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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