Shetland’s child protection services for vulnerable children and young people have received a very positive report from inspectors, to the delight of the various agencies involved.
The inspection, carried out in March as part of a three year programme of inspections throughout Scotland, covered key aspects of the effectiveness of safeguarding work, in particular how well agencies, including the police, work together to ensure “good outcomes” for youngsters at risk of abuse and neglect.
It also covered the leadership and management of child protection work. In a report published on Thursday, inspectors found key strengths to be the trusting and supportive relationships between staff and children, and effective joint working across services to ensure children were aware of dangers and knew how to keep themselves safe.
They also praised the promotion of public awareness of child protection, the involvement of youngsters in developing services, the safe recruitment of staff and volunteers in services and community groups and the general commitment to improve children’s lives.
Chairman of Shetland Child Protection Committee (CPC) Malcolm Bell is now stepping down from his post, which will be taken over by vice-chairwoman Kate Gabb.
Former chief inspector Bell said the report demonstrated the good work done in Shetland, although there was no room for complacency. He thanked those, including service users, who had taken time to meet the inspectors, ensuring they got a full picture of the work done, which in turn engendered confidence in their findings.
Praising the support of the public, he said: “People in Shetland are very public-spirited and always willing to help the agencies in their work, be it police work or child protection, and without that help we could not be as effective as we are. “It has been shown and verified by inspectors that we do a good job ensuring Shetland’s children and young people are brought up in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Mrs Gabb said: “We are proud of the work that we all do in Shetland to keep children and young people safe, but their safety and sometimes even the life of a child depends on the continued vigilance and support of the whole community and the actions taken by services in responding appropriately to a concern about a child. People in Shetland working with children in a wide range of settings are keen to learn from good practice as well as learning from situations where things have not gone so well. This report shows where we can build on current strengths to provide an even better service.”
Mrs Gabb said the number of child protection referrals in Shetland, given the size of population, was very similar to the rest of Scotland. The message should be that it is “everyone’s job” to keep a child safe.
Lead officer Helen Watkins said there was a culture of “continuous improvement” within the service. She said child abuse could occur across all backgrounds, and one of the factors involved could be alcohol or substance abuse by the parents. People should be alert to signs of abuse or neglect in a child and contact the duty social worker, who would arrange an “appropriate response”.
Work could then be done with the family, if necessary, possibly by involving the wider family or foster carers. There is currently a recruitment drive for foster carers, a job she described as “really rewarding”.
Mr Bell recognised there were problems in the isles as anywhere else: “We recognise there is a culture of alcohol abuse in Shetland and work closely with the agencies involved to heighten the awareness of the risks.”
Meanwhile the former police chief’s commitment was praised by head of children’s services Stephen Morgan, who said that Mr Bell, who had been in hospital at the time of the inspection, had “smuggled” a mobile phone onto the trolley taking him to theatre and phoned to wish the agencies good luck with the inspectors.
The Child Safe Shetland initiative and website was deemed to be an example of good practice, and can be found at www.shetland.gov.uk/childsafeshetland.