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The Children's Panel - life changing

Information for parents and carers

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The Children’s Hearings System is Scotland’s unique system of care and justice for children and young people. It aims to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people through a legal decision making lay tribunal called the Children’s Panel.

Children and young people and their families or carers become involved in the Children’s Hearings System if they are facing serious problems in their lives. For example, if there are concerns that the child or young person is not being looked after or is being abused, getting into trouble with the police, if they are taking drugs or alcohol, or if they are not attending school.

Here you will find information that you may need if your child, or a child or young person in your care has been referred to the Children's Reporter.

Who is a panel member?
Who is a Children’s Reporter?
What is a referral?
What is a children's hearing?
Can I get legal advice or Legal Aid for children's hearings proceedings?
When is legal aid available automatically at a children’s hearing?
Who is a safeguarder?
Who will be at the children’s hearing?
What is a pre-hearing panel?
What will happen at the children’s hearing?
What decisions can be made at the hearing?
What is a compulsory supervision order?
What if I’m not happy with the decision of the hearing - can I appeal?
Can the police retain my child's DNA?
What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?

Who is a panel member?

A panel member is a person from your local community who volunteers to sit on the Children’s Panel. Many panel members have jobs, whilst others are retired people. Lots of them have their own children and grandchildren. All panel members are given special training so that they can make decisions to help the children and young people who come to a hearing. There are three panel members at every hearing and one of them will lead the hearing – they are also known as the chair or chairing member.

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Who is a Children’s Reporter?

The Children’s Reporter is the first contact a child or family will have with the Children’s Hearings System. They will investigate a referral about your child by getting information from a number of sources – they might speak to a social worker if your child has one, or their teacher. You can also provide the Children’s Reporter with information about your child. After that the Children’s Reporter will decide if your child has to attend a children’s hearing.

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What is a referral?

A referral is information received by the Children's Reporter from anybody about a child or young person who may be in need of compulsory measures of supervision (legal intervention) to help them address their needs and/or behaviour. Most of the information about children and young people is received from the police, social work departments or schools. However, parents, family members, carers or any concerned member of the public can contact the Children's Reporter if they have concerns about a child or young person and their circumstances.

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What is a children’s hearing?

A children's hearing is a legal meeting arranged to consider and make legally binding decisions about children and young people who are having problems in their lives and who may need legal steps to be taken to help them. 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 panel member, will be present.

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Can I get legal advice or Legal Aid for children's hearings proceedings?

Prior to and at the hearing, legal advice and legal aid may be available free of charge or at a reduced cost under the legal advice and assistance scheme in some circumstances. Similarly, legal aid may be available for preparation for appearance in the Sheriff Court either when the case has been referred for establishment of the fact, or in appeal cases.  You will need to ask a solicitor to apply for legal aid on your behalf.  Further information can be found on the Scottish Legal Aid Board website

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When is legal aid available automatically at a children’s hearing?

Legal aid is available for a child or young person automatically where:

  • the panel members are considering secure accommodation
  • a Sheriff is considering whether to vary or recall a child protection order
  • a children’s hearing is to be held after a child protection order is granted by the Sheriff
  • a hearing is arranged after the child or young person is kept in custody by the police

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Who is a Safeguarder?

A safeguarder is a person who is appointed to make sure that a child or young person’s interests are looked after. A safeguarder can be appointed by either a children’s hearing, pre-hearing panel or a Sheriff. Not all children and young people need to have a safeguarder.

Sometimes if the people at a hearing have very different views to each other, or the panel members feel they need more information to allow them time to make a decision, they will appoint a safeguarder. A safeguarder is separate from the social worker, the Children’s Reporter and the panel members. A safeguarder would speak to everyone involved especially the child or young person, to help them build up a better picture. Sometimes they will write a report for the panel members and attend the next hearing.

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Who will be at the children’s hearing?

  • the child or young person, unless the hearing has agreed that they do not need to attend
  • anyone who is classed as a ‘relevant person’ for the child or young person
  • three panel members who will make the decisions - these are trained volunteers who want to make the best decisions to help vulnerable children and young people
  • the Children’s Reporter who will help to ensure the hearing is fair and record what has been decided
  • a social worker
  • there may be a person called a safeguarder – they are there to help the panel make the right decisions for the child

If the child wants to they can bring someone along like a family friend or teacher.

If you are a relevant person you can bring someone along as a representative to assist you.

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What is a pre-hearing panel?

You may receive a letter telling you that a pre-hearing panel is to take place. A pre-hearing panel is where three panel members meet before the children’s hearing to consider something in advance. The child or young person and relevant persons have the right to attend a pre-hearing panel but do not have to attend if they do not want to. 

A pre-hearing panel can be arranged to consider the following:

  • whether the child or young person or a relevant person needs to attend the children’s hearing
  • whether a person should be considered (called ‘deemed’) a relevant person
  • whether it is likely that the children’s hearing will be considering secure authorisation for the child - this will help the child to have the assistance of a solicitor at the hearing if they wish to have one

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What will happen at the children’s hearing?

Each hearing comprises of three panel members – all trained volunteers from the local community. The child or young person and their family or carers are central participants in the hearing. The role of the Children’s Reporter is to attend the hearing to support fair process and keep a record of the decisions which the panel members make. The Children’s Reporter takes no part in the panel members’ decision making.

The panel members will listen to everyone and consider all the information. The hearing will then make a legally binding decision and the panel members must give reasons for their decision. Both the child or young person and their carer(s), if they are relevant persons, will be sent a copy of the decision and reasons for the decision in writing.

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What decisions can be made at the hearing?

  • the hearing can decide that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case
  • the panel members can decide that they need more information to help them make a decision about what is best and they can defer the hearing until a later date
  • the hearing can decide to make an interim decision before the next hearing but only if this is necessary
  • the hearing can decide that compulsory measures of supervision are needed to help the child, and can make a compulsory supervision order

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What is a compulsory supervision order?

A compulsory supervision order can be made at a children's hearing. It can contain measures stating where the child is to live and/or other measures with which they must comply.

The local authority (called ‘the implementation authority’) is responsible for making sure that what is stated in the compulsory supervision order is happening, and that the child is getting the help that they need. A compulsory supervision order has no set time limit, but should last only as long as is necessary. It must be reviewed by a children's hearing at least once a year when it can be continued, varied or stopped.

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What if I’m not happy with the decision of the hearing - can I appeal?

If you are a ‘relevant person’ you have the right to appeal to the Sheriff against the decision of your child’s hearing.  You are a relevant person if you received a formal notification of the children’s hearing and copies of all the papers which were considered by the hearing.

A child or young person can also appeal against the decision. There has to be a reason in law for the basis of any appeal. If you disagree with the decision of a hearing, you should consult a solicitor as soon as possible.

A safeguarder who may be appointed to you or your child’s case also has the right to appeal against the decision. In appealing, you have to satisfy the Sheriff that the decision of the children’s hearing was not justified - for example, in making a compulsory supervision order.

Any appeal should be in writing to the Sheriff at the Sheriff Court, and must be made within 21 days of the decision unless you are appealing against a decision about a relevant person in which case this must be made within 7 days.

At the appeal, the Sheriff will hear what you have to say and he will also hear the Children’s Reporter, and possibly your child and any other relevant persons or a safeguarder. The Sheriff may speak to the people who prepared the reports about your child for the hearing if he/she thinks that would be useful.

If the Sheriff allows your appeal, there are a number of options:

  • discharge the case altogether
  • decide that another children’s hearing should take place
  • make a decision which is different from the one which the hearing had made

If your appeal fails, the decision made by the hearing will remain unchanged unless there has been a change in your child’s circumstances in which case the Sheriff may make one of the decisions listed above.

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Can the police retain my child's DNA?

Police are able to retain the DNA of certain children and young people who have committed an offence.

Under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, which was approved by the Scottish Parliament and came into force on 15 April 2011, children who are deemed to have committed a "relevant offence" will now have their DNA and fingerprints retained in most cases for three years (in some cases it can be retained beyond this period).

This applies to children and young people referred to the Children’s Hearings System for specified serious sexual and violent offences and where these grounds are accepted or established.

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What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?

This section explains how the Act may affect you or your child in the future.

Is the appearance of my child at a children’s hearing a ‘criminal conviction’?

Normally no, the appearance is in private and the press, even if present (which is a rarity) cannot publish details of any child or young person. Children and their parents do not need to tell anyone about it except for the circumstances defined in the Act. Children’s hearings are not part of the criminal court system, but records of decisions taken at children’s hearings are kept by the police on their national computer system. They cannot formally become a ‘previous conviction’ in any later appearance before a court, but they may be mentioned in background reports to a court.

What is the purpose of the Act and what does it say?

It is intended to limit the time during which a person must reveal that they have a ‘criminal conviction’, especially when applying for a job. An appearance at a hearing becomes a ‘criminal conviction’ under this Act if grounds for referral involving the commission of an offence by a child are admitted or are proved before the Sheriff.

For how long do ‘criminal convictions’ have to be revealed?

The Act talks about a ‘rehabilitation period’ after which the conviction does not have to be revealed. It becomes a ‘spent conviction’. This rehabilitation period is six months from the date the grounds were accepted or proved. When this has led to the child being placed on a compulsory supervision order, it is one year from the date it was made. If the child is on supervision for more than one year, then it is on the date it is terminated. This can be quite complicated if the child has had several appearances over time for various offences.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?

Yes. As you can imagine, there are a number of jobs and situations where it is considered that even a child’s previous behaviour is very important to know about. There is a list of these stated in law. Please click on the link below to view a leaflet which provides more information including the list of jobs.

SCRA leaflet - Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

 

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