful and diverse local community with many strengths and amazingly resilient people who are known for their generosity, support and care for one another and their community spirit. My 10 year old son Peter was born here and loves this place.  He tells me he can’t imagine living anywhere else (unless near Real Madrid somewhere… #Ronaldo)!

We are an emotionally intelligent, resilient, caring, hard-working, ends-meeting, charity giving, Tunnocks teacake-eating, and football-supporting (the list goes on) diverse bunch of individuals and families. But, significantly and heart-warmingly so are the team of social workers I work with.

The same can be said for most of the social work teams in Glasgow, and other places in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and smaller towns I’ve been. Most of my colleagues, like myself, have ‘a social story’ which has led them down this career path. We do our jobs every day as much with our hearts as with our heads. It’s a vocation. We are care leavers, we are parents and grandparents who have received support from social work ourselves, we are survivors of the range of adversities life has brought to us as children and adults. We are from different countries and different cultures with a shared value base in our profession and our humanity.

We care about the hundreds of children and families we work with. As a team, we fight oppression and discrimination of any kind including the institutional type, and we have high caseloads and not enough pairs of hands. We team who have their own personal lives to run and deal with, but we come in every day to help families and one another to try and tackle the range of crisis and tasks at hand.

There is flexibility and team spiritedness second to none, which ensures we are keeping children safe and meeting their needs, but we are looking out for one another as well. A team I am very proud of and inspired to be a part of. We do however have our moments, understandably so, as our resilience and our emotions are tested continually. We dust ourselves down and get on with it for our families.

Our team is an interdisciplinary consortium of helping professionals which include social workers, educators and a variety of other healthcare professionals in effort to provide a holistic plan of care to the families we serve. There are also national organisations such as CELCIS who are committed to making positive and lasting improvements to the wellbeing of Scotland’s children living in and on the edges of care.

Families are the heart of our community. This is demonstrated by the huge kinship carer population we have around us, those extended family members who are willing to care for children when care is not possible for them in their parental setting. Unlike anywhere else in Scotland, we have around 1,300 kinship care placements.

We also have tremendous support within our community from the third sector, from early morning visits to help children to school, to evening groups for children, parenting supports, community respite carers.

On World Social Work Day, I want to give a big shout out from me to social workers globally and to my amazing colleagues. I am so proud to be a social worker in the East End, both personally and professionally. I want to say thank you for everything you do. This is not unique to my own doorstep, there are social work teams throughout the world who are doing similarly inspiring work. My message to them is to keep your chins up and your hearts strong. You all make a difference every day.

For more details of World Social Work Day see: .

Getting It Right for Every Child

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney

On March 7, 2017, Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, made a statement in Parliament regarding the Named Person Service and the legal challenges involved in information sharing. Named persons and other service providers will now have the power to share information where it promotes, supports or safeguards the wellbeing of a child or young person.

Minister Swinney stated:

“As I made clear in my statement to Parliament in September, the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to the Named Person service as a way to support children and their families. It ensures early support is available for all families because it’s simply impossible to predict if or when they might need extra help.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled definitively that the intention of providing a Named Person for every child to promote and safeguard their wellbeing was ‘unquestionably legitimate and benign’.

However, their judgment required us to change the provisions relating to information sharing. This has presented us with the opportunity to improve the service and reassure parents and practitioners and the wider public that it will work with and for families.

Young people and families should have confidence that information will be shared only where this can be done in a manner which respects their rights under data protection law, human rights and the law of confidentiality.

The approach I have set out today seeks to bring consistency, clarity and coherence to the practice of sharing information about children and young people’s wellbeing across Scotland.”

The scheme will appoint a named person – usually a teacher or health visitor – to ensure the wellbeing of every child. The scheme is part of GIRFEC (Getting it right for every child) – Scotland’s national approach to improving outcomes and the wellbeing of our children and young people. In this framework, children’s services work together to offer the right help, at the right time, from the right people.

Speaking in Parliament, the Deputy First Minister made it clear that information sharing must also remain compatible with the laws on data protection, human rights and confidentiality.

Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director at CELCIS, comments: “We commend this initiative which puts the needs and rights of children at its centre. This announcement supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is an important next step towards a collective goal of making sure young people and families have access to the right kinds of services, at the right time.

“It is only in working together in Scotland that we can support children and young people well, particularly those who have experienced adversity. This collective commitment requires sensitive, considered, and careful communication between professionals about children’s wellbeing.

“Our experience of working with local services throughout Scotland is that children and families are not consistently getting the services they need. We are hopeful that the named person service will prevent people’s circumstances to not reach crisis point, before they can access services for help. The right services at the right time is an essential ingredient in ensuring children and young people grow up to reach their full potential.”

SASW Weighs in on the Children and Young People Act of 2014 (Scotland)

The Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) have commented on the proposed guidance to the Children and Young People Act 2014.

SASW is committed to speaking out on these matters so social workers can play the part they want to and are trained to do, in making a difference. We are not simply working with “cases”, the children and families we get1support and must protect are real people, and they live within our communities. Getting it right for every child must start there, and we need to resource these services so “in need” does not become “at risk”.

We welcome what we believe to be good legislation which aims to put the child or young person central to any form of support or intervention. We remain concerned however that the well-intended approach does not recognise the importance of supporting families, within what are untold troubled times for many living in poverty, suffering from the impact of austerity measures and/or unable to access relevant support which may prevent escalation of issues.

We appear to develop “systems” such as the Named Person, which has the potential to raise the bar to reporting on “concerns about wellbeing” as opposed to “at risk of significant harm”. We are not investing in a public health model that would facilitate a culture change. Resources for families, the approaches that would allow people to develop a relationship with workers in order to make lasting improvements are not able to progress as the savage cuts to public spending bite.

We are concerned that young people may not access services if they are not convinced they are going to be listened to. We are also worried that “preventative” services will not have the backing needed to really allow parents, carers and families to feel they are being worked with, as opposed to monitored.

See SASW’s full consultation response below:

[gview file=”https://swhelper.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/00469598.pdf”]

Not an Average Day in the Office: Social Workers from the US to Madrid Come to UK Workplaces for a Day of Unique Learning

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Social workers from across the world will be turning up at workplaces in the UK for a series of seminars on the final day of the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) European Conference and Social Services Expo in September.

The event hosted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) aims to give practitioners a chance to learn about an area of practice in a real-life setting while also building links with colleagues in other countries to further their learning and development.

Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, said: “There will be presentations, workshops, meeting people who use services and colleagues from across the globe. These will look at new ways of working but also establish ongoing networks which will be supported by BASW and IFSW for future exchange and mutual learning.

“We do not want just a one-off talking shop. We are investing in new ways to stimulate the thinking that will be needed in the years to come of how we can co-construct with the people we work with to find better ways of achieving the outcomes that enable people to lead better lives.”

The seminars will include work with Roma families. A number of local authorities and NGOs recognise that with the discrimination experienced by families in parts of Europe, many have been moving north to escape.

“Listening to families tell of their experiences of housing, health and school systems that discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, and bullying and intimidation from those in authority, speak to the feelings of exclusion that many of us joined social work to combat,” said Ms Stark.

“But in reality, how do we work with people who have been displaced from their homeland and find themselves in countries where they can live together inclusively?”

There are also new issues of language, culture and religion for generations that are subsequently born in a new country. Different generations have different languages that could cause tension among families. How are social workers equipped to deal with it?

Ms Stark added, “Sharing knowledge not only within our own teams but from across Europe and beyond will enable us to understand these cross-border issues more intelligently and therefore improve the quality of our work.”

The seminars will include how social workers in France or Sweden work with mental health issues – what laws cover deprivation of liberty and how social workers are involved in protecting human rights. And do the people who use the services experience the same frustrations as those in the UK?

In the Nordic countries, the criminal justice systems are held up as more progressive than those in the UK, but there are still horrific crimes of violence. A joint presentation from Scotland and Sweden will show how partnership working can help boost knowledge in key areas and how reduction of violence programmes in many countries are learning from each other.

In child protection, the seminars will cover how countries in the post-soviet era are developing models of intervention. Are they evolving new methods that would help in this complex area of work? Some countries treat child abuse investigation as solely the remit of law enforcement agencies like the police, while in the UK it is a joint responsibility between police and social work.

Other subject areas include children in public care – how are countries across the world responding to growing calls from victims of institutional abuse for social justice? Some have given compensation and some have held public inquiries but none have really tackled the behaviour of those with power and control who commit offences against children.

Good practice in public care will be the focus of a seminar organised by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration. This will take in the principles of the Kilbrandon Report – needs not deeds – which underpin the children’s hearings system that has been operating in Scotland since 1970.

A seminar in Renfrewshire will focus on some of the work in the Netherlands and Denmark to create dementia-friendly living environments, enabling people to have a more “normalised” life in their later years. This could revolutionise how joint health and social care budgets are used more effectively.

South Lanarkshire will host a seminar on social work education. The authority has a renowned reputation for the quality of its student social workers – some winning Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) awards – and is keen to share its knowledge of good quality training. Its particular problem is a large geographical area where it has to “grow its own” – a challenge faced by many parts of Europe from Finland and Sweden to Spain, Greece and Portugal.

Ruth Stark said, “These seminars will lead to international networks that will continue to support social workers’ learning and development. There is much to learn from our European colleagues – come and join us!”

IFSW

UK Budget 2014: An Insult To ‘Hardworking’ People

Chancellor George Osborne yesterday announced the UK’s Budget for 2014. In a country plagued by recession, those on middle and lower-income wages have been struggling with the impact of this government’s cuts. By the time we reach the next General Election in 2015, estimates state that the average family will range from being £1,600 worse off to £3,500 worse off a year.

chancellor
Chancellor George Osborne

After yesterday’s announcement, Grant Shapps, the Conservative Chairman, tweeted an advert highlighting the cutting of Bingo Tax and Beer Duty as part of this year’s Budget. The online advert said the 1p cut in beer duty and the halving of bingo duty to 10% would help “hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.”

The government’s understanding of working class Britain is both patronizing and insulting if they truly believe that a cut in beer and bingo tax will assist in making life less difficult. If they want to help ‘hardworking people’ do more of the things they enjoy then they have to make the price of living affordable.

Cuts to council budgets have seen hundreds of vital services taken away from those that need them most and it is no coincidence that London has seen a 62% rise in rough sleeping from 2010 to 2013. What ‘hardworking people’ need is affordable housing, affordable child care, free health care, money invested in schools and job-creation. And yet the welfare budget for child benefit, incapacity benefit, winter fuel payment and income support is to be capped for the next two years. And whilst the Help to Buy equity scheme for new-build homes has been extended to 2020, that has little noticeable impact on the majority of us who cannot afford to have a savings account to raise the initial deposit, due to paying extortionate rates for rent.

We have a Political Class comprised of multi-millionaires who have no experience or understanding of what it is like to be poor, or even to live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. Those deciding the nation’s budget are part of the ‘haves’ and therefore Britain’s widening gap between rich and poor is of no consequence to them.

On Monday, Oxfam revealed that Britain’s five richest families are worth more than the poorest 20% of all families. The inequality in this country is farcical and yet as Wilkinson and Pickett document so brilliantly in The Spirit Level, with increased inequality comes a barrage of social problems.

This peace offering from the Conservatives is what Paulo Friere describes as ‘false charity’ in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. “True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.” We do not need cheaper alcohol and bigger bingo prizes; we need wealth to be distributed fairly so that half a million British people are not reliant on food banks.

Grant Shapps justified the cuts by saying that the Beer and Bingo Industry employ thousands of people and therefore the cuts will ensure job retention. However, the more cynical amongst us are worried that there is a more sinister aspect to this. As I was writing this article on the bus, a woman looked over my shoulder and told me that she believed this was an attempt to wipe out the working class. She stated that this tax was aimed at working class families like hers where both her and her Mother have full-time jobs and yet they still sometimes have to choose between keeping the heating on and eating.

There is a moving speech from the character Furious Styles in the film Boys in the Hood where he points out to his son just how poor communities are being left to rot:

“There’s a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why?” They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills, you don’t see (them). But they want us to kill ourselves. Yea, the best way you can destroy a people, you take away their ability to reproduce themselves.”

The Conservative’s announcement that the freezing of the duty on alcoholic Spirits is aimed at Scotland, makes me concerned at the rationale behind this decision. Scotland has twice the number of alcohol-related deaths as England or Wales and a man in Glasgow can expect to live fifteen years less than a man in London. With all this considered, the government’s Budget plan is at best insulting and at worst hateful.

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