Children's Hearings Bill
Scotland's most vulnerable children are to benefit from improved support thanks to measures underpinned by the new Children's Hearings (Scotland) Bill, published today.
Drawn up in response to a national consultation, the Bill will create a strengthened, modernised and streamlined system. It will be fit for the 21st century and will secure better outcomes for children, young people and their families by improving children's rights and introducing standards that will deliver national consistency.
One of the key changes will be the creation of a new national body, Children's Hearings Scotland, whose National Convener will be responsible for setting standards for the recruitment, support and training of local panel members, and for monitoring their implementation.
The Bill will also ensure that the key fundamental principles of protecting children's welfare, set out by Lord Kilbrandon when the Children's Hearings system was first established in the 1960s, remain at its heart.
Mr Ingram said:
"Our reforms aim to ensure our most vulnerable children receive the best protection and support possible. Early intervention lies at the heart of the Scottish Government's approach to improving people's life chances and our unique, welfare-based Children's Hearings system exemplifies this principle.
"That system - in which local volunteers make decisions to improve the lives of local young people - remains the best way of offering support, but children and families today are facing significantly different challenges and circumstances from when it was created.
"The Bill will modernise and reinforce the system for the 21st century, ensuring better support for the professionals and volunteers who deliver it, which in turn will mean better outcomes for children through more consistent decision-making.
"Maintaining children's hearings made up of local people, drawn from the community who are best placed to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child or young person, is at the centre of these reforms."
Under the plans, The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) will continue to run the Children's Reporter Service for Scotland which makes decisions on whether a child should be referred to a hearing, and on what grounds.
The Bill has been published on the same day as the Children Looked After Statistics for 2008-09 were released.
Mr Ingram said:
"The statistics published today, which continue to show a rise in the number of children being looked after, highlights why reforms such as these are so important. The improvements to the Children's Hearings System, together with other reforms such as the Early Years Framework and our Getting it right for every child approach will help us ensure earlier and more effective support for vulnerable children to reduce the need for so many children in Scotland being taken into care."
The Children's Hearings system is Scotland's unique approach to dealing with children and young people in trouble or at risk. The system was created in the 1960s in response to a report from Lord Kilbrandon after it was recognised that young people appearing before the juvenile courts, whether they had committed offences or were in need of care and protection, had common needs. The system is founded on the principle of local people from the children's own communities making decisions about how best to address children's needs.
There are more than 2,500 volunteer panel members who are recruited through an annual national campaign supported by local campaigns. Panel members are carefully selected and undergo extensive and continuous training.
The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) was created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1994 to support the work of the Principal Reporter. SCRA currently has a statutory role of facilitating the work of the Principal Reporter and providing accommodation for children's hearings. The work of SCRA is overseen by a board.
In 2008-09, SCRA received more than 90,000 referrals involving 47,718 children. The majority of referrals related to care grounds (e.g. parental neglect).