9 Written Communication
The main type of written communication used in the hearing system is reports. Panel members will receive a copy of the Child's Plan and the Integrated Assessment report prior to a hearing.
The Child's Plan will give personal details of the child and family composition, and information as to who holds relevant person status for, and whether they are subject to compulsory supervision. It will list partner agencies involved in the plan. It will contain an Action Plan detailing desired outcomes for the child and timescales, and these will form a basis for the Social Work recommendation to the hearing. There will also be information on what resources are needed to support the Action Plan. There will be a section outlining the child's view of progress and the views of Parents or carers as to how the plan is working.
The Integrated Assessment report will contain input from all the key professionals involved, including school organised under appropriate headings.
There may be a safeguarder's report if a safeguarder was appointed by the previous hearing. If there is no written report from the safeguarder, they may give an interim safeguarder's report verbally to the hearing.
A child or young person may write about themselves and their situation on the 'All About Me' form.
Papers for the Hearing
As well as reports from various sources, the papers sent out before a hearing will include new and/or previous section 67 grounds copies of existing interim compulsory supervision orders, and orders from court existing compulsory supervision orders, reasons for decisions from previous hearings.
Reports are the raw material which panel members use to prepare for a hearing. They enable panel members to learn the facts of the case and to begin to build up a picture of the child's life. From the reports, panel members can gain a sense of how they will handle a specific issue. However it is always important that they keep an open mind and never prejudge a situation. The initial judgement may alter radically during the hearing when panel members are able to observe first-hand the kind of interactions that take place between family members and the professionals. The hearing offers an opportunity for panel members to form an independent view of the family and to check the professionals recommendations.
Reports should reach panel members no later than three days before the date of the hearing, to allow enough preparation time. The Integrated Assessment Report and safeguarders. Reports must legally be with panel members and relevant persons three days before the hearing. If they are not, the hearing has to consider whether to continue the hearing to another date.
It is recommended that panel members have a preliminary read-through of the papers as soon as possible after they receive them. This lets them check that there are no immediate problems (e.g. that a report is missing, or that there is a conflict of interest because they know someone who is likely to be at the hearing) and begins to let their mind work on the cases they will be dealing with. Then, nearer the date of the hearing, they can go through them in much greater detail, noting points and questions they may wish to ask.
Panel members develop their own methods of taking notes for the hearing. It is recommended that they jot down names, dates of birth and other details to keep in front of them, especially when chairing the hearing. Panel members should try to know the contents of the reports well enough not to have to shuffle through the papers during the hearing. Any pro-forma used by panel members should be completed in handwriting. This avoids family members thinking that the panel members have an extra report which they have not received.
If there are any legal or other points not immediately clear from a panel member's reading of the papers, these can be checked with the reporter prior to the start of the hearing.
The content of reports is strictly confidential, so it is essential that panel members keep all the documentation in a safe place. They must be returned to the reporter at the end of the hearing, and any personal notes made at home or during the hearing are destroyed before leaving the hearing room.
Under no circumstances should a panel member keep any information either handwritten or on a computer about a child and family who has been referred to a hearing.
Information Given to Families
The chairing member has a legal obligation to ensure that relevant persons, and particularly the child, understand what is in the reports by checking facts and discussing issues thoroughly during the hearing. The only exception is the disclosure of information which might cause significant harm to the child or relevant person.
All decisions reached by panel members must be based on information shared with the family during the hearing.
Reasons for decisions
At the end of the hearing, panel members give their reasons for their decision. These should be clear and in language that the child can understand. After the family has left the room, the reasons are written by the hearing on the form provided and signed by the chairing member. These reasons should be clear and simply stated and be as close as possible to what was said. A copy is sent to the child, relevant persons, the local authority, and any safeguarder and a person providing legal assistance for the child, if appointed.
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