The research identified various ways in which safeguarders are perceived to add value within the decision-making process. Their separate perspective on the case, the format of their reports (where of high quality) and their ability to meet personally with the child away from the hearings room were valued and might be built upon in the future in promoting better decisions, and outcomes, for children. More specific points are identified below:
- While, there is some variability in the quality of safeguarders' reports, interviewees generally welcomed these for being concise, readable and lacking in "baggage" from long previous involvement in the case. The paired report analysis indicated that safeguarder reports may be more up-to-date than those provided by social workers (6 records, 35%) and may propose alternative resources (5 records; 29%) to those already considered. At their best, these reports were found to summarise clearly the information on which they were based and to analyse all relevant data to make a reasoned recommendation in the child's best interests.
- The questionnaire indicated that the majority of non-safeguarder respondents (n = 217, 79% and all 12 of the responding sheriffs regarded safeguarder reports and their recommendations as useful (though 22 (8%) non-safeguarders did find them relatively useless). Similarly, a majority had more confidence in the decision taken following safeguarder involvement or felt that it was more robust (n = 159, 58%; 10/12 sheriffs) (but 81 (29%) non-safeguarders and 1/12 sheriffs did not think this). Analysis of the SCRA sample indicated that the substantive decision of the hearing followed the recommendation of the safeguarder in 38 records (76%) and partially followed it in a further 3 (6%) implying that hearings attach considerable weight to the reports, recommendations and contributions of safeguarders. At interview, the vast majority of non-safeguarder stakeholders (5/9 sheriffs; 9/10 panel members; 5/5 reporters; 2/5 social worker and 3/5 solicitors) said that they valued the input of the safeguarder in children's hearings and court procedures. The remaining respondents suggested value depended on the quality of the safeguarder report and their ability to work in a court setting.
- Safeguarders' independence was recognised in the questionnaire responses as a key element of the role (safeguarders n = 27, 27%; non-safeguarders n= 133, 37%; and 4/12 sheriffs). It was also given as a reason for appointment (non-safeguarders n = 68, 19%; 1/16 sheriffs) and acting with independence and honesty constitutes one of the 7 practice standards for safeguarders. In terms of adding value, safeguarders' independence means that they have no involvement in the child's case beyond their appointment. They do not work for any professional body with long-term or contentious involvement in the child's case. They provide an assessment which is entirely their own. This may be particularly valuable in cases of conflict between family members and other professionals.
- Safeguarders can be parties to court proceedings (Act of Sederunt (Child Care and Maintenance) Rules 1997, Rule 3.8(e)) and, uniquely (other than the child and any relevant person) they have the right to appeal (2011 Act, s 154(2)(c)). This gives them the opportunity to safeguard the child's interests throughout the process to the final outcome of the court proceedings.
- In conducting their investigation, safeguarders see the child away from the formal, sometimes combative, settings of children's hearings rooms and sheriff court buildings, giving safeguarders opportunities different from those presented in those formal settings to interact with the child, to explain the system and their role within it and to obtain views of both children and others to inform their investigation and recommendation. At interview, sheriffs mentioned that they valued this aspect of the role with some suggesting that, on occasion, it assisted in bringing an earlier resolution to the case.