National Care Service - children's social services: overview

Overview of social services provided to children and families in Scotland. It forms one of a collection of contextual papers about social care and related areas in Scotland, linking to the National Care Service consultation.

This document is part of a collection


Children's Hearings Duties

Children are referred to the Children's Reporter if it is considered that they may need compulsory legal measures of protection, guidance, treatment or control. Most referrals to the Children's Reporter come from partner agencies, such as the police, social work, and education. Additionally, parents, family members, carers or members of the public can make a referral. The Reporter will investigate the referral and decide whether or not to convene a Children's Hearing – the legal tribunal responsible for deciding what's in the best interest of the child and whether compulsory measures of supervision are necessary and, if so, which ones.

4.1 Children referred to the Reporter

In 2021, 9,665 children were referred[11] to the Reporter, equating to 1.1% of all children in Scotland[12]. Of these, 8,013 were referred on care and protection (non-offence) grounds and 2,207 on offence grounds.

Over the past decade, the number of children referred to the Reporter has declined (Chart 5), peaking in 2011 and at its lowest in 2021.

Chart 5. Children referred to the Reporter, by year
This line graph shows the rate per 1,000 children referred to the Children's Reporter between 2011 and 2021. It shows that since 2011, the number of children referred to the Reporter has declined (this includes both offence and non-offence referrals).

Source: SCRA Official Statistics dashboard.

Rate per 1,000 is calculated using relevant NRS mid year population estimates for those under 16 years, with the exception of 'offence grounds' which is shown per 1,000 of population aged between 8 and 16 years.

Notably, in 2021:

  • Most children were referred by Police (68%) and Social Work (29%).
  • The most common grounds for referrals were:
    • Lack of parental care (3,449)
    • Offence (2,198)
    • Close connection with person who has carried out domestic abuse (1,961)
    • Child's conduct harmful to self or others (946).
  • 22% of children (2,150) with cases decided had a Reporter decision to arrange a Children's Hearing on at least one referral.

4.2 Children's Hearings

In 2021, 16,248 Children's Hearings were held for 8,977 children (rate of 17.7 per 1,000 population[13]) – a decrease from 41,825 Hearing held in 2011 (rate of 45.6 per 1,000 population). A concerted effort to reduce referrals where there was no need for compulsory measures has brought referrals numbers down in recent years.

Following assessment and development of a multiagency child plan, social workers will prepare reports for a Children's Hearing. The purpose of this is to enable the Hearing (made up of a panel of three members) to make an informed decision about the best interests of the child and provide effective outcomes that support the child and their family. This includes addressing assessed needs, promote the child's welfare and, where the referral concerns offending, reduce any risks of reoffending.

The Hearing will decide if compulsory measures of supervision are required as being in the best interests of the child or young person and, if so, what those should be. If the hearing concludes compulsory measures of supervision are needed, it will make a Compulsory Supervision Order (CSO) which will identify the measures required. In most cases the child will continue to live at home but will be under the supervision of the Chief Social Worker. In some cases the hearing will decide that the child should live away from home with relatives or other carers, or in an identified residential placement (see next section on looked after children).

4.3 Compulsory Supervision Orders (CSO)

In 2021, 7,959 children (0.9% of Scotland's child population) were subject to a CSO (rate of 8.7 per 1,000 population[14]), compared with 13,474 in 2011 (rate of 14.7 per 1,000 population).

4.4 Demographic profiles of children referred to the Reporter

In 2021, 57% of children referred to the Reporter were male and 43% were female. A large number of children were referred before their first birthday (769). Referral rates then remain relatively consistent before increasing from ages 12 (618) and to 15 years (1,296).

Chart 6. Children referred to the Reporter, by sex and age, in 2021
This line graph compares the number of males and females referred to the Reporter by age during 2021. It shows that a large number of children were referred before their first birthday, referral rates then remain relatively consistent before increasing from ages 12 and to 15 years.

Source: SCRA Official Statistics 2020/21 report.

Contact

Email: SWStat@gov.scot

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