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The Introduction of the Children’s Hearings System

In response to the Kilbrandon Report, the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 established the Scottish Children’s Hearings System (CHS), which was formally implemented in 1971 and replaced juvenile courts in Scotland. It assumed powers to make decisions about the social education and welfare supervision of those brought to its attention. The CHS was founded on the key principle that the child’s best interests should be paramount in decision-making and the welfare principle must be the key test guiding decisions concerning the necessity and extent of compulsory intervention. The CHS is described in more detail in Box 18.1.

Box 18.1: The Children’s Hearings System in Scotland The CHS can receive referrals from anyone about a child who may be in need to compulsory measures of care. The statutory grounds for referral are diverse and include the neglect and abuse of a child, involvement in offending, being beyond the control of a relevant person and failure to attend school. A young person may be referred on more than one ground and these may include both offence and non-offence grounds.

The CHS deals with children and young people referred on care grounds from birth up to 16 years old (and increasingly up to 18), and on offence grounds from age 8. The central tenets of the System are welfare based (see Burman et al. 2006), that is:

  • • emphasis is on the ‘needs’ of the child rather than their ‘deeds’;
  • • all decisions of the CHS should be made in the best interests of the child;
  • • offending is symptomatic of deeper psychological or social malaise;
  • • the focus should be on early and minimal intervention;
  • • and the hearing should be an informal meeting which maximises the participation of children and their families in decision-making.

Hearings are lay tribunals comprised of a ‘panel’ of trained volunteers drawn from the local community.[1] Professional staff (trained in law or social work) are appointed as ‘Reporters’ to the CHS. When the Reporter receives a referral about a child (from police, health, education or members of the public) he/she initiates an investigation in order to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to support legal grounds for a hearing.

The Reporter must be satisfied that compulsory measures of supervision may be required to help address the needs and/or behaviour of the young person. If grounds are established, the Reporter arranges a hearing. Reporters are also involved in arranging review hearings, warrant hearings and other related matters.

Hearings are held in private and only those who have a legal right to be there or those who are allowed to be there by the Panel chair can be present.

Box 18.1: (continued)

In addition to the young person, this usually includes at least one parent or guardian, the Reporter, a social worker and, depending on the case, a teacher, police officer or youth worker. The panel can make a number of different decisions, such as:

  • • decide that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case;
  • • request information to assist in decision-making, in which case the hearing is deferred to a later date (if so, panel members can make decisions about what should happen to the child in the meantime);
  • • decide that compulsory measures of supervision are needed, under the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (section 83) and make a compulsory supervision order. This will usually have conditions attached to it which can include where the child or young person is to live (for example with foster carers or a relative) or who the child should see and when.

  • [1] Lay panel members (aged 18-60 years) are recruited from the public, and undergo selectionand training processes. They are appointed (or reappointed) for a 3-year period. (continued)
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