Children seeking refuge

1. Introduction

1.1 Section 38 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 gives local authorities the power to provide a child with refuge in a residential establishment both controlled or managed by them, and designated by them for the purposes of providing refuge; or make arrangements for a person whose household has prescribed approval by virtue of Section 5 (3)(b) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 for the purposes of providing refuge to a child. Scottish Government guidance states ‘Refuge will provide children with somewhere safe to stay, and access to advice and help for a short period in order to resolve the crisis which led to the child seeking refuge and to reconcile him or her with family or carer or to divert the child to other suitable services or accommodation’.

1.2 Refuge may only be given where a local authority or authorised provider is satisfied that the child appears to be at risk and the child requests it. Refuge may only be provided for a period of up to seven days or, in prescribed circumstances, for a maximum of fourteen days.

1.3 Section 38 requires a local authority to exercise its powers in a manner that is child centred and responds to the stated needs of children. It is a power distinct from other duties and guidance is clear that refuge will not be provided as an alternative to exercising other responsibilities and powers under the Act, such as the provisions allowing for application for child protection orders.

1.4 Children provided with refuge under this power are not considered looked after by the local authority unless they are already looked after. Any measures which apply to the child, such as a supervision requirement, remain in force and the child’s parents retain parental responsibility and rights in respect of him/her, although their capacity to exercise these is limited during the seven day period of refuge.


2. References

2.1 The relevant legislative authority for this guidance is found in:

      • Children (Scotland) Act 1995 Section 38
      • The Refuges for Children (Scotland) Regulations 1996
      • Scottish Office Guidance Volume 2, Chapter 8 – Short Term Refuges for Children at Risk of Harm


3. Procedure

3.1 When a child seeks refuge, this will be brought to the attention of the duty CPRO or the Emergency Duty Team if this is outwith normal office hours. The duty CPRO will arrange for an assessment to be undertaken to identify the risk to the child and confirm that the child is seeking refuge. This should take the form of an IRD.

3.2 Where it is assessed that a child appears to be at risk, that he/she is requesting refuge and that other provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 are not appropriate (for example a Child Protection Order), then the duty CPRO will implement arrangements for the child to be provided with refuge. Out of hours, responsibility will rest with the Emergency Duty Team.

3.3 The Children’s (Scotland) Act provides for two different forms of refuge. Where it appears that a child is at risk of harm a local authority may, at the child’s request, provide him/her with refuge in a residential establishment controlled or managed by them, if that establishment is designated as a suitable place of refuge. Alternatively, arrangements can be made for refuge to be provided by a person who is approved and designated by the local authority for the purposes of providing refuge.

3.4 The duty CPRO will agree the designation of a household with prescribed approval or residential establishment as a place of refuge and will require to be satisfied that refuge selected satisfies the conditions outlined in Regulations and Guidance.

3.5 The duty CPRO will provide the selected refuge with instructions outlining responsibilities, including contact numbers of any allocated social worker, the emergency duty team and the police.

3.6 Regulations provide that refuge can be provided for a period not exceeding seven days or, in exceptional circumstances, fourteen days. The regulations define exceptional circumstances as being where:

      • A responsible person in relation to the child has not been found from the first day on which the child was provided with refuge and:
      • At the end of the period of seven days the local authority do not at that time have suitable accommodation for the child.

3.7 If circumstances persist beyond fourteen days alternative arrangements will be made for the care of the child, for example, the provision of accommodation. The child would then become looked after by the local authority.

3.8 Early consideration will be given to informing the Children’s Reporter of the circumstances in the event that other statutory measures may be required. Within 24 hours of the provision of refuge, the duty CPRO will, as soon as reasonably practical, notify the Public Protection Unit of the circumstances in which the child has been provided with refuge. This will ensure that time is not wasted in searching should the child be reported missing.

3.9 Where possible the police will be provided with:

      • The name and last address (if known) of the child;
      • The name and address of any responsible person or persons in relation to the child as far as this has been able to be obtained;
      • A telephone number at which the responsible person may be contacted by social work or the police

3.10 In the event of the child being provided with refuge, the duty CPRO will, within 24 hours of the child being provided with refuge, also notify the local authority in which the refuge is located and provide details as noted above.

3.11 If the child is looked after by another local authority, the duty CPRO will notify that local authority of the child’s admission to refuge as soon as possible and, in any case, within 24 hours.

3.12 Notifications to a responsible person for the child (and, if appropriate, to the local authority where the child had his or her last permanent address) will be made in writing within 48 hours of the child being provided with refuge.

3.13 A responsible person in relation to a child is defined as:

      • a parent of the child;
      • a person who is not a parent of the child but who has parental responsibility in respect of the child; and
      • any person who ordinarily has charge of, or control over, the child unless another person has care of the child.

3.14 Further information can be obtained in Regulation 2(1) of the Children and Young Persons (Refuge for Children) (Scotland) Regulations 1996.

3.15 Guidance advises that a child may remain in refuge without the consent of their parent or that of the responsible person for a maximum of seven days. If, within the first seven days, a responsible person in relation to the child has been found, the period of refuge cannot be extended to fourteen days. Other arrangements for the care of the child or the child’s return to his or her family will be made.

3.16 Where a child has run away from a local authority placement and is unwilling to return, this will be treated as a complaint by the child unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. The complaint will be investigated under the Social Work Complaints Procedure.


4. Notes

4.1 If the person holding parental responsibilities and rights does not wish the child to remain in the refuge and the child does not want to return home, consideration will be given to whether the child would be at risk of harm if he or she returns to the care of that parent or responsible person. In such cases, the following options are available:

      • If there is reasonable cause to believe or suspect that the child would be at risk of significant harm, an application can be made for a Child Protection Order or Child Assessment Order;
      • If it is believed the child is at risk of harm and the child wishes to remain, the child can be kept in a place of refuge for up to seven days
      • Referral can be made to the Reporter; and
      • If it is believed that the child would not be at risk of harm, the child will be helped to return to the care of the responsible person.

4.2 Children will not be required to disclose detailed information about their circumstances as a condition of access to a refuge. Staff undertaking the relevant assessment will require to balance the need for information against the risk of harm with a need to ensure that admission processes do not discourage vulnerable children from seeking help.

4.3 If a child runs away, the child will always have the opportunity to talk to an independent person about the reasons for absconding. The duty CPRO will identify an appropriate member of staff to undertake this function.

4.4 Responsibility for assisting the child and providing any services for the child and family rests with the local authority in which the child is ordinarily resident.