Scotland's children's hearings system takes an integrated and holistic approach to care and justice, in which the child's best interests are the paramount consideration.
It is built upon principles established by the Kilbrandon Report of 1964, the main one being that children and young people who offend, as well as those who require care and protection, should equally be considered 'children in need'.
The children's hearings system has since been modernised and strengthened by further legislation, the most recent being the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (the 2011 Act), which came into effect on 24 June 2013.
Scotland's children's hearings system is administered through two non-departmental, government-funded public bodies:
- the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA), formed under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1994
- Children's Hearings Scotland (CHS), formed under the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011
Both SCRA and CHS are governed by a board of non-executive members that is accountable to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament.
Updates made by the 2011 Act
The 2011 Act:
- created the role of National Convener to act as a figurehead for panel members
- created CHS to support the National Convener in the recruitment, selection, training, retention and support of panel members
- replaced local authority panels with a national children's panel, with area support teams to support panel members at a local level
- created a national Safeguarder panel to improve consistency and standards, and to improve understanding of the role within the standards
The 2011 Act strengthens children's rights within the children's hearings system by:
- providing for the development of an advocacy service specifically for children in the hearings system
- amending the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act to ensure that offence grounds accepted or established in children's hearings (except for certain serious offences) are no longer classed as a conviction
- giving children's hearings the power to withhold information from a person if it could put a child at risk
- taking steps to ensure that hearings take children's views into account
- introducing a legal representation scheme to be run by the Scottish Legal Aid Board that replaces local authority administered arrangements, to ensure justice for those who need help but can't afford it
- introducing transparency to the decision-making process around placement into secure accommodation
- introducing a feedback loop to permit information sharing about compulsory supervision orders
- modernising the reasons (grounds) for referral
Children's hearings and sheriffs appoint Safeguarders where they think there is a requirement to safeguard the interests of the child involved. The Safeguarder does an independent assessment of what is in the child's best interests, and provides it to the hearing or court.
Advocacy in the Children's Hearings System
We are strengthening rights within the children's hearings system by developing a specialist advocacy service for children and young people. This was introduced from spring 2020 and is set out in section 122 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The national scheme was expanded on 26 July 2021 to support brothers and sisters with participation rights for children’s hearings.
We have also set up the Children’s Hearings Advocacy Expert Reference group to support the design, delivery and implementation of this service.
We invited expressions of interest from advocacy providers for grant funding to deliver a sustainable model of advocacy and the confirmed providers are named here. Alongside this, we have set up a dedicated dedicated website to inform children, young people and those supporting them to know about advocacy and how to get this help for children’s hearings.
Children’s advocacy guidance
- National Practice Model for Advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System
- Common core of skills, knowledge, understanding and values for the 'Children's Workforce' in Scotland, identifies what every worker should demonstrate if they work with children, young people and families in Scotland
- Children’s advocacy guidance on how to support children and young people to make informed decisions on matters which influence their lives
Children's Hearings Advocacy Team
Care, Protection and Justice Division
Area 2A (South)