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

Chapter THREE

official decision making prior to 1 February 1995

The information presented in this chapter describes the official histories of children in the cohort sample already in the hearings system prior to 1 February 1995 (the 'historical group'). The researchers drew on government statistics, i.e. official returns made by Reporters (SWS21 returns). Details of the SWS21 returns and the methodology are provided in Annex 1 under the heading Government Statistics, and detailed statistical notes are provided in Annex 2.

The study found that:

  • out of 1,155, children 822 had a prior history of involvement in the hearings system
  • there were 6,617 referrals in connection with the 822 children.

Using a simple average, each child was attracting 8 referrals (median: 5). Some children had many referrals and some few, reflecting different lengths of time in the SWS21 system.

The average age for referral of children in the historical group (n=822) of all referrals (n=6,617) was just over 11 years. The median was 12 years and the mode 14 years (19.2%). Figure 3.1 below shows the distribution of referrals by age.

Figure 3.1
Ages of children when referred expressed as a percentage of the historical group (n=822)

Figure 3.1 Ages of children when referred expressed as a percentage of the historical group (n=822)

Reasons for referral

The study found the following:

  • the most common reason for referral was offending - 3,467 or 52.4% of all referrals (n=6,617) were for offending (ground G)
  • a further fifth of referrals were for reviews of supervision orders, transfers and other similar categories
  • a notable proportion of referrals (28.7% of the 6,617 referrals) were made on non-offence grounds
  • no referrals were made under ground E
  • the more common non-offence grounds (n=822) were grounds C and D.

This appears to reflect the patterns found annually in the national statistics ( Statistical Bulletin 1997, Table 4(iii)).

Grounds of referral by sex

Figure 3.2 below shows the proportions of boys and girls in the historical group referred on each ground. A significantly higher proportion of girls were referred on non-offence grounds (grounds B, C, D, DD, F, and I), while a higher proportion of boys were referred for offences (p<.01). Again, this appears reflect the national statistics ( Statistical Bulletin 1997:15).

Figure 3.2
Grounds of all referrals by sex

Figure 3.2 Grounds of all referrals by sex

Grounds of referral by age

The association between age and grounds of referral in the historical group was statistically significant (p<.01) for every ground except referrals under ground GG, the Education (Scotland) Act 1962, or the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975. The associations between the different age groups and grounds of referral were as follows:

  • Ground A: most commonly 5 to 11 year olds
  • Ground B: 5 to 11 year olds were most likely to be referred on these grounds, followed by 13 and 14 year olds
  • Ground C: Children under 5 years were much more likely to be referred on this ground than were other age groups (192 referrals or 34.2% of all referrals made for children under 5; n=562 referrals)
  • Ground D: Children under 5 years were also the most likely to be referred on this ground (158 referrals, or 28.1% of referrals for that age group; n=562)
  • Ground DD: Children under 5 were again the most likely group to be referred (5.7%, compared to 0 - 1.5% of referrals for the other age groups)
  • Ground F: 12 and 13 year olds were the most likely to be referred for truancy, followed by 14 year olds, then 15 year olds
  • Ground G: Only 28% of 14 year olds had not been referred for offences. For 15 and 13 year olds, the proportion who had not been referred under ground G was 31% and 32% respectively, and 38% of 12 year olds. For all other age groups, at least half had been referred for other reasons
  • Ground I: 14 year olds were more likely than other groups to be referred under Ground I (though the numbers were small). No children in other age groups were referred on these grounds.

Age, sex, and grounds of referral

There was a strong link between the grounds for referrals and the age and sex of the children who were being referred (n=6,617 referrals). For example, a statistical analysis of variance (which looks at relationships between a number of features at one time) showed that age, sex, and the interaction between the 2 were significant for grounds C, D, DD, F, I, and G (p<.01). This meant that, for example, younger girls were more likely to be referred for ground C (more than older girls or younger and older boys). Older boys, however, were more likely to be referred for offences (more than younger boys or any girls). The pattern was also the same for age, and the interaction between age and sex, for grounds A and B, though the significance for sex alone for these 2 grounds was slightly less (p<.05).

Grounds of first referral by age

The research found that there may be a connection between a child's age when first referred and the grounds on which s/he is subsequently referred over time. Children first referred when under the age of 12 were significantly more likely to have at least one referral made under ground C (lack of parental care; p<.01), with the same pattern apparent for ground D (offended against under Schedule 1 offences) (p<.01). Over four-fifths (88.2%) of referrals under ground D had been for children first referred under the age of 12.

Referrals under ground F (failing to attend school) were more prevalent for children first referred early (ages 5 to 11, 45.7% of all referrals [n=254] under ground F) (p².01). Children referred for offences were also most likely to come to the attention of Reporters for the first time between the ages of 5 to 11 (240 or 47.8% of the 502 referrals under ground G were for children first referred to the Hearings system at ages 5 to 11) (p².01).

Reasons for a child's first referral

Offending was the predominant reason for a child's first referral - just over 35% of the 822 children were first referred on offence grounds (see Figure 3.3. below). The second largest group were referred on ground C (lack of parental care).

Figure 3.3
Reason for child's first referral

Figure 3.3 Reason for child’s first referral (n=822)

* Total does not equal 100% due to rounding of figures to the nearest tenth.

The children's ages at first referral

The children's average age for first referral was 8.7 years; 9 years for males (n=570) and 7.8 years for females (n=252). The most frequently occurring age for first referral was 12 years (12.2%). A disproportionate number of girls were referred under 5 years (31.7%, compared to 18.4% of boys; p<.01); and a disproportionate number of boys between the ages of 5 to 11 years (46%, compared to 34.5% of girls; p<.01).

Age of first referral for children with more than one referral

For children with more than one referral (n=672; 81.8%), the overall average age of their first referral was 8.3 years compared with 10.6 years for children with only one referral. Again, the average age for boys (8.7) was significantly higher than for girls (7.3; p<.01). Referral of children at a young age may provide a warning signal that a child is in difficulties.

The number of referrals per child

Boys were much more likely than were girls to receive higher numbers of referrals over time. This reflects the fact that boys were more likely to be referred for offences (which make up the highest proportion of all referrals), but may also suggest that they were more likely to remain in contact with the hearings system for longer periods of time. National statistics ( Statistical Bulletin 1997:5) support our finding that boys are referred more frequently and girls disproportionately less. This is also true for the rate of children referred per 1,000 population under 16 for all children referred to the Reporter between 1972-1995 ( Statistical Bulletin 1997, Figure 3).

Sources of referral

Figure 3.4 below looks at the source of first referral, i.e. a child's first-ever referral to the hearings system. It shows that just over half of the 6,617 referrals for children in the historical group (51.3% or 3,824) were made by the police. Comparing Figure 3.4 (children at the beginning of their careers in the system) to the national statistics (children at various stages) suggests that children who go on to offend may initially be referred for reasons other than offending.

This comparison suggests the source of first referral provides proportionately fewer referrals by the police and Procurator Fiscal, and proportionately more referrals from social work departments and to some extent from educational sources.

Figure 3.4
Source of first referral expressed as a percentage of the historical group

village and bay photo

* The source of referral was not recorded in the original data for 6 children.

A higher proportion of boys are referred by the local police (p<.01). This supports the earlier evidence that boys are more likely than girls to be referred for offences. Girls are more likely to be referred by social work departments (SWD) (p<.01).

Multiple-agency involvement

To assess whether children were referred to the hearings system by more than one agency for the same incident, the researchers used government statistics (the SWS21 data), and had to go through the recorded dates of incidents and dates of referrals from the various sources manually. While children were often referred by multiple agencies over the course of their contact with the hearings system, the referrals virtually never coincided with each other within the SWS21 data system. Even on the few occasions on which referrals from different agencies were received into the SWS21 data system at or near the same date, it was not possible to discern whether the incidents in question were related.