Reforms to Scotland’s under-pressure children’s hearings system will be delayed after the Scottish executive said it would postpone planned legislation.
Ministers had planned to unveil the Children’s Hearings and Integrated Services Bill, which sources say is already written, in the summer.
But education minister Peter Peacock said last week the executive would publish and consult on the draft children’s hearings bill between this September, the start of the next parliamentary session, and May 2007, when Scottish Parliament elections take place.
The news comes as the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, which oversees the children’s hearings system, is dealing with a steep increase in referrals.
The number of children referred to the organisation following care concerns or offending rose 10 per cent in 2005-6, according to figures leaked to The Herald newspaper. This follows another 10 per cent rise in 2004-5.
A spokesperson for SCRA would not provide exact figures but said there had been an increase in referrals in 2005-6, particularly in care and protection cases.
Instead of the children’s hearings legislation, ministers will bring forward the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Bill, which will establish a Scottish vetting and barring scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults, for publication in September.
Tam Baillie, assistant director of policy at Barnardo’s Scotland, was disappointed with the delay to the hearings legislation, but said it would enable agencies to look at changes that could be made within the existing system.
However, Ruth Stark, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Scotland and a long-term opponent of the bill, said the executive had taken a “sensible decision”.
Stark added: “Sharing information about vulnerable children will bring greater benefits to the hearing system [than the bill] as it will require other agencies, particularly health services, to share information about vulnerable children and adults.”