Unison slams Scottish children’s hearings reforms

Scottish government plans to reform the country’s children’s hearings system could damage its current child-centred approach and increase bureaucracy for practitioners and children alike, Unison has claimed.


The creation of the Scottish Children’s Hearings Tribunal (SCHT) to perform new duties and take over some from the current Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) would be likely to create a “dual administration” and increase confusion, the union said.


The SCHT would be responsible for recruiting, training and monitoring members of Scotland’s children’s panels, the independent lay tribunals that decide how to deal with the welfare and offending of vulnerable children.


But it would also arrange and provide papers for children’s hearings, and advise hearings on procedure, a role currently carried out by children’s reporters.


“Checks and balances”


There have been concerns that this role has conflicted with the reporters’ other main duty, to give legal advice to children, but Unison said there were already “checks and balances” in place – with more changes being introduced in September.


The union warned that children, families and professionals would have to deal with both the SCRA and the SCHT, losing a consistent point of contact to take them through the process.


The Scottish government reforms are revealed in the Draft Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill, published in late June, and follow a consultation, Strengthening for the Future.


Concerns over new court powers


The draft bill also includes provisions to allow courts to completely re-hear a case that has already gone before a children’s hearing, rather than just testing the merits of a hearing’s decision.


Unison said this could lead to the courts, rather than children’s hearings, becoming the “de facto locus” for many cases.


Too much focus on offending


The union also said the draft bill focused “disproportionately” on offences, considering two-thirds of referrals to children’s reporters, and 40,000 out of 50,000 hearings last year, related to welfare concerns rather than offending.


In addition, the bill would only permit children to be referred for voluntary assistance if they had already been subject to compulsory supervision, it said.


Kate Ramsden, a member of Unison’s Scottish social work issues group, said the reforms “concentrate on the civil rights of adults at the expense of the rights of children to be protected”.


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