Children (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3: Child Welfare Reporters
The Children (Scotland) Bill is moving closer to becoming law. The full Parliament will consider the Bill tomorrow and SKO will update you on some of the key changes to the law, as they happen. You can find our coverage on Stage 2 of the Bill by searching for the Children (Scotland) Bill tagged posts.
Before this- the third, and final, Stage of the Bill- there have been a number of further amendments, which you can find here. SKO will give you some more commentary on the further amendments, one of which is that proposed by Liam McArthur MSP, who is seeking- again- to introduce provision that,
“Only a social worker registered with the Scottish Social Services Council may be appointed as a child welfare reporter”
Mr McArthur previously attempted to move this amendment during the Stage 2 proceedings. The proposal was controversial, withdrawn by Mr McArthur and not voted on. Whether the Parliament as a whole will be less concerned by the proposal remains to be seen, given that it's unchanged.
You can find some more about the issues on this post, when I wrote about the Stage 2 debate. So why is this so controversial, and why do I as an experienced child welfare reporter think that this amendment would be damaging?
A child welfare reporter is appointed by the court when more information would be beneficial to the court in making a decision about what is best for a child. The reporter will usually meet with the child and other relevant people and provide a report to the court. To restrict the pool of individuals who can be instructed to prepare child welfare reports to only profession risks excluding people with the right experience and skills.
As a solicitor who is regularly appointed as a child welfare reporter and curator ad litem, I appreciate the importance of child welfare reports and the need for appropriate expertise in their preparation. I certainly do not consider that child welfare reporters should only be solicitors – or indeed any single profession. I consider that there are different skill sets required for different family situations. In my view that it is be far more useful to have a wider pool of expertise, which I would like to see including child psychologists, medical professionals, counsellors and social workers, as well as solicitors.
The Government have made clear to the Family Law Association that they will not be supporting the proposed amendment noting that:
- The most important factor for any Child Welfare Reporter is that they meet the required standards, regardless of their professional background. The key aim is to ensure the best possible service is provided, so that children are heard properly and the best possible decisions are taken about where a child should live and who they should have contact with.
- Currently 90% of Child Welfare Reporters are lawyers. It would be very difficult to lose that pool of expertise by limiting the role to social workers.
- As noted during the stage 2 debate, producing a Child Welfare Report can be time consuming and placing this duty on social workers could have unintended consequences for other areas of social work.
- Lawyers can bring skills as a Child Welfare Reporter, for example in relation to understanding the court process and writing reports. The right mix is a balance between lawyers and non-lawyers.
We will update you after the Stage 3 debate tomorrow, but meantime, if you want to contact your MSP to let them know what you think, you can find their details here.