Groups rush to back Scots hearing system after increase in offending

Scottish social care groups have defended the children’s hearing
system after figures showed the number of young offenders in
Scotland has risen considerably.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration’s (SCRA) annual
report for 2003-4 shows a 13 per cent increase on the previous year
in the number of children referred to the children’s reporter for
offending, which makes up a third of all cases.

The rest of the 45,793 cases were referred for care and
protection issues -Êa rise of 12 per cent on the previous

The report puts the number of persistent young offenders at
1,201 -Êalthough a source close to the SCRA said Scottish
executive officials believed this to be inaccurate.

The figures again call into question the ability of the
children’s hearing system to deal with youth offending – it is now
subject to a year-long review.

But its defenders say it is understaffed, under-resourced and
overburdened. Just over 11 per cent of referrals resulted in a
children’s hearing.

Bernadette Doherty, convener of the Association of Directors of
Social Work children committee, said that a properly resourced
hearing system was needed to meet young offenders’ needs.

Maggie Mellon, chief executive of Children First, said the
executive’s fast-track pilot was creating a “perverse incentive”
for authorities to identify children as being persistent offenders,
because they would then be offered more help. “Many are charged
with trivial offences such as kicking a tree. Many are also in
care, where the police are more likely to be called for minor
disturbances,” she said. “Once you say you’ll get help when
identified as a persistent offender rather than a child in need,
what do you expect?”

The disagreement over the number of persistent young offenders
has led to reports that officials and ministers tried to get the
SCRA, an independent public body, to leave it out of its annual
report. It is also believed to be the reason behind the departure
last week of Alan Miller, its principal reporter for 10 years,
although this was denied by the SCRA.


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