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The Evaluation of Children's Hearings in Scotland: Volume 3 - Children in Focus

Annex 5

Methods of data collection for jointly reported cases

A number of difficulties were experienced in gathering information on jointly reported young people. Consent for access to records was sought from the jointly reported young people dealt with by Procurators Fiscal (JRPF), and from their parents, where appropriate. This took the form of a letter from the research team, sent by Procurators Fiscal, informing the young person of the purpose of the study, and their inclusion in it. It provided a stamped addressed envelope and tear-off slip for completion and return if they wished to withdraw. Some local authorities would only provide access to social work records where a positive reply from young people had been received indicating their willingness to allow access to their records. In addition to the time delays incurred by this additional protocol, in practice, of the 20 young people where consent was sought, consent was achieved in only 3 cases for access to social work records.

Practical difficulties also contributed to problems in gathering data. The organisational arrangements of many of the professionals were subject to change during the study. These arrangements, and in some instances the personnel involved, changed since 1 February 1995. Some changes related to local government re-organisation in April 1995 and to the re-organisation of the Reporter service from a local authority base to a centrally managed Scottish Children's Reporter's Administration (SCRA). Other changes related to changes in practice with regard to jointly reported young people, new protocols being developed following organisational changes.

Data in the cohort study was the direct outcome of a series of annual surveys of Reporters designed to provide a professional view of the child's current situation within the Children's Hearings system over the 2-year period from February 1995. In contrast, the associated study of jointly reported children and young people was based on historical data collected by a researcher. While every effort was made to gather information that approximated Reporters' questionnaire data for the whole cohort study at 1 February 1995 and in the subsequent 2 years, much of the data was not directly comparable with the main cohort study. To allow for comparison between the jointly reported young people dealt with by Procurators Fiscal and the jointly reported cohort children dealt with by Reporters, the data was categorised into 2 separate groups.

Jointly reported and dealt with by Procurator Fiscal (JRPF)

Information on 54 young people was gathered from 5 sources. These included first, Procurators Fiscal questionnaires, which yielded 48 returns; second, examination of Reporters' records and files, where they existed; third, an examination of relevant social work files, both in the family and criminal justice sections, producing information on 25 JRPF young people; fourth, from analysis of SCRO data; and finally, analysis of SWS21 returns available for all 54 young people.

Jointly reported and dealt with by Reporter (JRR)

Initial analysis of SWS21 returns produced 66 cohort children who were jointly reported as a result of their referral to the Reporter at February 1995 but not registered as such by Reporters' questionnaires. Seven cases were missing. The remaining 59 JRR cohort children were examined from different sources: first, Reporters' questionnaires; second, information collected from Reporters' records where this existed, and finally, SWS21 data that was available for all 59 JRR cohort children.

Information was not consistently available for all cases within each group. Consequently, the totals vary throughout the analysis. Frequently raw numbers were used in the presentation of findings to avoid confusion arising from the use of percentages when the sample was very small.

Additionally 2 Reporters and 2 Procurators Fiscal were interviewed to establish their views on the findings.

Data Collection 1:

Jointly reported young people dealt with by Procurators Fiscal

Seventy-five jointly reported young people were identified. Of these 10 indicated their unwillingness to be included in the study and a further 11 were withdrawn for other reasons, leaving a sample of 54 for analysis. The collection of data from 5 different sources proved problematic. The following sections provide an account of the difficulties encountered, and some of the methods used to overcome the problems. The details of response rates and the various levels of data are provided in Table A5.1.

Table A5.1
Data Collected on young people who were jointly reported
and dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal

Procurators Fiscal (PF)

PF Returns

48

PF records

6

Reporters

Files consulted

11

Record cards only

21

No records

22

Social Work

Files consulted

25

No records

9

Consent withdrawn

4

Consent unavailable

16

SCRO data

Jointly reported & dealt with by PF

54

SWS21 data

Jointly reported & dealt with by PF

40

Source 1 - Reporters' Files

Arrangements for the researcher to have access to files in 18 Reporters' offices were concluded by the middle of July 1997. Changes in organisational boundaries as the result of local government re-organisation created difficulties in tracing some case notes. The geographical distribution of cases is provided in Table A5.2. Because cases dealt with by Procurators Fiscal were not registered as Reporter cases during the survey period, many case files were not recorded as part of the study and were destroyed (44) when the young people reached 18 years of age. Consequently social work files and Procurators Fiscal returns became the most important potential source of information on the social characteristics of the jointly reported young people dealt with by Procurators Fiscal.

Table A5.2
Geographic Distribution of Jointly Reported Cases Dealt with by Procurator Fiscal

Sample

Cases on which data was collected

Dundee

6

6

East Ayr

2

1

East Dumbarton

5

2

Edinburgh

1

1

Fife

1

1

Glasgow

10

2

Midlothian

1

1

North Ayrshire

1

1

North Lanarkshire

2

2

Perth

2

2

Scottish Borders

1

South Lanark (Rutherglen*)

10

1

West Lothian

14

6

Total

56

26

*Transferred from Glasgow with local government re-organisation

Source 2 - Procurator Fiscal Case Records

Eleven Procurators Fiscal sent the letters to the young people giving information about the study and providing the opportunity for the young people to withdraw. After waiting for 3 weeks to give the young person time to withdraw, the Procurators Fiscal completed a questionnaire giving details of their contact with the young person in February 1995. Some returns were delayed because the PF office had difficulty in tracing the relevant case details, as the researchers did not have the police numbers for the relevant cases. By October 1997 Procurators Fiscal had returned questionnaires on 48 young people.

Source 3 - Social Work Departments

Approaches were made to 13 social work departments. In 10 areas available information was collected from social work files; this involved visits to both the childcare sections and the criminal justice sections when a young person had moved on into the adult criminal justice system.

In 2 areas the social work departments required written consent from the young people before allowing access to social work files or even confirming whether the young people had social work records, although they were able to provide more recent addresses in 2 cases.

The researcher wrote to the 13 young people from Glasgow and 5 from South Lanark: this produced 2 written consents and one refusal. The researcher visited all the remaining Glasgow addresses: 6 young people were no longer at the known address and 4 were 'out' on the 2 occasions that calls were made. Glasgow social work department advised against contacting one young person. No further efforts were made to contact these young people. In total data was collected on 2 young people from Glasgow and one young person from South Lanark.

Given the difficulties outlined above, South Lanark social work department agreed to approach a further 5 young people on behalf of the research project, where cases had been transferred from Glasgow (Rutherglen) during re-organisation, to seek written consent for access to social work files. None of the 5 responded to the social work letter. The decision was made by the researchers not to pursue these young people.

Source 4 - Official Statistics from the Children's Hearings System

Some young people identified in the original sample did not have an 'SWSG' identifier and therefore were not included in the analysis. Official statistics from SWS21 forms were available to the researchers from late September 1997. SWS21 cases are for each referral; analysis is based on an aggregation of the data relating to each referral.

Source 5 - Official Statistics from Scottish Criminal Record Office

All the young people who were jointly referred and dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal in February 1995 had a record in the SCRO database. The data is stored in free format and a very detailed coding system: a considerable amount of computer work was required to recode the data to provide data linked to each individual. The data does not give the date of alleged offences, only charge date and date of court appearances; this meant that incidents of offending could not be linked directly to information on the young person's circumstances at the time of the offences.

Data Collection 2:

Jointly reported cohort children dealt with by Reporters

The proposal (September 1996) for this additional study was based on 48 cases identified from the cohort survey as having been jointly reported and dealt with by Reporters. In 14 cases no questionnaire returns had been received by September 1996.

When SWS21 data was examined it appeared that many more cases dealt with by Reporters in the 2-week period in February 1995 had been coded as 'referred by the Procurator Fiscal' than identified in the survey data. However, following discussion with staff at SCRA it seemed likely that this might have been due to variations in coding during a period of change in Reporter administration. It was decided to include only those cases which could be identified in the cohort data as either referred from Procurator Fiscal or referred to the Reporter on ground G with a number of offences greater than '0'. This gave 66 cases known through SWS21 data and 59 cases with cohort data returns.

Conclusion

The findings of the research based on the data drawn from Reporter and social work files provide only a partial view of the official picture of the young persons. Information collected on the 2 main groups is not directly comparable, as different perspectives on the 'official picture' of the young person are involved.

Information available for the small group of jointly reported young people varied considerably in quality and quantity. Procurators Fiscal returns were limited for research purposes. Data collected from the Reporters referred only to the cases where the files were still available. Access to data from the social work departments was curtailed because of the difficulties in obtaining the written consent of the young people, which has been required in some social work areas.