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Blog: A unique system that puts children’s rights at its heart

50 years of children’s hearings: a unique system that puts children’s rights at its heart
Elliot Jackson, National Convener and CEO, Children’s Hearings Scotland

Over 50 years ago, Kilbrandon set out the guiding principle that children, whether offending or offended against, deserve our care and concern. Following a ground-breaking review, that was led by Lord Kilbrandon, the children’s hearings system was created.

On this, the golden anniversary of the first children’s hearing, let me reflect briefly from then to now.

Back in the early ‘60s, it was concern about youth crime and the appropriateness of juvenile courts that drove the Kilbrandon Committees’ work. In the year of the first children’s hearing  - 1971  - 85% of all hearings held, were on offence grounds.

Figures from the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) tell us that child, care and protection concerns now make up eight out of 10 cases.

The way the hearings system was built, as envisioned in the Kilbrandon Report, around children and families’ whole life circumstances, means that it can and has handled that fundamental shift – this is testament to the reports’ enduring nature.

A radical design classic, the hearings system remains relevant and continues to respond to changing needs over 50 years on.

Since the first hearing in 1971, there have been many changes. There is a clearer understanding now that children and young people’s needs are complex; the hearing room is a busier place than ever with much more support wrapped around the child or young person through, for example, advocates; the legislative environment that we work with today can be complex to navigate. And, importantly, I think that the voice of the child is stronger, it is threaded through all that we do.

The role of volunteer Panel Members and our core values remain resolute. We are committed to supporting infants, children and young people across Scotland. The sense of pride, at being part of our unique system that places the Rights of the Child at its heart, prevails.

Panel Members continue to have an important role in children’s hearings. As specially selected, unpaid and highly trained lay people, they embody the type of Scotland we all want to see – a listening, supportive, inclusive and compassionate Scotland.

Kilbrandon’s ethos remains as strong today as it was in 1971, and it will remain a guiding principle for the change coming to the children’s hearings system. As we look to the future of the children’s hearings system, our challenge and our duty, is to keep innovating, keep pushing  - relentlessly - for the best for our infants, children, young people and their families.

Over the last four years, we’ve seen an historic movement for change led by people with experience of the care system in Scotland. They have asked us, as a sector and a society, to rethink how we care for and support our children and young people.

This movement culminated in the Independent Care Review, which has undertaken a root and branch review of Scotland’s care system for children and young people. The review listened to the perspectives of over 5,500 children, young people and their families, Panel Members, charities and organisations in and around the care system.

In February 2020, the Chair of the Independent Care Review published a report called The Promise. This report set out the change necessary within the children’s hearings system, and wider care sector, to make sure all children and young people grow up feeling safe, loved and heard. Now, in early 2021, The Promise has shared their Plan 21-24, a huge step towards making these asks reality.

This seems our ‘Kilbrandon moment’ where we, together, 50 years on, can embrace these reforms and shape a refreshed hearings system with the insight, courage and bravery that Lord Kilbrandon would be proud of.

Starting today - let’s make sure our successors writing the ‘Kilbrandon 100’ piece can say with real justification – look at how far we have come in the last 50 years!