Friday, 26 June 2015

Children`s hearing system is being undermined

The Children`s Hearing system has been operating in Scotland for over forty years and follows the recommendations of the Kilbradon report. (1964)

It is founded on 3 principles:

  • that children who `were wronged` could be accommodated in the same system as children who `did wrong`.

  • that both groups of children should receive interventions, where appropriate, based on `treatment` rather than punishment since the child who does `wrong` is often the child who has been `wronged.`

  • that courts may be appropriate places when facts are disputed, but decisions affecting the lives of children are best made by a panel of lay persons.

It is a system that has been viewed positively worldwide but is now under threat.

The Named Person scheme

The Highland Council was a pilot for the scheme where 8,000 youngsters were placed on a Child`s Plan and singled out for targeted interventions. Before the trial began only 64 children were on the Child Protection register which is a decision made by the children`s panel.

The scheme was pronounced a success by its supporters because the number of children appearing at Children`s Hearings had fallen.
Really, what had happened was that the Named Person scheme had circumvented the Children`s Hearing system and more families and children than ever before had been subjected to state interference - but without the customary safeguards.

At a Children`s Hearing a family appears in front of three voluntary lay persons acting like a mini-jury in some respects who are independent of the Local Authority. The reporter is there to ensure that the meeting is conducted according to the legal guidelines. Children and families have a right to be listened to, and a right to dispute the Local Authority`s reports. By no means a perfect system, it does offer these safeguards. A family who can persuade the three panel members that the social worker sitting round the table has got it wrong, has a fighting chance.

On the other hand, the power of Named Persons to gather and share data about children with their collaborators in a multi-agency team, behind the backs of the family, is greater than that exercised by the Children`s Hearing system. It is a collusive system; there are no safeguards against its decisions; and its power and influence extends to young people aged 18 whereas the Children`s Hearing system deals only with children up to 16 years.

Including professionals in the panel

As if the loss of checks and balances was not bad enough for children and families, Mr Gaw, president of Social Work Scotland, has suggested that the children`s panel system could be improved by introducing professionals, especially those from a social work background, into the system.

If that were to happen, the independence of lay persons who make decisions at a hearing would be compromised.

Regardless, Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland thinks it is a good idea. She is concerned by the "increasingly adversarial nature of complex child protection cases heard by the children`s panel ..."

The reason for the increase in adversarial cases is that more children are being forcibly removed from their families. Faced with that, Jackie Brock and others would wish to disarm children and families totally.

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