Children’s Hearings System Strengthened

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Legislation to strengthen and modernise Scotland’s unique children’s hearings system, and improve the way it supports vulnerable children, has been given Royal Assent.

Children’s Minister Adam Ingram said the announcement means roll out of the key reforms within the new Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act, including the abolition of Scotland’s 32 local children’s panels, will be completed this year.

These panels are being replaced with a single national panel, supported by the new body – Children’s Hearings Scotland, responsible for the recruitment and training of the country’s 2,500 local panel members. This move is designed to modernise and streamline the system, deliver greater national consistency and lead to better informed decisions for children.

Once in place, these changes will also mean that the number of public bodies in Scotland has been reduced by more than 25 per cent since October 2007.

Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and Early Years, said:

“I am delighted that the Children’s Hearings Bill – which introduces some major reforms to Scotland’s children’s hearings system and the way it supports and protects our most vulnerable children – has now passed its last legislative hurdle and become an Act.

“The measures we have put in place, such as the creation of a new national body to recruit, train and support local panel members, are designed to further strengthen our unique Children’s Hearings system. These changes ensure that our volunteer panel members – the life blood of that system – are given the best training and support possible to raise national standards and help get children’s lives back on track.

“To help ensure a smooth transition from the current arrangements to the new system – both for new and existing panel members and importantly our children who rely on the system – I’ve decided that we should seek to implement the new legislation, including the replacement of the local panels with the new national panel, by December this year.

“In doing so, we can be certain that implementation is right and not rushed – a key consideration given the future of vulnerable children is at stake here.”

The Children’s Hearings system is Scotland’s unique approach to dealing with children and young people in trouble or at risk. The system was created in the 1960s in response to a report from Lord Kilbrandon after it was recognised that young people appearing before the juvenile courts, whether they had committed offences or were in need of care and protection, had common needs. The system is founded on the principle of local people from the children’s own communities making decisions about how best to address children’s needs.

There are more than 2,500 volunteer panel members who are recruited through an annual national campaign supported by local campaigns. Panel members are carefully selected and undergo extensive and continuous training.

In 2009-10, 42,532 children were referred to the children’s reporter. Over the same period 43,614 children’s hearings were held.

The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill – now the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act, was passed by the Scottish Parliament on November 25, 2010.

The Scottish Government has already reduced the number of public bodies from a baseline of 199 in October 2007 to 152. In passing the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government has also honoured its commitment to abolish the 32 local panels and by moving from 32 local panels to a single national panel with a new national body to support it we will secure a further net reduction of 31 public bodies.

Including this reduction, we are looking to secure an overall further cut in the number of bodies to around 120 in 2011 compared to a baseline of 199 in October 2007.

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