For over 30 years Scottish courts have been appointing private practice solicitors as Child Welfare Reporters to carry out welfare assessments of children and their families. The overwhelming majority of those solicitors have no qualifications, training or relevant skill to entitle them to carry out such sensitive and challenging work.
Worse still is that Scottish courts follow 88% of the recommendations in these welfare reports. There is no monitoring or supervision of the solicitors who act as Child Welfare Reporters, nor is there any regulatory framework to protect the public.
In section 8 of this Bill, the Scottish Government seeks to rectify some of this by creating an elaborate & costly infrastructure to provide Child Welfare Reporters with 4 days training and to offer limited oversight. The amount of public funds spent annually on Child Welfare Reporters is set to increase from a recent average of £3.7M per year to between £7.6M and £11.6M per year under these plans. But – despite working on this issue since at least January 2013 – the Government’s plans are incredibly vague. Virtually all important aspects will be left to a Government Minister to decide at some later date. It’s even possible the Scottish Government will do nothing.
These plans legitimise incompetent practice and further enhance a lucrative, if unjustifiable, revenue stream for some in the legal profession.
There is a very obvious alternative to these plans. The role of Child Welfare Reporter maps almost perfectly onto the professional skill set of the social worker. A few social workers already act as Child Welfare Reporters. Go back 30 years and the majority of these reports were written by social workers. Social workers are qualified & trained to carry out this work. It’s the type of work many of them do, week in, week out. And social workers are already regulated by the Scottish Social Services Council to maintain professional standards and protect the public. So why is the Scottish Government so determined to re-invent the wheel?
Research shows that cases in which Child Welfare Reporters are appointed require complex assessment of potential risks to children in order to keep them safe. That takes specialist professional training, knowledge and skill very few solicitors possess. In all other UK jurisdictions this work is always carried out by social workers who have those skills.
The Scottish Government has not even taken the trouble to check the quality of the work of these unqualified Child Welfare Reporters, for which it has been paying handsomely for decades.
Neither has the Scottish Government looked at the impact on children and their families of having unqualified people intervene in what can be the most difficult and challenging times, especially in the life of a child. Surely Scotland’s children – when they come under the scrutiny of the courts in Scotland – deserve the same professional standards in welfare assessment that apply in all other circumstances and at all other times.
It’s time to ensure only social workers – and not solicitors – can be appointed as Child Welfare Reporters. It’s time Scotland came into line with the rest of the UK.
But we need to act now. The stage 3 debate on the Children (Scotland) Bill takes place on 25 August 2020.
Urge your constituency and regional MSPs to support the amendment by Liam McArthur MSP (Liberal Democrat, Orkney), to ensure only social workers can be appointed as child welfare reporters.