by Natalie Don MSP, Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise
The children’s hearings system is Scotland’s system offering legal protections to children and young people who are in need or at risk, and who need its support.
Through the years since its inception, one of the key strengths of the children’s hearings system has been its ability to evolve and adapt to better meet the needs of children and their families.
As we consider the way forward for the children’s hearings system, we must underline our gratitude to the volunteers who continue to offer so much time, dedication and care to the children referred to hearings. Panel and Area Support Team volunteers, and the thousands of volunteers who’ve served before them, have been, and will need to remain, a vital part of Scotland’s unique approach to care and justice for children across the country.
Some five decades after it first began operating, and ten years on from the major changes introduced by the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, we have another opportunity to reflect on how to further strengthen the important work of the core elements of the system - focusing on the children it serves. This is a chance to consider how the system can again adapt to meet babies’, infants’, children’s and young people’s needs for the years to 2030 and beyond; and to be bold and positive. In doing so, the aim must be to build on the work done over recent years by the organisations most closely involved in leading and supporting that system.
While approaching the redesign challenge with resolve and ambition to do better, we must take care to preserve what is good about the hearings system, and to safeguard those strengths for the benefit of the children it exists to serve, and for those working with and for them. Improvements must be made with care and be informed by consultation and solid evidence. Change must be introduced at the right pace, with respect to wider policy and legislative change commitments. We want to ensure that those working within the system have the requisite capacity and confidence to give of their very best to children and families. Our children’s hearings system must continue to deliver for children in the here and now, and throughout the months and years during which any change is implemented. We must maintain a resolute focus on serving children, whose needs must remain at the heart of the process.
Following a 20-month review of the children’s hearings system, “Hearings for Children: The report of the Hearings System Working Group” was published on 25 May 2023. It sets out an ambitious package of recommendations. The report identifies significant potential reforms aiming to ensure that the system; its leaders; policymakers; managers, and practitioners can better support children in need of care and protection.
The work was led by Sheriff David Mackie alongside members of the Hearings System Working Group (HSWG): officers from the Promise Scotland, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS). Scottish Government officials were able to act as group observers.
Scottish Ministers are deeply grateful for the work of the Hearings System Working Group, which has generated a detailed and comprehensive set of recommendations. They reach across all aspects of the children’s hearings system and beyond. Ministers are also grateful to the young people, families and professionals who gave so generously of their time, their views and their expertise - to ensure that the report reflected both their lived reality of the current system, and their hopes for the future.
We welcome the confirmation from the Hearings System Working Group that the Kilbrandon principles remain vital to Scotland’s approach to the welfare and care of children who may need compulsory care to keep them safe. That gives a solid platform on which to build positive change.
Scotland’s unique and widely admired children’s hearings system has served our children and families for decades, with care and distinction. The change process has now begun and will move forward at pace - but this is an improvement agenda, not a recovery operation. That process will not conclude overnight. We must invest the required time and energy in developing and consulting on proposals for new legislation, progressing the necessary change in partnership with professionals and alongside the children and families we serve.
During that time, the current system must continue to operate to the very best of its ability, and we will support all those working within it to fulfil their vital functions.
Natalie Don MSP, Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise
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