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Blog: Happy Birthday to the first children's hearing!

Image of John

Image of John

Why the children’s hearings system is important and what might the next 50 years look like?

Hard to think it’s been 50 years since the first panel sat in 1971. Although Kilbrandon reported in 1964, the Social Work (Scotland) Act did not appear till 1968 followed by the first hearings in 1971. The system has stood the test of time and successfully weathered the storms.

1971 was when the UK and Ireland changed to decimal currency, the Open University was founded and the Hillman Hunter was the stylish motor of the day. Therefore, in its time Kilbrandon was quite revolutionary in using a lay tribunal and legislating to ensure a mixed gender panel. Central also was the panel looking at a child or young person’s ‘needs and deeds’ as a package. 

In the early days, panels were largely concerned with juveniles offending and being in trouble. That is dramatically different today with, in 2019/20, care and protection taking a 84% share of referrals to hearings. Some of that may well be down to changes in Scottish society, but I think it is a significant measure of the system’s success and its importance.

Before COVID we took so much for granted and only when something is not there, we fully appreciate its full worth. In assessing the importance of the children’s hearing system, we should stop to ask what would Scotland be like without the Panel system for our infants, children, young people and families?

In my nearly 30 years association with the system and its priceless volunteers, there have been some immense changes. Foremost is a dedicated National Panel operating to national standards to deliver locally for our infants, children, young people and families.  The Community also has pride in what it does, even when the going gets hard and the decisions are difficult.

In embracing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and getting to grips The Promise plan 21-24, in 2021 we are planting the seeds and setting the trajectory for the next 50 years. What has always has always set us apart and continues to do so, is the Legal tribunal which is at the centre of the system and the vehicle for making things happen for those we serve. Therefore, I believe that our strength moving forward is in making the way things are done and happen in the hearing room even better. 

Looking forward is part of the hearing system’s DNA. Lord David Hope, former Court of Session and Supreme Court judge, is a great supporter of what we do. Referring to Kilbrandon in a judgement Lord Hope once said ‘the genius of this reform which has earned it so much praise’.

I am sure Lord Kilbrandon would be proud with what he started back in the day, and we too can tip a nod to the past as we move forward with ambition and imagination into the next 50 years.

Happy Birthday to the first children's hearing!