My first hearing as a Panel Member
Emma, a new Panel Member, shares her first experience of a children's hearing, including both her fears and the reassurances she gained from her training and supportive fellow Panel Members
Taking the plunge
So yeah, I decided to take the plunge and put myself forward for a virtual hearing session that needed covered. There were two hearings plus a pre-hearing panel scheduled in for the session.
The paperwork came through and I'm not going to lie, it was a bit of a daunting task to go through it all, but I got there!
The paperwork was laid out in pretty much the same format as during training, so there was nothing that didn't make sense and was unclear. I made hearing notes as had been suggested at training and felt prepared when hearing day came.
Although I was nervous, I was also excited about it being for real for the first time.
The other panel members made me feel very relaxed at the pre-hearing meeting – they talked over how the hearing would go and what to expect and assured me that I would be under no pressure to go first with my decision, and if I felt I needed more time to come to my decision and reasons, that was OK.
'Flow' of the hearing
I felt understandably nervous as the first one began but soon settled in. The chair took control and I was able to sit and listen to the proceedings as they unfolded.
The hearing 'flowed' really well. I think in training we were all a bit worried about how the 'agenda' would be followed and how questions would come up and be asked etc, but over the course of the hearing everything was covered. The chair would ask at certain stages if either of the other Panel Members had any further questions on the topic in discussion at the time, and also at the end of the hearing if there were any final questions.
Asking the questions I had was a bit nerve wracking because I didn't want to come across as asking something irrelevant, but then I also felt like I had to know the answers to the questions I had in order to make an informed decision, so I asked away!
Giving decisions and reasons was quite daunting. I was worried that I would miss something out, but having the other Panel Member go first made it much easier to follow, and although I was nervous, I was also confident in the decision I made.
In the first hearing the panel made a unanimous decision, but in the second hearing, I went against the first panel member and the recommendation of the social worker over the frequency of contact. I battled with it for a while in my head, thinking 'if PM1 has agreed, then maybe I should too/maybe I'm wrong to disagree', but I stuck to my guns and went with my gut!
The Chair then agreed with me when making their decision which made me feel better, but I think even if she hadn't, I would have been happy with the decision I made, because it's what I believed was right and for the best interest of the child involved.
After the hearing, all three members were involved in writing up and recording the decisions – although the chair typed them up, I felt very included and was able to read what they had inputted, and give feedback if I felt something was incorrectly worded/was unnecessary or needed expanded on. We then all agreed on what had been written before it was 'submitted'. I also felt I could ask the other Panel Members about aspects of the hearing I was unsure about.
Once it was all over that evening, I did feel a sense of relief, but was also really pleased about how the session had gone. The session really was as we had been taught in training, there were no curveballs (which I'm sure won't always be the case) and I felt completely supported by my other Panel Members. I felt like everything had been explained well, and I had no questions in my head about anything that had happened/hadn't happened or why.
Looking forward to next time
I'm genuinely looking forward to my next one! Good luck to you when the time comes – just remember to make the decision that you think is right and not to be swayed by anyone else. Don't be scared to ask questions – there is no silly question. You need to be fully informed when making your decision, and you need to be sure that you have all the information you need to be confident that you're making the right decision.
One down, many more to come!