‘Scots’ hearing system must refocus’

A major inquiry into the Scottish children’s hearing system reveals
a system under strain because of the huge rise in referrals on the
grounds of care and protection rather than offending.

The system should return to its original purpose, says the report
from NCH Scotland which was published this week. “From being a
system for dealing mainly with those who require compulsory
measures of care, the hearings system has become almost the only
route of access to services for children in need of care and
protection,” it says.

The hearing system, recommended in the Lord Kilbrandon report 35
years ago and established under the Social Work Scotland Act 1968,
was set up to cater for young offenders as an alternative to court
and for children in need of compulsory care.

The report says that the hearing system was never designed as a way
to provide services for children in need. It identifies the burden
of inappropriate referrals, 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.

It recommends 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 calls on the Scottish executive to invest in the hearings system
and adopt a “preventive not punitive” approach to youth justice.
Evidence from England and Wales is highlighted in the report to
demonstrate that punitive measures do not work.

Calls for more investment were echoed by the Scottish Children’s
Reporter Administration (SCRA), which manages the hearing system,
in its annual report, also published this week.

Alan Miller, SCRA principal reporter, said it was important to look
more closely at the lives of Scotland’s children, adding that
greater prevention, support and help was required before referral
to the hearing system. The SCRA recorded its busiest year in 2003
since the children’s hearing system was created.

Douglas Bulloch, SCRA chairperson, said the hearing system was
critical to completing the network of services that protected
children. He added that there was a strong case for continuing

– Where’s Kilbrandon Now? from www.nchafc.org.uk

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