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The Children's Panel - life changing

How does the Children’s Hearings System work?

Picture of a teenage boy in a hooded top

A number of different agencies have responsibility for how the Children's Hearings System operates. These include social work departments, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Childrens’ Hearings Scotland.

Step 1) A child or young person is referred to the Children’s Reporter

Children and young people are referred to SCRA because some aspect of their life is giving cause for concern. In 2016/17, 26,840 referrals were made to SCRA. Most referrals are made by the police (75% in 2016/17), social work departments and education. However anyone can make a referral to SCRA - parents, carers, family members or a member of the public who may be concerned about a child or young person and their circumstances. Children and young people can also refer themselves.

Step 2) The Children’s Reporter decides if the child or young person needs to go to a children’s hearing

Children’s Reporters are employed by SCRA. The Children’s Reporter is the person who will decide if a child or young person needs to be referred to a children’s hearing. Children’s Reporters are trained professionals whose job it is to decide whether there are legal 'grounds' and whether a compulsory supervision order is necessary for the child. If so, the Children's Reporter will arrange a hearing for the child.

When a Children’s Reporter receives a referral, they may gather information about the child and their circumstances. This helps them to decide whether or not a children's hearing is necessary. The Children’s Reporter might speak to a social worker if the child has one, or their teacher, health professionals, police officers or others involved in the child’s life as part of this process. The Children’s Reporter may also speak with the child and family directly.

The Children’s Reporter may decide:

  • that a children’s hearing is not required
  • that a children’s hearing is not required but the child or young person should be referred to the local authority so that advice, guidance and assistance can be given on an informal and voluntary basis - this usually involves support from a social worker
  • to arrange a children’s hearing because they consider that a compulsory supervision order is necessary for the child or young person.

The Children’s Reporter will write to the child or young person and their parent(s) or other relevant person(s) to tell them of their decision.

Step 3) The Hearing

Grounds for a hearing

There are lots of different grounds (reasons) which may lead to a child or young person having to go to a children’s hearing. The grounds or legal reasons for bringing a child or young person to a hearing are set down in section 67(2) of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The grounds include that the child or young person:

  • is likely to suffer serious harm to health or development through lack of parental care
  • has been the victim of a schedule 1 offence*, is likely to have a close connection with someone who has committed such an offence or is likely to become a member of the same household as another child who has been the victim of a schedule 1 offence
  • is or is likely to be exposed to persons whose conduct may mean that the child or young person is abused or harmed or their health, safety or development will be seriously adversely affected
  • has or is likely to have, a close connection with a person who has carried out domestic abuse
  • has or is likely to have, a close connection with a person who has committed an offence under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009
  • is accommodated by a local authority or is the subject of a permanence order and special measures are needed to support them
  • has committed an offence
  • is misusing drugs or alcohol
  • has behaved in a way that has had or is likely to have, a serious adverse effect on the health, safety or development of themselves or another person
  • is beyond the control of parents or carers
  • is not attending school regularly without a reasonable excuse
  • has been, is being, or is likely to be, forced into a marriage or civil partnership, or is, or is likely to become, a member of the same household as such a child.

* A schedule 1 offence is a physical, emotional or sexual offence against a child.  These offences are called ‘schedule 1 offences’ because they are listed in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.

What is a children’s hearing?

A children’s hearing (sometimes called a children’s panel) is a legal meeting arranged to consider and make decisions about children and young people who may be having problems in their lives. Children’s hearings are held in private and only those people who have a legal right to be there, or are allowed to be there by the chairing member, will be present.

The hearing consists of three members of the local community who act as lay tribunal members, called panel members. They give their time freely (they are not paid a fee) to sit on hearings. The hearing listens to the child’s circumstances and then decides whether compulsory measures of supervision are needed for the child and, if so, what they should be.

Panel members undertake training and development activities in their own time to make sure they are equipped to make decisions in the best interests of children and young people and that the hearings are conducted fairly.

What decisions can be made at a hearing?

The hearing can make a number of different decisions:

  • that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case
  • that the panel memebrs need more information to help them make a decision about what is best and they can defer (postpone) the hearing until a later date and in this case they can make decisions about what should happen to the child or young person in the meantime if this is necessary as a matter of urgency
  • that compulsory measures of supervision are needed to help the child or young person and can make a compulsory supervision order. This will have measures attached to it which can include where the child or young person is to live, (for example with foster carers or a relative) or who the child should see and when.