Young people at the heart of hearings system proposals
1 Aug 2023
Elliot Jackson, National Convener of Children’s Hearings Scotland, explores the wide-ranging recommendations that have been given to the Scottish Government to ensure the Children’s Hearings System puts the rights of the child front and centre.
The Promise Scotland recently published 'Hearings for Children: the Hearings System Working Group’s Redesign Report'. The report is an important milestone in a multi-agency effort to improve Scotland’s unique Children’s Hearings System, in response to the experiences of those who have been through it.
Children’s Hearings Scotland welcomes the report, as one of three organisations that made up the Working Group. The others were the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration and The Promise Scotland, and it was led by Sheriff David Mackie.
The genesis of the report dates back to the Independent Care Review that heard from 5,500 voices with lived experience of the care system, and led to the launch in February 2020 of ‘the promise’: that care-experienced children and young people will grow up loved, safe and respected.
The Promise Scotland was established to ensure the promise is kept, and the Hearings System Working Group was launched to help achieve the changes being asked for by care-experienced voices. Young people and their parents and carers were heavily involved with the Hearings System Working Group, and their insights have helped shape its proposals.
The report gives the Scottish Government a wide-ranging set of recommendations to strengthen the Children’s Hearings System, with young people at their heart.
Among the stand-out recommendations is that early and effective support should be available in order to prevent children and young people needing the Children’s Hearings System in the first place. Another fundamental takeaway is that Scotland needs to address both poverty and funding for the hearings system to be successful.
The report seeks to strengthen what are known as the ‘Kilbrandon principles’, which were set out in the Kilbrandon Report of 1964 that laid the foundations of Scotland’s Children’s Hearings System.
‘Hearings for Children’ aims to reinforce these principles by ensuring hearings are inquisitorial, not adversarial – that they are a conversation, not a confrontation. Key to this will be establishing the ‘grounds’ for a hearing before a child needs to attend, so that the hearing itself can focus on the future, not the past.
The report reinforces that a hearing should focus on a young person’s ‘needs’, not their ‘deeds’. It supports keeping children out of the criminal justice system and bringing all under-18s who require care and protection into the Children’s Hearings System.
Before a hearing, children and their families will be able to meet the Chair of the three-person Panel, and the Chair will become a familiar face for that young person on their journey through the Hearings System. The Chair will know the child’s background well, which will help the Panel make the best decisions.
A recommendation that has attracted attention is that Chairs should be paid a salary and Panel Members a day rate, where currently they serve as volunteers. The report recognises the invaluable role that today’s volunteers play, and its recommendations are focused on strengthening that work. It also recognises that increased demands arising from further complexity, additional time commitment and specialist training would not be sustainable through a pure volunteer model.
The Scottish Government will now consider the recommendations, and a response is expected later this year. If some of the bigger changes are accepted, they are likely to be included in The Promise Bill planned for 2025 or 2026.
Children’s Hearings Scotland will welcome all changes that lead directly to improved outcomes for the infants, children and young people who need us.
For more information, visit www.chscotland.gov.uk