The Scottish executive has unveiled plans to reform the children’s hearing system and cut the number of children referred to welfare services.
The draft Children’s Services (Scotland) Bill proposes changing the criteria used by police or schools to refer children to children’s reporters, who decide whether children should be referred on to the hearings system or social work services.
It specifies that several conditions – such as a child having unmet welfare needs and requiring some form of compulsory supervision – must be met in full before a referral should be made. Currently, only one of these conditions needs to be met.
The draft bill also recommends placing a duty on all agencies to work together to provide support for children. Also it proposes taking into account the views of children and their families when developing support plans.
In the past 10 years, the number of children referred to the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) on welfare grounds has almost trebled. But in 2004-5, just a fifth of the 37,460 welfare cases sent to the SCRA by the police resulted in a child being referred on to the hearings system or social work departments.
Bernadette Doherty, deputy president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said the recent increase in referrals has meant social workers spend more time on writing background reports for the children’s hearings.