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11/11/14 14:20

Michael Russell - Ministerial Statement on Child Protection

There is no doubt that every member in this chamber is absolutely committed to ensuring the wellbeing and the happiness of every child in Scotland. That is not so much a policy objective as a moral imperative and unites the vast majority of human kind.

And, Presiding Officer, that moral imperative includes the demand on us to do everything we can, in whatever position we find ourselves, to protect those at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, and to ensure that individuals responsible for such appalling actions face the full rigour of the law.

There can therefore be no question that this Government, like its predecessor, is completely and fully committed to doing everything it can to ensure that the all parts of Scottish life - and in particular all parts of the public sector in Scotland -are working together in an agile and responsive way to protect every child and young person from abuse, whatever form it takes.

Two weeks ago I delivered the Scottish Government’s response to the Acton Plan, developed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission Interaction process. On that afternoon I met with survivors of child abuse - sexual, physical and emotional - to listen to their demands of Government and society. I was very affected by their stories, by their courage, by their commitment and sometimes by their anger. But most of all I was affected by one who said to me that what he wanted, more than anything else, was to go from being “a survivor” to being able to “live and thrive”.

That is what he and many others really want. That is what we have to help make happen, person by person, issue by issue, place by place. And we will only do so if we approach this topic with a ruthless determination to see the truth told and the record written in order that there can be full accountability, surrounded by the best of support and a holistic approach to healing.

Therefore, the Scottish Government has accepted the main recommendations of the unique Interaction process. I pay strong tribute to Allan Miller and his colleagues in the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and the work of the Centre of Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland, as well as to the agencies and the survivors who have taken part in a difficult, and unique, process which has resulted in a clear way forward.

As a result, we have committed to lead the development of a national support fund for survivors of historic abuse in care, working with survivors and organisations on the most appropriate model;

We have agreed to fund an appropriate commemoration, after actively engaging with survivors and relevant organisations on the format that this should take;

We have committed to supporting survivors to understand the elements of the InterAction Action Plan;

We will give full consideration to the merits of an Apology Law, and continue to work constructively with Margaret Mitchell MSP as her detailed proposals for an Apologies Bill are developed;

We have committed to working with the legal profession and survivors to try and understand why there may be barriers around the exercising of judicial discretion in terms of a ‘time bar’;

We will review the lessons learnt of previous inquiries, and we will ensure that people who speak about their experiences in institutional care as children will have this recounted through the National Confidential Forum’s published reports.

We will do so by joining with the survivors and the agencies in taking these issues forward together. As a Government we will continue the involvement of the three Ministers who have been part of this so far - Michael Matheson, Minster for Public Health Roseanna Cunningham, Minster for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children and Young People - working with me to provide a cross Government team of participants.

I use that word advisedly Presiding Officer. This is not a process that is completed. I have given a strong commitment to ensure that the views and experience of the survivors is integral to the decision making and action process going forward. Government will be part of a wider grouping, ensuring that we deliver, as is our responsibility, but remaining within the process that is much greater than Government alone.

That particularly applies to the one issue that is still unresolved from the Interaction process.

There has been much debate as to whether a further inquiry should take place into Historic Abuse in Scotland. The Interaction process produced a new paper on the matter in August after a special session to consider the issue. This took a clear and unequivocal stance in favour of an inquiry and I respect that view. However it suggested a very different type of inquiry from that which is usually established by statute and by Government.

I have spent considerable time in the last few weeks examining that suggestion. I have consulted colleagues and professionals from a variety of areas including social work, child care, health and the law.

I believe there are still issues that require to be resolved before a final decision can be made on whether a further inquiry is appropriate and if so, of what type. Some of these issues need continued input by the survivors. Of course, Presiding Officer, the Shaw Review, which reported in November 2007, and the Kerelaw Inquiry, which reported in May 2009, have already considered some aspects of these matters in Scotland. I have therefore asked the Scottish Human Rights Commission to reconvene an urgent meeting of the Interaction Group to focus on those matters, which still have to be resolved, with a view to allowing Government to reach a final decision. I have also heard from some survivors outside the Interaction process about this issue - strongly in support of an inquiry it has to be said - and I will continue to seek such views as well.

It is vital that this issue is resolved properly and positively. We can see only too clearly what has happened elsewhere when Governments have taken an ex cathedra stance on an inquiry and how it should go forward without listening and exploring enough. There are good examples of much better processes elsewhere - for example in Northern Ireland and Australia - and we need to look at those too. I will therefore return to the chamber on this matter before Christmas.

Moving Forward in Partnership

However the inquiry is only one aspect of this issue. History must not be allowed to repeat itself, so the Scottish Government is equally committed to understanding current threats and criminal activity and how we stand against them.

We are of course working closely in partnership with those across Scotland who have the greatest expertise in these matters, providing national leadership and co-ordination, while also being guided by those whose every day work is with children and families in communities across Scotland.

That means working with many third sector bodies, professionals in local government, the health service and Police Scotland amongst others.

National Action Plan on CSE

All these organisations have worked with us on the first National Action Plan on Child Sexual Exploitation, which we are publishing today.

This work has also been informed by the Jay Report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, which is one of the reasons why it has taken a little longer than expected.

The Action Plan is not a panacea to tackling Child Sexual Exploitation – there is no single solution. However, the Action Plan represents a critical milestone, outlining tangible steps for useful action that will move us forward in our efforts to tackle this vital concern.

For example, I am pleased to announce today our commitment to work with partners to develop a national awareness campaign on child protection.

And we’ll be looking to work with Police Scotland to develop guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation indicators for ‘night time economy’ staff – such as taxi drivers and hotel workers – who come into increased first hand contact with children and young people at especially vulnerable times.

The recent establishment of the Police Scotland National Child Abuse Investigation Unit is another key innovation which will provide national specialist support on all child abuse investigations identified across the country. Police Scotland will have the specialist capability to investigate and target both current cases and cases where historic accusations of criminality are brought forward. This parallels the establishment of the specialised National Sexual Crimes Unit by the Crown Office.

Listening and participating in the wider debate

Improving outcomes for children is a long road to travel with many twists and turns. As we take steps here in Scotland to make each change, we will continue to pay attention to the developing discourse elsewhere and will ensure that we are well placed to respond to emerging findings and new examples of best practice. We will reflect on how best the experiences of others may be adapted to circumstances in Scotland.

Earlier in the summer, Ministers asked the Care Inspectorate to update us on the effectiveness of local arrangements for protecting children and adults. The Commission’s report into child protection was published last week. This is a very helpful report which highlights some excellent work but also highlights potential barriers to improvements in protecting children and young people. This will continue to inform this Government’s policies on child protection, and influence how we support practitioners in delivering services.

Additionally, in the context of the specific inquiries into historic child sexual abuse taking place elsewhere in the UK, in July I commissioned the Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, Jackie Brock, to take an independent look at the working of the Scottish Child Protection system as developed by recent legislation. The purpose of this report was to examine how robust our child protection systems are and to identify areas of improvement.

Ms Brock’s report usefully complements that of the Care Inspectorate, considering the strategic issues in delivering child protection services efficiently and consistently across the country, and offering 12 recommendations about how the Scottish Government and partners can do this more effectively.

I am also publishing this report today and I can confirm that I am supportive of all its recommendations.

I will, for example, bring together the Chief Officers of the 32 Community Planning Partnerships, the Chief Officers of the ‘shadow’ integrated health and social care partnerships and the Child Protection Committee chairs in a summit to be held by the end of the year.

Looking out for all children: GIRFEC

Presiding Officer it is fair to say that the vast majority of children will have safe and happy childhoods without the intervention of public services or third-sector agencies, other than through normal healthcare and schooling.

For those other children, however, it is essential that we are able to identify and support their needs from the earliest possible age. A preventative approach to protecting our children has long been the bedrock of the Scottish system.

That bedrock is now best expressed, of course, in Getting It Right for Every Child (or GIRFEC). That is our national approach to improving the wellbeing of all children and young people, an approach that has been developed across several administrations and in close partnership with statutory agencies and the third sector.

It is improving our early warning systems, helping us to pick up on the signs of need more quickly and allowing services to make appropriate responses to prevent risks becoming realities. This entire chamber should all embrace it wholeheartedly.

Summary/closing points

Presiding officer, some dreadful things happened in Scotland over many years to children who deserved so much better from those in positions of trust. Jack McConnell made an appropriate and heartfelt apology in this Chamber in 2004, on behalf of the nation and us all.

We must never forget what took place. We need to have an awareness of it that means it can never be repeated, we need to prosecute those who were guilty so that they can never reoffend and we need to place in permanence the truth about who was accountable so that others never fail again.

But we also need to help those who suffered to move from surviving to living and thriving.

We all need to come together around that ambition to ensure that Scotland is, and will from this time on, be the best place for each and every child to grow up.

That work is not yet done. I have reported on substantial progress here today and I will come back to the chamber to report on the outstanding issue of the inquiry as well as to update the chamber from time to time about how the detail of these are being worked out and implemented.

We can never do enough for those who have suffered. But by working with them we can at least try to make a difference for the pain of the past, a difference to our practice in the present and to our plans for the future.

Presiding Officer I am of course happy to take questions from members.