The Children’s Hearing System
Scotland has a unique children’s hearing system, which is quite different
from children’s justice systems elsewhere in the world. In Scotland,
children (those under the age of 16) are only considered for prosecution in
court for serious offences such as murder, assault that puts a life in
danger or serious road traffic offences that can lead to future
disqualification from driving. If a young person is found guilty in such a
case they may be sent to Polmont which is Scotland national Youth
Offending Institute. It holds a maximum of 830 prisoners. Sentences
range from 2 to 4 years.
However, even in serious cases, the Procurator Fiscal may well refer the
case to ‘The Reporter’ who can decide to refer the child to a hearing of
the Children’s Panel. A child or young person may be placed before a
hearing if he/she:
Is beyond the control of parents or carers
Is at risk of mortal danger
Is or has been the victim of an offence, including physical or sexual
Is likely to suffer serious harm to health or development through lack
Is misusing drugs, alcohol or solvents
Has committed an offence
Is not attending school regularly without a reasonable excuse
Is subject to an Anti Social Behaviour Order
As you can see, the Children’s panel deals with children in need as well as
youth offenders. The belief is that children in need are more likely to turn
to crime. It therefore makes sense to deal with them under the same
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How Does The Children’s Panel Work?
What is the Children's Panel?
The Children's Panel is a group of specially selected volunteers who make
the decisions about children who have been referred to Children's Hearings.
What is a Hearing?
A Hearing is a type of meeting that takes place to decide what needs to be
done in the best interest of the child.
What happens at a Hearing?
The majority of Panel Hearings take place within the child's home area,
with the child, the child's parents, their Social Worker, the Reporter to
the Children's Panel and three Panel members being present.
The Hearing room is normally an informal set up comprising of everyone
attending sitting around a table. These measures are taken to make the
child and the child's parents feel part of the proceedings.
Panel members are given background reports in advance of a Hearing, from
different agencies which they have to consider carefully and when the
Hearing takes place, the content of these reports are discussed informally
with the child and those other persons present. The Panel members then
have to make a decision as to the appropriate action to be taken in the
best interests of the child. Each Hearing can usually last anything up to an
If a decision concerning the child's future is taken and either the child
and/or the child's parents do not agree on the decision, they have the
right to make an appeal to the Sheriff.
Who decides if a Child has to attend a Hearing?
The Reporter to Children's Panel is primarily responsible for recommending
that a child attend a Hearing. The majority of referrals to the Reporter
come from the Police or the Social Work Service of the local authority,
although anyone who has concerns that a child may be requiring help, such
as teachers or members of the public, have the right to approach the
Reporter. Any child from new-born to sixteen years of age may be
referred to the Reporter and may attend a Hearing.
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What kind of people are Children's Panel Members?
Children's Panel members are people 18 years or over who come from a
wide cross-section of the public. People from all occupations and income
groups are chosen to serve on Children's Panels. Anyone who has an interest
in the welfare of children and would be willing to devote time to helping and
protecting the best interests of the child is welcome to apply to the
Children's Panel. Certain people cannot become Panel members, such as
Police, Social Workers and Justices of the Peace as their involvement in a
case may be considered prejudicial.
What Options are Open to the Children’s Panel?
A child will continue to live at home, but will be subject to supervision
by a social worker.
In some cases the hearing may decide that the child should live away
from home with either a relative, foster parents, or in a secure
accommodation or residential school.
Children's Hearings also have the power to restrict the movements of
a child, by the use of an electronic 'tag', which restricts the child
to, or away from, a particular place. However, this tag must be
accompanied by a package of intensive measures to help the child
change their behaviour.
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The Strengths & Weaknesses of the Children’s Hearing System
It deals with children in need and
youth offenders under the same
system. As children in need often
become offenders this makes sense.
The hope is that if you can help
children when they are in need they
will not become offenders.
The Children’s Panel is ‘child focused’
This means that the child is the
most important person in the room.
All written documents are child
friendly. The child can have an
advocate with them (an adult who is
there to look after their interests
and help them to understand what is
It has come under attack for
buckling under the pressure of high
demand. Children are ‘slipping
through the cracks’ because the
panel system is overworked. This
means that children are left in
danger and often end up offending or
reoffending because of lack of
supervision. This is often identified
as one of the central causes of
Scotland’s youth offending issue.
It has come under attack for taking
too long and being powerless. Unless
it is deemed an absolute emergency,
Panel meetings can take months to
be arranged. Also, it can be a
difficult process for the panel to
take steps to change a child’s life.
If the parents refuse to accept
conditions set by the panel it must
go in front of a judge. Again this
Individual Task – The Children’s Hearing System
Answer in sentences
1. Who attends a Children’s Panel?
2. Who makes the decision on whether to call a Panel or not?
3. What options are open to a Panel?
4. What happens if a parent disagrees with a Panel decision?
Describe one strength and one weakness of the Children’s Hearing System.
Explain, in detail, the strengths and weaknesses of the Children’s Hearing System. (8 marks)
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