The Scottish government has outlined proposals to create a single national body to oversee a streamlined children’s hearing system.
The new body – which has been given the provisional title of the Scottish Children’s Hearings Agency – will be responsible for the delivery and administration of children’s hearings as well as the recruitment and training of local experts who sit on children’s panels.
Scotland’s children’s hearings system, which deals with offenders under 16 as well as children with care and protection needs, has been criticised as being unnecessarily bureaucratic and has strained recently to cope with a massive increase in the number of cases. Last year the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, whose children’s reporters receive referrals and decide whether children should face a hearing, was sent more than 100,000 cases, mostly relating to care and protection. The figure ten years ago was around 46,500.
In a consultation published yesterday, Strengthening for the future, ministers proposed to merge together:-
- The SCRA.
- The 32 children’s panels – one for each local authority area – who preside over hearings and decide whether children should face compulsory supervision measures.
- The 30 children’s panel advisory committees, who recommend people for appointment to panels.
- The 32 safeguarder panels, who are appointed by the hearing to safeguard the interests of children in proceedings.
Adam Ingram, Scotland’s minister for children and early years, said a single body would cut bureaucracy, while ensuring services continue to be delivered locally “and with great consistency in decision-making”.
Anne Houston, chief executive of campaign charity Children 1st, welcomed the consultation but said that there needed to be more work on preventing young people entering the system. She added: “This will also allow the hearings system to get back to being used for the purpose for which it was originally intended.”
Scotland’s children’s hearing system was created in the 1960s in recognition of the overlap between young offenders and children with care and support needs.
It is claimed the problems with the system stem from a 1996 reform which meant children’s panels and related committees were moved from a regional to a local level. The Scottish government announced in January that it would shake up the system and the consultation will run until October.
Children’s hearings system