A major inquiry into the children’s hearing system in
Scotland has discovered a service under strain caused by the number
of referrals on grounds of care and protection rather than
offending, writes Maggie Wood.
NCH Scotland’s inquiry report into the hearing system
called for a return to the hearings’ original purpose
recommended in the Lord Kilbrandon report 35 years ago. The hearing
system, which was established by the Social Work Scotland Act in
1968, was set up to cater for young offenders as an alternative to
court, and for children in need of compulsory measures of care.
The NCH report, ‘Where’s Kilbrandon Now?’,
warned that the hearing system was never designed as a route for
services for children in need. It identified the burden of
inappropriate referrals as well as lack of community resources, and
social work staffing problems as the main reasons for the system
not working in the way that was originally intended.
The report recommended that serious gaps in mainstream and
preventive services should be urgently addressed, and that there
should be a shift of resources from institutional care of children
to care within their wider families and communities.
It also called on the Scottish executive to adopt a
“preventive not punitive” approach to youth justice.
Evidence from England and Wales given to the inquiry showed that
punitive measures for tackling youth justice do not work and serve
to criminalise children, with three quarters of young people
sentenced to custody likely to re-offend.
Other recommendations in the report
– Greater involvement of the police in hearings
– Action to address recruitment and morale problems for panel
members, with consideration of whether panel members should be
– A staged transfer of resources away from custody and secure
– An independent research and monitoring review system
Meanwhile, the annual report from the Scottish
Children’s Reporter Administration confirms the problem of
inappropriate referrals – it has recorded its busiest year since
the children’s hearing system was created.
The rise in referrals relates not to youth offending, but to
referrals to the hearing system of children requiring care and
protection. Meanwhile numbers for offending have gone down.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Alan Miller, principal
reporter, said: “Despite intense media attention on youth
offending the majority of cases we see relate to non offence
referrals. The number of cases for alleged lack of parental care
has doubled in the past five years.”
Miller added that the increase in these referrals reflects
awareness of issues such as domestic abuse, the impact of drug
abuse and family breakdown.