by Sophie Walker, Trainee Solicitor.

The Scottish Government has published the new Children (Scotland) Bill which attempts to place focus on further safeguarding the welfare of children in family cases.

The Bill focuses on the regulation of child contact centres and child welfare reports, looking to increase the regulation of both. The Bill comes after the Scottish Government’s attempt at direct consultation with children in Scotland, via their ‘child-friendly questionnaire’.

Register for child welfare reporters

Section 8 of the Bill would establish a register for child welfare reporters and outlines that a court would only be able to appoint a person who is included on that register as a child welfare reporter.

The Bill allows for the further regulation of child welfare reporters by allowing Scottish Ministers to introduce additional requirements that must be satisfied before a person can be included on the register. These requirements include adequate training and qualifications of the reporters, to ensure that the people doing this job are trained to understand the sensitive and complex issues that can arise through the preparation of these reports. This should lead to more accurate and effective reports being produced going forward.

Regulation of provision of contact centres

The Bill also includes further regulation of contact centres. Contact centres are used in the common situation where the parents of children do not want to interact directly, but the children need a safe environment to have contact with their non-resident parent. These centres play a vital role in safeguarding the welfare of children and their further regulation will be welcomed.

The regulation importantly would allow for a minimum standard to be set for contact centres, including the qualifications and training required of the staff therein.

Further clarity is also given as to the use of contact centres to facilitate a child’s contact with siblings or other children that they have lived with, giving consideration to the wider factors at play when looking at the welfare and happiness of each child. The increased regulation of child contact centres would hopefully promote stability for the children that rely on them.

Reception and criticism

Although the Children (Scotland) Bill takes some steps to improve the law, it has seen criticism from some groups as being a wasted opportunity for further reform. The Bill does not address the long-debated issue of an equal starting point between parents where the court is asked to make a decision on the contact arrangements for a child following separation.

As consideration of the Bill by the Scottish Parliament begins, it remains to be seen whether the demands from critics shall be heard.