The Promise has published its report on redesigning the Hearings system in Scotland. Co-designed by those with lived experience, the report details what changes are needed to ensure it meets the needs of children and young people.

Following the findings of the Independent Care Review which revealed a complex, often trauma inducing and confusing Children's Hearing System, this report highlights what those who have experienced the system have to say about its current set up to ensure “best placed to truly listen and uphold the legal rights of children and their families.” (The Promise). 

The report highlights that that successful implementation of the changes recommended are dependent on additional commitments including 

  • Ensuring equitable availability of, and access to, early and ongoing help and support for children and for their families. Including  holistic, whole family support in line with the conclusions of the Independent Care Review.
  • Actioning the Scottish Government’s commitment to spending at least 5% of all community based health and social care on preventative whole family support measures by 2030
  • Urgently addressing the challenges relating to the recruitment, retention and resourcing of child and family social work teams
  • Paying attention to maintaining and supporting the children and families’ workforce 
  • Ensuring consistent, high-quality provision of Family Group Decision Making and Restorative Justice services across Scotland.
  • Addressing the pervasive impact of child poverty

The recommendations are many and to appreciate the full scale of the task at hand we suggest reading the report in full. We have however picked out action points of interest to the workforce.  

  • Children's Hearings should be explicitly inquisitorial, not adversarial with consistent use of non-judgemental language across all Local Authorities
  • Sheriff's and those involved in the system must have training and clear understanding of trauma, childhood development, children's rights, domestic abuse and neurodiversity 
  • Every child to have Child's Plan or timeframe of when their plan will be in place using a national Child's plan template.
  • Referral to reporter should be rights-based and underpinned by the key principles of proportionality, consistency, and timeliness.
  • Workforce helped to work in a relationship based manner with children and their families 
  • The engagement of the Reporter must routinely be considered during other child protection and care and support meetings and discussions, and there must be a consistent approach to partnership working between agencies and the Children’s Hearings System.
  • Ensure that children in conflict with the law are aware of their rights including access to legal representation
  • All children and young people up to age 18 who are convicted at Court should have the opportunity of either a remit to the Children’s Hearing or a request for the advice of the Children’s Hearing by the Court.
  • All children to have access to an advocacy worker whose role is properly explained and understood by the child. With this offer provided at multiple times during the process.
  • Voices of children and families listened to throughout the process 
  • Re-referrals of children to the Reporter within a specific timeframe should be considered as part of a continuation of the previous concern, rather than new circumstances, and wherever possible should be considered by the same Reporter.
  • Wherever possible the Chair should remain consistent and should try to meet child in advance in an informal setting 
  • Decisions should be made within a specific timeframe and presented in easy to understand language, appropriate to the child. 
  • Panel members to be made fully aware of 'care system', provided training and reflection time on a regular basis and be paid for their time.
  • Local authorities, CHS and SCRA must work together to consider how best to plan and prepare all children and families for optimal support, understanding of, and participation in their Children's Hearing.
  • Time limits on Hearings to be removed with more focus on timing and locations which suit the needs of the child.
  • Rights of brothers and sisters to participate in the hearing to be upheld
  • National standards for providing reports to the Children’s Hearings must be prioritised, including the development of a standardised pro forma report template that works across all 32 local authorities and captures all the relevant information held by the different agencies and organisations to aid robust and evidence-informed decision making by the Panel.
  • Voices of children and families listened to throughout the process. Children and their families to be supported when Hearings Information paperwork arrives. The documents should be proportionate, clear and non-traumatising.
  • Children and families should be recognised as experts in their own lives and must feel included in the decision-making process and gain a sense of working alongside the Panel to make strong and competent choices and decisions in the best interests of the child.
  • Social workers’ training must cover the purpose, processes, and structure of the Children’s Hearings System in adequate detail and must support them in developing the reports that decision makers will need to inform their decision-making.
  • Attending social workers must have an in-depth understanding of the child and families life.
  • There must be a closer relationship between what is in an order and the help and support that a family needs to address the challenges that are in their life. All orders must be specific about the help and support that the child and family require.
  • Home supervision orders must have the same degree of specificity and urgency as orders that require a child to be looked after away from home.
  • The Panel must place expectations on the implementing authority with regard to helping children who are living in Secure Care to maintain relationships that are important to them and connections to their family and community, where it is safe to do so.
  • There should be a presumption that secure care is a temporary option with a clear exit plan in place.
  • Where multiple children are involved in the system steps should be made to ensure there are joined up processes and the same Chair where possible. 
  • Where relationships have broken down, an inquisitorial approach to the Children’s Hearings System must allow for conversations about how to rebuild these in the best interests of children and their families.
  • There must be closer links between local authority decision-making relating to adoption, permanence and residence orders and the legal tribunal of the Children’s Hearing. Efforts must be made to streamline aspects of decision-making when a Permanence Order or Adoption Order has been applied for.
  • There should be consideration of a set timescale for the length of time a child can be accommodated in what is intended to be long-term placement before a local authority decides to progress an application for an order which provides legal, permanent, and physical security for the child.
  • National best practice guidance around the issue of ‘contact’ and maintenance, repair and development of safe relationships must be developed.
  • There must be clear processes for a Hearing to inquire about what is working and what is not working with respect to contact arrangements as part of regular review processes.
  • The Hearing must seek clarity regarding the provision of help and support set out for the family, including foster, kinship, and prospective adoptive families, in the Child’s Plan and must be clear about its expectation of the implementing authority and multi- agency partners. Including any financial support a family may need to maintain contact arrangements or to mitigate against any changes in income when a child is no longer living at home, including to benefits.
  • There must be sufficient resources and multi- agency planning and collaboration with the Children’s Hearing to ensure the additional, specific needs, of all 16 and 17 year olds are met.
  • The tribunal must have oversight of the transition plans for children who are nearing their 18th birthday so that there is no ‘cliff edge’ in terms of help and support when they become an adult.
  • It must be clear that the implementation authority extends beyond social work. There is a duty to collaborate across health, education, justice and other services—and there must be an understanding of the expectation on these other areas and their role in implementing the order.

This 300 page report and its recommendations will now be considered by the Scottish Government with, we hope, action plans in place to make this report a reality.

Download full report