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The Children's Panel - life changing

The Children's Hearings System

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

Children and young people who face serious problems in their lives may be asked to go to a meeting called a children’s hearing. The Children’s Panel makes decisions at a hearing about the help and guidance necessary to support the child or young person. Decisions are made in the best interests of the child or young person to help and protect them.

A number of different agencies work together within the Children’s Hearings System to deliver care, protection and support services to the children and young people involved. These include social work, police, education, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS).

One of the fundamental principles of the Children’s Hearings System is that children and young people who commit offences, and children and young people who need care and protection, are dealt with in the same system – as they are often the same children and young people.

In 2016/17, 15,118 children and young people were referred to SCRA. Of those:

  • 82% were referred on non-offence (care and protection) grounds
  • 18% were referred on offence grounds

During the same period, 34,106 children’s hearings were held.

Who does what in the Children’s Hearings System?

The National Convener and the CHS National Team are responsible for the recruitment, appointment, training and support of the 2,500 volunteer panel members and 250 Area Support Team members across Scotland.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) employs Children’s Reporters and provides the accommodation in which children’s hearings take place.

The Fundamental Principles of the Children’s Hearings System

From the start the Children's Hearings System was based on principles set out in the Kilbrandon Report. Although these principles have developed over time many of them remain the same today. 

The key principles of the system are:

  • children who offend and children against whom offences are committed should normally be dealt with in the same system - but children who commit very serious offences may be dealt with by the courts
  • the system is based on a concern for the welfare of the child not punishment
  • while the child's needs are normally the test for intervention this does not mean ignoring deeds
  • the gatekeeper to the system, the Children’s Reporter, gathers evidence to support specified reasons for referral to the children's hearing and also applies a test of the need for compulsory intervention
  • children's hearings are conducted in private but are open to prescribed public scrutiny
  • decisions in children's hearings are made by trained lay people, representing a cross-section of the community
  • children and parents have the right to accept or deny the grounds for referral and disputed facts are dealt with by a sheriff
  • hearings consider the whole child - that is the child in the context of his or her life
  • the style and setting of hearings is relatively informal to encourage full and frank discussion while legal procedures are observed
  • hearings should attempt to engage the co-operation of families in resolving problems
  • parents are usually the best people to bring up their own children and should be encouraged and enabled to do so whenever possible
  • hearings must seek, listen to and take account of the views of children and their parents in reaching decisions
  • children's hearings can make compulsory measures of supervision for the child and these measures encompass protection, treatment, guidance and control
  • children should remain in their own community wherever possible and service provision should be integrated.