6 Review and Reform
The First Twenty-five Years
In the early years there were many uncertainties. There were questions as to whether sufficient volunteer panel members would come forward. If they did, could lay people really be trusted to make such important decisions about the lives of children? Would supervision be effective, or would it be a soft option? The first group of newly trained reporters and panel members began to put the pioneering legislation into practice throughout the country in April 1971 and the Kilbrandon vision of a welfare-based system of juvenile justice became a reality.
Children have been referred to reporters in increasing numbers year by year and hearings take place across the length and breadth of Scotland. By 1996 when the twelve regional local authorities were reorganised into thirty-two single-tier authorities, there were approximately 2,000 panel members serving throughout Scotland and this number has continued to increase.
The reporter service, which was placed within local authorities, became a separate agency, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, in early 1996.
The training of panel members, which has developed over the years, aims to encourage consistency of practice while allowing sufficient flexibility to take account of varying local needs. The three stage induction course is compulsory and panel members are appointed by the National Convener subject to satisfactory completion of the pre-service course before they are permitted to sit on hearings. There is a formal assessment process within pre service course.
Providing reports for hearings and giving effect to compulsory supervision orders are a major part of the responsibilities of social work departments, although, strictly speaking, the responsibility rests on the local authority. A complex network of relationships has grown up among the different agencies involved in the children's hearings system.
Though not without its critics, the system earned credibility and respect over its first twenty-five years. The principle that determination of disputed facts and decisions on the care of the child are separate was described by Lord President Hope in 1991 as ' the genius of this reform which has earned it so much praise'. The system has survived two radical reorganisations of local government in Scotland. A major ongoing concern is, however, the provision of adequate services for children and families in the light of growing demands on limited resources.
Initially, children's hearings were concerned mainly with children who had committed offences, but in the late 1970s reported incidents of child abuse increased and in the 1980s child sexual abuse began to be acknowledged as a widespread problem. The number of care and protection referrals to hearings has grown steadily over the years, linked to parental substance misuse and consequent neglect and physical and emotional harm to children. The system also had to adapt to extensive social changes over this period which have put pressure on children and their families.
Review of the Law
Recognising that change was needed, the Secretary of State for Scotland appointed a Review Group in February 1988 to consider options for improving child care law in Scotland. The Review Group's report was published in October 1990 but action on the recommendations was delayed to await the results of two important inquiries - Lord Clyde's investigation surrounding the removal of a number of children from their homes in Orkney, and a report by Sheriff Brian Kearney, with Professor Elizabeth Mapstone, child care adviser, on child care policies in Fife. Both reports were published in October 1992.
The same year saw the publication of a review of residential child care by Angus Skinner, Chief Inspector of Social Work Services, and a review of the functions and accountability of reporters to children's panels, by Alan Finlayson, a retired regional reporter.
In addition to these reports on aspects of child care, the Scottish Law Commission's Report on Family Law recommended that family law should give greater emphasis to the concept of parental responsibilities rather than parental rights and should stress that even if they cannot live together, both parents should normally have a role to play in their child's life. In addition, it was felt that the law should recognise and respect the views of children in matters affecting their upbringing. Adoption law and services for children and young people with disabilities were also reviewed.
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