7 The Hearing - the ending
Each panel member including the chairing member should give his or her decision and reasons for it. It is most important that these are communicated accurately and effectively so that everyone at the hearing understands exactly what they mean. This is not an easy task particularly following a complicated hearing. The chairing member then informs the family of the hearing's decision with a summary of the reasons. This should be done clearly and in language that is understood by the child and relevant persons. The chairing member then informs the family of their rights of appeal and review. The hearing is now over. Best practice dictates that the chairing member should give the child and any relevant persons an opportunity to remain in the hearing room while the reporter is present completing the paperwork. A written record of the reasons for the hearing's decision is now made and this task is made easier if all three panel members contribute to compiling the written reasons working together as a team.
A set of robust reasons must address 'why' the decision has been reached. They should include:
- A statement of the problem, drawing on various sources of information and referring to the family situation and any particular concerns for the child.
- The impact of the situation on the child and the evidence which backs this up
- Options considered and rejected including any minority views.
- An indication of the outcomes and why this particular course of action will help to achieve them.
- The type of compulsory supervision thought to be necessary- protection, guidance, treatment and control.
- An indication why the child needs compulsory supervision.
It is important to remember that reasons should be given for all decisions made during the course of the hearing i.e. excusing the child etc. Any measure attached to a compulsory supervision order particularly the measure involving contact which can be a contentious issue for the child and relevant persons.
Good reasons are essential for:
- The child and relevant persons so that they can understand why decisions have been made, what is expected from them in the future etc.
- The implementation authority whose duty is to give effect to the decision.
- The next hearing, so the panel members know why the previous decision was made and what the expectations were.
- The sheriff, so that if there is an appeal the sheriff will be able to understand why a decision was made and consider if this decision was justifiable in all the circumstances of the case.
- The reporter who may respond an appeal if one is lodged.
- The panel members themselves, to focus their minds on their own decision making and ensure that they take all factors into consideration.
Decisions and reasons should be forward looking, the starting point for any work to take place and a yardstick by which to measure progress when the case comes to be reviewed. If the child comes to a children's hearing over a number of years the reasons from successive hearings should chart his or her progress through the system.