Children - raising the age of referral: consultation analysis

Independent analysis of responses to the public consultation on raising the age at which children can be referred to the Children's Reporter.



The Scottish Government launched a consultation to gather views on the principle of raising the age at which children can be referred to the Children’s Reporter to include all under 18s - whether on care, protection or offence grounds. This includes those who come to the attention of agencies for vulnerability such as those at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others.

Currently, a child turning 16 who is not already subject to a compulsory supervision order (CSO) or an open referral to the Reporter cannot be referred to the children’s hearings system, unless by the court following guilt being accepted or established. A child subject to conditions of a CSO or open referral can be referred until their 18th birthday. Removing these conditions for 16 and 17 year olds would enable agencies to provide child-centred responses for all under 18s.

The consultation also sought views on the structural, resourcing, service design and practice implications of the proposed changes for those working in or alongside children’s hearings and the youth justice system more broadly. Feedback was also sought on whether additional protections would be necessary to facilitate information for victims, safeguarding and access to supports, should the change be introduced.

An independent analysis of consultation responses was commissioned, and this report presents the findings from that analysis.

Consultation Process

The consultation opened on 17 June 2020 and closed on 7 October 2020. It was open to both individuals and organisations. The Scottish Government actively encouraged responses from organisations working in the adult and youth care and justice systems, from victim support organisations and from young people themselves (including those with lived experience of the children’s hearings system).

Feedback was gathered via three main means:

  • Main consultation questionnaire - a total of seven substantive questions were asked (three with both open and closed components) which focused on the general principle of raising the age as well as the grounds for referral and potential implications of any changes for agencies involved in the youth justice system. Views on consequences of the change for victims harmed by children were also sought, focused on if/how victims should be better supported in the event of legislative change. Three impact assessment questions linked to data protection, children’s rights and wellbeing and equality were also included.
  • Easy Read version of the questionnaire - containing three substantive questions (two with both open and closed components) and focusing mainly on the perceived fairness of the proposal and whether all 16 and 17 year olds should be considered by the Children’s Reporter and by children’s hearings. Impact and implications questions were not included.
  • Qualitative engagement events - Youth Justice Visionaries (YJV) led a number of one to one and group consultations on behalf of the Scottish Government to help canvass the views of children and young people. This entailed young people with lived experience leading the project with the support of YJV staff, sharing their own responses as well as developing and facilitating online workshops with other young people. A conversational topic guide was developed by YJV and the Scottish Government to facilitate discussions with questions largely mirroring those in the Easy Read questions, but with some small variations between groups. In addition, a series of focus groups were held at HMP & YOI Polmont to capture views of the young people there.

The majority of responses were submitted via Citizen Space, the Scottish Government’s online consultation platform, and were automatically collated into a database, downloadable to Excel. A small number (n=7) who submitted online responses also sent complementary emails containing further detail or supporting documents directly to the Scottish Government to supplement their online response.

Number and Nature of Responses Received

A total of 277 unique responses were received to the online consultation questionnaires, including 124 (45%) for the main consultation and 153 (55%) for the Easy Read version[1].

Number %
Main Consultation 124 45%
Easy Read 153 55%
Total 277 100%

The majority of responses came from individuals (n=202; 73%) compared to organisations (n=75; 27%). Among the organisations that responded, there was a reasonable split between public sector and other organisations, including those in the third sector, legal system representatives and academia as well as a number of child and adult care and protection committees. The table below shows the breakdown of responses by organisation type.

Number %
Public sector organisations 37 50%
Non-government organisations (NGOs) and Third Sector 15 20%
Membership organisations 13 17%
Other (including academia) 10 13%
Total 75 100%

Respondents to the main and Easy Read consultations were asked if they or their organisation worked directly with children who are in the children’s hearings or criminal justice systems. A total of 146 (53%) said yes, including 99 individuals and 47 organisations.

Respondents to the main and Easy Read consultations were also asked if they, or their organisation, worked directly with victims. A total of 88 (32%) said yes, including 51 individuals and 37 organisations.

A total of 80 respondents (29%) indicated that they worked with both children and victims.

There were nine separate submissions including feedback from sessions with children and young people. These varied significantly in terms of length, complexity and detail and it was not possible from the returns to know exactly how many children and young people’s voices were represented across the sessions. In most cases, these followed the format of the main consultation, with responses provided to core questions. In other cases, more general comments were made reflecting the young person’s experience or opinions in relation to raising the age.

All who contributed written responses were asked to submit a Respondent Information Form (RIF) alongside their consultation response, indicating if they were willing for their response to be published (or not), either with or without their name. Just over half of respondents (n=160; 58%) indicated that they were content for their response to be published (without their name), a third (n=90; 32%) were content for their response to be published alongside their name and the remainder (n=27; 10%) indicted that they did not wish their response to be published.

Analysis of Responses

All responses were read and logged into a database, and all were screened to ensure that they were appropriate/valid. Three duplicates (all Easy Read) which had been submitted in error were removed for analysis purposes. Although some responses to individual questions were not appropriate/did not directly address the questions being asked, all feedback was analysed and is presented under the appropriate sections below.

Closed question responses were quantified and the number of respondents who agreed/disagreed with each proposal or question statement is reported below.

Comments given at each open question were examined and, where questions elicited a positive or negative response, they were categorised as such. The main reasons presented by respondents both for and against the content included in the consultation were reviewed, alongside specific examples or explanations, alternative suggestions, caveats to support and other related comments. Verbatim quotes were extracted in some cases to highlight the main themes that emerged. Only extracts where the respondent indicated that they were content for their response to be published were used and a decision was made to anonymise all responses as part of the reporting process.

Report Presentation and Research Caveats

Due to the large number of Easy Read responses, many of the questions in the main consultation were answered by only a small proportion of the overall sample. The tables below show the number and proportion of respondents who concurred with the different response options presented, but in many cases, large numbers of ‘non-responses’ are noted. In all cases, therefore, the ‘valid percent’ has also been shown (i.e. the proportion who said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ once the non-responses were removed). This gives a more accurate account of the strength of feeling among those who did answer the set questions.

For qualitative data, as a guide, where reference is made in the report to ‘few’ respondents, this relates to five or less respondents. The term ‘several’ refers to more than five, but typically less than ten. Any views that were expressed by large numbers of respondents (i.e. ten or more) are highlighted throughout.

As demographic data were not captured as part of the consultation, it is not possible to ascertain which or how many of the views presented in the main and Easy Read consultations represent those of young people themselves. While the qualitative data from engagement and focus groups events does provide an indication of the views of this group, there is no way of disaggregating the other findings to understand if the views expressed by young people were different from those expressed by adults or the professional stakeholders who took part.

While it was possible to carry out disaggregate analysis of the data based on whether the respondent was replying as an individual or on behalf of an organisation, the analysis suggested that there were no notable differences in the main themes to emerge between the two respondent ‘types’. This may be, in part, due to the fact that many of the individual respondents were replying on a personal level but worked in a professional capacity either with victims or with children and young people involved in the youth justice system (for example, several responses from panel members were received and these did not differ significantly from the views offered by the Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) organisational response).

Similarly, it is worth noting that just under a third of respondents indicated that they worked with both children and with victims (including, for example, panel members and support service providers who will have had experience of working with young people as both perpetrators and victims). This provides useful context when considering some of the views presented.

Further, it should be noted that the data generated suggests that some individuals interpreted the Easy Read questions very differently from one another. In particular, when asked if people should be treated ‘differently’, some indicated that they should and others indicated that they should not, but the same justifications were given by both groups i.e. that people should be treated ‘individually’ and based on their own personal circumstances. This led to some anomalies in comparing the closed response data alongside the open responses and this is reported, where relevant, below.

Finally, although a reasonably large number of responses were received overall, it is worth stressing that the views presented here should not be taken as representative of the wide range of stakeholders invited to respond to this consultation, nor should they be generalised too broadly. They simply reflect the views of those individuals and organisations who chose to respond.

The remainder of this report presents the findings from the analysis.



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