Q&A with Elliot Jackson: How the hearings system is adapting to Coronavirus 31 March 2020Working with our partners in the hearings system, Children’s Hearings Scotland have made changes to the way hearings work as we respond to the Coronavirus pandemic. We caught up with National Convener, Elliot Jackson, to find out how things are evolving. Firstly, is there anything you would like to say to children and families who are affected by changes to the system? Yes. We know that infants, children and young people who can’t live with their families want to have a say in what those arrangements look like, and now they may not be able to do so, as due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are no longer able to run as many hearings. We at CHS understand how important relationships are to you and we understand that many of you will be missing your family and friends during this “lockdown” period. Until the government relax the rules it means you are not able to have a say in the way you would like to have contact with important people in your lives. We understand how sad and upset this will make many of you feel. However, the adults around you can support you to have meaningful contact with loved ones in other ways, such as phone calls, or FaceTime, and we really hope you will be able to make use of these different methods. We are sending you all our love and best wishes, and remember, this isn’t forever. It will pass and you’ll be able to see your loved ones again soon. This is not what we want for children and their families. We will continue to review the situation and we will hold as many hearings as we can, and make improvements wherever we can. How has Covid-19 affected the hearings system? Like every public service, the children’s hearing system is hugely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. All SCRA and CHS offices are closed to the public, and almost all our staff and volunteers, including our Panel Members, are undertaking their roles from home. Due to the current Government restrictions we have significantly reduced the number of hearings taking place. This isn’t what we want for children and families, who want space to be heard about important decisions in their lives, but we will be working hard to include them however we can. There has been an incredible response from everyone we work with and it’s inspiring to see the effort put in to protecting young people during these unprecedented times. How are you deciding which hearings still need to go ahead? Some hearings are required to either protect an existing Compulsory Supervision Order, or to urgently protect the safety and wellbeing of a child. Therefore, only those hearings required for the urgent and immediate protection of infants, children and young people will continue to take place. All hearings that are not urgent have been put on hold and will be rescheduled at as soon as possible. How are hearings being conducted? We are now holding all hearings remotely using VScene video and audio conferencing technology. Currently this involves scheduling virtual hearings with Panel Members only, supported by the Reporter. Given the circumstances, these virtual hearings also have access to limited information, such as reports or Child’s Plans. What is happening with contact arrangements? With many Local Authority buildings and other contact premises now closed, there is a lack of safe spaces available in which to have certain types of contact. Social work departments are also affected and may be unable to provide staff to supervise and support contact. As we are unable to hold children’s hearings to review these arrangements, we are supporting local authorities to make safe, interim arrangements. We know this may be very upsetting for some children and families who want to have a say about the relationships they have, and how and when they see important people in their lives. However, there will be other ways put in place – for example phone calls or FaceTime – to help contact continue. Once the current restrictions are lifted we will be working together with SCRA and Social Work Scotland to ensure that contact arrangements can return to normal. So, what comes next? How long will this last? At the moment we can’t be sure just how long the current situation, both in terms of remote hearings and contact orders, will last, and we know that no matter how long it lasts, it will be very difficult for the infants, children, young people and families we work with. We do know it will be at least three weeks, due to the Government’s restrictions and that it will take some time for everything to run as normal again. We are now working with our partners to enhance remote hearings in several ways, including helping children, families and more professionals to take part. We are also looking at how we can make sure Panel Members are well prepared for hearings, that they have all the information they need before the hearing. At the moment all information is shared by the Reporter at the start of the hearing. The situation is continually evolving, and we will do everything we can to make sure children and families get help and support they need.